So begins the adventure mode of Mario Tennis Aces, which acts in the beginning as a tutorial.
A dastardly evil plot is afoot, spearheaded by well-known antagonists. A mystical artefact has captured and transformed a section on the cast and, of course, it’s up to Mario to save the day. There’s no stomping on Goombas or throwing Koopa shells, Mario must defeat his foes on the courts of a new kingdom, one which is divided handily into sections traditional to the Nintendo franchise.
The snow area forces players to play on ice, desert courts reduce the bounce of the ball due to the sand and special courts appear with their own rules. A plethora of characters make their appearance in order to either stop Mario in his tracks, or at least halt his journey.
You may find yourself on a train plagued with Shy Guys and you’ll have to expertly knock them from the train by returning the snowballs they throw. Or, you could find yourself stranded at sea, having to fight a creature from the depths on a court atop the deck of said boat.
While these are all interesting stop gaps, they each come with varying amounts of frustrations. And whoever decided that leaving out a quick restart option within the adventure mode will be forever cursed.
It wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that this game will be the source of much anger in players. A.I characters seem far too competent, even early in the game, especially when it comes to learning the mechanics of a new court.
The ship, for example, features a mast in the middle of the court. Seemingly every time the ball bounces off of the mast, the computer knows precisely where it will land. However, unless you have superhero reactions, it’s likely you’ll miss the bounces yourself.
The game too often relies on the power metre in the top left-hand corner. Building this up through trick shots and more powerful strokes allows for a special move to be actioned. At points, a star will appear on your side of the court.
Should you stand within the star and hit the ball, you’ll pull off a stronger stroke, or you can hit the right shoulder button for a zone shot. This sees your player leap into the air as the game pauses briefly for you to move a target.
Upon finishing the shot with one of the face buttons, the resulting play will rocket the ball faster than any other shot, making it hard to defend. In many of the boss levels, this shot is key and the game forces you to use mechanics, even though you may prefer to play with standard shots.
That’s not to say that the boss encounters can’t be fun, but they soon outlive their welcome when you fail to take them out in the time provided. Too often Mario will miss a shot despite being lined up correctly when swinging for the ball.
You could select different racquets, which are bestowed with varying stats, but it’s likely you’ll always be prepared with the right one for the job. Those zone shots can be blocked with precise inputs at the right moment, though, but too early or late and your racquet will take damage.
Doing so too many times causes it to break and you lose a point. It’s an interesting concept and one that, once mastered, can turn a game swiftly.
So too can the trick shots, which can be performed with either the motion control or a flick of the right stick. Anticipating where the ball will end up, flicking the stick in that direction and watching as Yoshi spins within an egg or Waluigi moonwalks to strike the ball will have you smiling like a loon.
It’s in these small details where the game establishes its identity. When playing out of adventure mode, Mario Tennis Aces is a piece of arcade joy.
Each character bursts with personality, bringing their own moves and trick shots. Once that power metre is completely filled, a tap of the left shoulder button unleashes a super move, each of which is dazzling to the eye.
Mario bounces off of invisible walls to blast the ball home, while Daisy sweeps gracefully upwards in a spiral to aim accurately across the court. The result is the same as a zone shot, generally, but the accompanying animations are adorable.
The courts, which are unlocked through the adventure are brimming personality and small appearances from characters that we’ve grown to love and hate. Often you could be distracted from a shot by watching as Laikatu or a pink Yoshi mindlessly move about, creating a sense of life in each area.
Within the CPU tournaments, the ever charming Toad and friends will commentate on the games, popping up on screen to break down the action. Surprisingly this never gets in the way, but it can be turned off.
For a game that seems simple, there’s a depth to mastery. The face buttons each handle a different style of shot – topspin, flat, lob, etc. Serving is a case of throwing the ball and hitting it at the peak of the throw for a fast serve, although faults and double faults only ever seem to happen to the A.I. and that’s still rare.
Soon, zone shots will be returned with a perfect block, drop shots will baffle your opponent and you’ll be watching the stunning replays to see where you went right or wrong.
Perfecting each intricacy will eventually give enough confidence to play online and Nintendo has set up a great environment for doing so.
With the day one patch, you’ll be able to play in online tournaments which pit you against players across the world, or you can set up a lobby or join a friend for a standard game.
The servers before launch were switched on and perfectly stable, but as we saw in the demo, there’s a slight chance for some wobbles after launch.
If you don’t want to play online, there are offline multiplayer options utilising the buttons or motion control, so you could recreate the heady days of Wii Sport Tennis and have everyone laughing or raging at the special moves and close calls.
As an arcade experience, Mario Tennis Aces is a traditional Nintendo experience; wonderful, colourful and packed with joy. Which is a stark contrast to the choices made with the adventure mode which will anger and frustrate. If you’re buying this one for your kids, be prepared for tears when certain sections of the later game crop up. Remove the adventure mode and it’s another shining jewel in the crown of Nintendo.