Monday 1 June 2015

Mario's Tennis (Virtual Boy review)

Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: 1995

Mario's Tennis was a pack-in game with all North American Virtual Boy consoles.

You can choose either a single game or a three-match tournament and each can be played alone or with a CPU doubles partner. There are seven playable characters (Mario, Luigi, Koopa Troopa, Princess Toadstool, Toad, Yoshi and Donkey Kong Jr.) and they have their own strengths ranging from speed, power and racket size. Unlike future games in the series there's no gimmicks or special moves and in some ways it's similar to Tennis (1989, Game Boy). You can perform a Top Spin by pressing the A button or a Lob by hitting B. Holding a direction on the d-pad controls the length and angle of the shot and if you hit a button at the correct time while the ball is in the air you can perform volleys, drop shots and smashes. The sprite scaling is well-executed and it's actually quite striking how good the 3D effect is when you're close to the net! Despite the low camera angle it's very easy to time your shots and everything feels responsive. It plays a solid game of tennis but I wish Nintendo would have included a wider range of shots (especially slices) to deepen the gameplay as the controller triggers end up being unused. It would also have been nice to have a few different modes to lengthen the experience as what's here is pretty bare-bones. It's quite an easy game (even in Hard mode) but there is a secret Super Hard mode you can unlock with a code. The graphics are good and I love the heart-shaped netting as well as the Para-Beetles that occasionally fly over the court! The music tracks have some nice stereo separation and sound great on the console.

Mario's Tennis is a limited game and I can understand why some refer to it as more of a tech demo. What's here plays extremely well though and the 3D effect of the Virtual Boy affords you much greater precision over your shots that leads to a satisfying (if admittedly short) gameplay experience.

Random trivia: This is the only Mario tennis game to not feature Donkey Kong, Waluigi and Bowser as playable characters. The source code also indicates that Birdo was once slated to appear.

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