Games: Mario Tennis Aces can still serve up the craic
Mario Tennis Aces (Switch)
WITH Pong the first mass-market videogame, tennis is arguably the granddaddy of electronic sport. Since those prehistoric days, the game has reached a fork in the videogame road – the bum prong offering po-faced sims, leaving the cartoon jollies of Mario Tennis to lord it over cartoon courts since the 2000 original. The latest effort – the eighth in the series – reunites a familiar stable for some bygone ball-whacking perfect for gamers of all ages.
Much like the real thing, it starts with love – in this case a gushing Valentine to the enviable girth of Nintendo's stable. Sixteen characters are available (and with more to be served up via DLC) – from the balanced Mario and heavy-hitting Bowser to the faster, technical Yoshi.
And with Kong among the ranks, it even validates Partridge's Monkey Tennis pitch. So wrap your catgut round some green wool and start thwacking fuzzy balls in an imaginative, if repetitive, sim with courts that pillage classic Mario locales and gravity-defying shots that'd have Isaac Newton spinning in Westminster Abbey.
The core gameplay remains unchanged from previous efforts, though there's a much deeper emphasis on character levelling, racquet collection and special shots. So much, in fact, that the solo five-hour Adventure Mode plays like an extended tutorial.
Multiplayer is where it's at, then, given you're not shackled to predictable AI patterns. And while online is as slick and nippy as you could hope for, the best way to enjoy Mario Tennis is, as with the original, slouched flaccidly on the couch next to your opponent. Better still, if you want to play some tennis without the added fuss, selecting Simple Mode strips out the game's fussier elements, from power metres to special shots, for some serve-and-volley the way god intended.
The biggest issue with Aces, though, is the basic structure of its matches. Like the loader of a tennis ball launcher, they've really ballsed it up. As a truncated version of the sport, a set can be over in two games, and reducing the sport to a measly number of points overlooks the high drama of marathon grudge-matches.
The controls can also be overly sensitive, though if you're nostalgic for Wii Tennis, motion-controlled free-play mode lets you flap those bingo wings like granny's final days in the care home.
Technically, it glistens with Nintendo glory. Slick visuals really let the characters sing, especially with their victory and special shot animations, while the controller vibrating in time with a heartbeat effect while serving match point is enough to induce a coronary.
Up there with Smash Bros and Mario Kart as one of Nintendo's best multiplayer experiences, Aces can still serve up the craic. And with a dearth of summer Switch fodder (and Yoshi delayed until 2019), gamers desperate to feed their hungry handheld with Nintendo magic should be jumping onto this like it’s the last dinghy. When it comes to tennis, Nintendo shrewdly continue to follow McEnroe's mantra – you cannot be serious.