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martedì 22 maggio 2012
Full Review Mario Tennis Open for Nintendo 3DS
Mario Tennis Open review
Mario Tennis Open is a fun and frantic tennis game, let down by a lack of content and challenge.
Format:Nintendo 3DS Developer: Camelot Publisher: Nintendo Released: Out now
You do have to wonder why it's been seven years since the last proper new entry into the Mario Tennis. The Wii seemed perfectly equipped for some motion-plus flavoured tennis, particularly after the success of both Mario Kart and Mario Super Strikers on the platform. But aside from the New Play Control update of the GameCube's Mario Power Tennis, it wasn't to be. So it's with some intrigue that the series attempted revival is on the R4i Nintendo 3DS. It's a mixed return; fast-paced tennis with chunky flair, let down by curious balancing issues and a lack of content.
The on-court action is bright, breezy and constructed with the expected assuredness. Nintendo games --particularly ones with the red-capped plumber-- have the enviable knack of making simple movement a pleasure. Mario Tennis Open is no different, with the familiar cast of characters patrolling the court with a delightful charm, with Mario lolloping in his trademark blend of tubby awkwardness and skilful grace, while Bowser stomps and Boo whizzes.
There's a pleasing sense of inertia as the ball fizzes back and forth and, of course, Mario Tennis favours cartoon knockabout action rather than anything approaching simulation. The shots are assigned to both the face buttons or the bottom touch-screen (though, curiously, these layouts do not match up) and control is a doddle. Nintendo, ever mindful of accessibility and making use of their own hardware, have also included a motion control setup. Movement is taken care of by the game (you can interrupt by using the circle pad, though the pull of the AI and your own inputs can often clash), you aim by tilting the console, and choose the type of shot on the touchscreen. It's a welcoming, if inevitably shallow setup and its over-the-shoulder viewpoint is arguably the only area where Mario Tennis Open makes good use of the console's 3D screen.
Most players will likely favour the circle pad and buttons setup, which offers more precision and reward. The key elements of the game's tennis are the 'chance shots', where a colour coded circle pops up on court. Manoeuvre your player into the circle and select the right shot and you will execute a super-powered return, taking on the traits of the shot type and enhancing them. Step into the blue circle and pull off a slice, and the ball will banana viciously around the court, a lob will pirouette high into the air and land in the back court with unpredictable spin. A top-spin shot explodes in a fireball of power.
The chance shots are both the game's biggest draw and biggest drawback. In human competition, hammering the ball back and forth with these fizzing returns is the game at its most exciting. Moving into position, setting up a topspin chance shot, only to bluff your opponent and drop the ball lightly over the net adds a nice layer of tactics, particularly when each chance shot can be countered. However, the computer AI doesn't engage in such interesting back and forths. Early games in the Tour mode --Mario Tennis Open's main single-player campaign-- are a tedious waltz through inept opponents. Matches are over in a handful of shots, split-second rallies finished the moment you initiate a chance shot. Eight brief tournaments and a hour or two later and you still are unlikely to have dropped many points, let alone lost a game. And it's all just a bit ... dull.
But then you unlock Pro mode, and things start to look up. Rallies last longer and chance shots are no longer the instant win they once were, though the purple smash shots remain over-powered. You're now thinking more about positioning and mixing up your shot choice, and it's far more enjoyable using the chance shots as a wider tactic than an instant win button.
But then it's over, and all too brief foray not helped by the fact there's very little sense of progression. You can use your Mii and build up skills, but it's dealt with in a curiously obtuse manner. And, simply put, playing as a Mii isn't nearly as fun as using Mario and chums. You can also unlock new costumes and equipment for your Mii, but it's largely --admittedly very cute-- window dressing. There's just not quite enough to the tennis to hold the attention through the foibles, the core play is chunky and fun, but it's let down by a lack of variety that is usually the hallmark of Mario sports games. There is, for instance, only one gimmick court throughout the career, where the surface cycles from point to point including a vortex that sends balls spiralling off at impossible angles. In Mario Power Tennis, there were all manner of interesting courts. Here, the gimmicks are left to a small selection of fairly limp minigames. There is one standout, however, called Super Mario Tennis. You play through levels of classic Super Mario Bros. hitting the ball against a screen to collect coins, bash blocks and stomp Goombas in lieu of Mario himself. It's too fiddly to be an unqualified success, but it shows a dash of playful inventiveness that seems to be missing from the rest of the game.
It's a real shame that, especially for a handheld game, the singleplayer portion of Mario Tennis Open doesn't stack up as well as it should. Thankfully, playing against human competition is great fun. Nintendo smartly allows local four player action using one cartridge and online play is robust and lag-free. Again, though, the offering beyond one-off exhibitions in multiplayer is incredibly thin, reduced to persistent online records and leaderboards.
Filled out and more expertly balanced, Mario Tennis Open could have been a winner. The tennis itself offers undeniable gratification in its joyful movement and colourful character, but it's disappointing it then isn't given the stage to truly shine.