The Game: Mario Tennis Open
Describe This Game in Three Words: Like Playing Simon
Plot Synopsis: The Mario crew gets together for a game of tennis. There's not really much to add, so I'll just repeat that sentence to pad the paragraph. The Mario crew gets together for a game of tennis.
Up Up: Walk back through video game history and you'll find that something like 70 percent of it is really tennis. Pong is nothing but tennis, fighting games are tennis games where you hit each other with the rackets, every Zelda adventure has a part where you play tennis with Ganon, and the best part of BioShock was using telekinesis to catch and throw grenades. Mario Tennis Open has a lot of competition.
It's hard to imagine any version of tennis better than the basic sports pack that came with the Wii, and this one isn't. However, Mario Tennis does offer a pretty damned good time. It's the instantly engaging kind of game the 3DS specializes in, and you'll be comfortable playing it within seconds. I chose Princess Daisy because A) I'm a big Super Mario Land fan, and B) I wanted to see if Nintendo had finally added something more than "Hi! I'm Daisy" to her character. They did, so kudos there. Diddy Kong is also a good choice.
The 3D capabilities of the 3DS get better and better, and I'm slowly acclimating to it to the point where I prefer it until my eyes tire. You can use the d-pads if you want, but the game is much more fun on point and click. Once you get the hang of it you'll be trouncing opponents easily, but they do get quite a bit better very quickly.
Props go out to the online multi-player in Mario Tennis. It's one of the very few games that drew me out of my single-player shell.
Down, Down: Being stuck in the '90s as I am, it took a minute of grumbling to give up trying to move Daisy myself and using the buttons to hit the ball. If you're an anti-stylus player, you're going to have to practice very hard to be good at Mario Tennis.
Playing the game at the highest level involves keeping a close eye on both screens because the lower one will highlight whether a lob or a slice is the best response. You can't get too comfortable with this, though, as strikes don't highlight every time, meaning that you need to be sure you remember to hit the ball even if no hint is given.
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Finally, aiming the general direction of your shot based on which way you face the actual system can be very awkward. Once you get used to it, it's very helpful, but you're going to have to rewire your brain a bit to do so.
Left, Right, Left, Right: You get different setups on lower screen for potential strikes, and using the one with the most options is a lot like playing the old Simon games where you had to memorize color patterns. You get special effects for answering lobs with drop shots, top spins with slices, etc., and the system guides you through that. An ever-changing set of reflex puzzles is actually one of the most fun aspects of the game.
B, A: Have you ever played tennis? There is a lot more strategy to it than you think. Somewhere around the second tournament, I got really good at forcing opponents back with lobs until a good drop shot was impossible for them to hit. Slowly the AI responded by doing the same to me. It's been a long time since I had a computer that felt like a cunning human opponent.
Start?: Mario Tennis Open isn't going to blow you away, and you really shouldn't expect it to since it's just a freakin' tennis game. Honestly, a sports pack including a few other games would make it feel more worth the money, but if you have a friend to play online with, you might be doing it for hours at a time. It's a solid entry into your game library, and the perfect gift for anyone who is big into competitive online play on the 3DS. Even on single-player, though, it's a good time.