Over the years, Mario Tennis has become just as big an institution as, say, Virtua Tennis, but obviously wrapping more around the Mario legacy instead of traditional rules for the sport. That’s certainly worked in its favor, especially when it comes to multiplayer, as a lot of antics can unfold by standing on the correct power-up pad, or landing a perfect ace to get past not one but two opponents, if you’re good enough.
That said, some of the magic appears to be missing from Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash, the latest addition to the series from the team at Camelot. That’s not to say the game is missing its tennis basics – they’re still there, and in some ways, a bit improved – but the content is lacking. It’s like you can tell that Nintendo rushed to get this out the door to fill the void left behind by the recently delayed StarFox Zero, which was originally supposed to launch this week.
The big thing that’s missing is a Tournament mode. You can still go through the roster playing in Knockout Mode and see who’s who when it comes to skill, but the lack of this mode takes way some of the game’s distinction when it comes to single player thrills. What’s more, the lacking variety of courts is noticeable, especially compared to the last couple of games, which have truly gone off the charts. There are still some decent locations here, but, c’mon, this is the Wii U. It can clearly handle more of this stuff than what’s been put into it.
The game still has power-ups shots galore, including speedy returns and the neat introduction of a “slam” shot, where a player dives into the air to deliver a thunderous volley. However, I’m not particularly a fan of the Mega Mushroom, as it basically turns you into a lumbering character that gets too much in the way of the action. Had their been more variety – tiny mushrooms, fiery mushrooms, etc. – I could understand its inclusion. As it stands, it just makes a bigger mess than intended.
The rest of the gameplay isn’t half bad, as characters react accordingly and the shots still line up fairly well, as with the original. However, the AI seems heavily flawed at times, missing obvious shots but then going all out and delivering one that seemed almost impossible to reach. It’s like they can’t make up their mind on when they want to play or not.
Fortunately, multiplayer makes up for it, to some extent, as the game supports but local and online play. The local options are still great if you have a few friends around, and online isn’t half bad, even though you can’t really choose friends left and right for a match. For that, you’ll need the good ol’ couch to get the job done. At least the settings are reasonable, so you can hop into a match that’s right up your alley in terms of difficulty.
The rest of the game is kind of empty, at best. The regular match set-ups are okay but lacking, again, the variety that was needed, and the Mega Ball Rally doesn’t offer much, simply asking you to continue hitting a ball back and forth. Um, yay? There’s also amiibo support, but it doesn’t go nearly as far as I was hoping for a game like this.
As for the presentation, it’s cheerful, with solid character involvement, some decent courts (but not nearly enough of them) and fun background music. But it too seems like it didn’t go the extra mile in terms of bringing an evolution to Mario Tennis for a new platform – it’s like Camelot simply runs through the numbers yet again.
On the one hand, Ultra Smash has gone through some changes that have left me bitter, namely the lack of particular modes and limited online multiplayer options. On the other, some of the new gameplay features (not all – get lost, Mega Mushroom) and the local multiplayer still can’t be beat. I guess your final purchase should rely on how much you love tennis – and even then, you may want to consider looking at other options. This isn’t really so much of an Ultra Smash, as it barely qualifies as “just flying over the net.”