Mario's Tennis
  • Genre:
    • Sports
  • Platform:
    • Virtual Boy
  • Developer:
    • Nintendo
  • Publisher:
    • Nintendo
  • Released:
    • JP 07/21/1995
    • US 08/14/1995
Score: 70%

This review was published on 06/04/2016.

Mario's Tennis is a sports video game developed and published by Nintendo for the Virtual Boy. The same development team responsible for the Virtual Boy hardware worked on this game, led by Gunpei Yokoi, the inventor of both the Game Boy and Virtual Boy. Mario's Tennis was originally released in Japan on July 21, 1995, and North America on August 14, 1995. The game launched with the Virtual Boy and was even packaged with the system in North America. Initially, the game had a working title of Mario's Dream Tennis, but the name was changed to Mario's Tennis prior to release. Note that there's an apostrophe in this game's title, differentiating it from the Mario Tennis on the Nintendo 64 and Game Boy Color. This is basically the precursor to those games. Some even consider Mario's Tennis the start of the whole Mario Tennis series, which is now fairly prolific. Anyway, this game is okay, but it's extremely barebones.

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Visually, Mario's Tennis is an interesting beast. Obviously, it's all rendered in the Virtual Boy's customary red and black color scheme, but it's got some decent character sprites and animations. Even though the graphics are technically 2-D, the Virtual Boy employs the use of some clever visual trickery, known as stereoscopy, to simulate 3-D depth. This gives you more depth perception, enabling you to better gauge the ball's distance. The court itself is a completely flat surface with minor rotation that looks similar to the Mode-7 effect seen on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Action is viewed from behind the character you're controlling in a third-person perspective, which further adds to the 3-D effect. That 3-D effect is nice, but there's not much to look at. Environments lack detail, being filled in mostly with a solid black color. This makes it look as if the characters are walking around on a black void instead of a tennis court. It does look decent enough by the Virtual Boy's standards, though.

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Despite the wacky fictional setting, Mario's Tennis still mostly adheres to the rules of real life tennis. If you don't know how tennis works, then let me give you a quick lesson. Essentially, tennis has players hitting a ball at each other using rackets. Matches can be one-on-one or two-on-two, which is called singles and doubles, respectively. The court this takes place on has a net right smack dab in the middle of it, separating each player's or team's side. If a player or team fails to hit the ball back into the opposition's side of the court, then the opposition will be awarded a point. For tennis, each point is represented by a different score, going from 15 to 30, then 40, and then the current game is won. If both sides get 40 points, they'll enter a deuce, which means a single side must score twice in a row to win. There are six games per set and Mario's Tennis lets you play either one or three sets per match, though real tennis allows for more sets. There's more to it than that, but those are the basics.

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Control wise, this game is pretty intuitive. You move with the left directional pad and hit the ball using one of the two main buttons. Depending on which button is pressed, the ball will be struck in a slightly different manner. The A button will do a topspin, and the B button does a lob. Topspins are your standard shots and generally go straight, whereas lobs will go much higher. Pressing A while holding up during certain situations also does a smash shot, which is quite powerful. The different shots give the game a little more strategy, as you're able to do things like use lobs to send the ball sailing right over an opponent's head if they're close enough to the net. Also, a big part of the game's challenge is timing your swings properly so that you don't miss the ball. That's all there is to it, really. The simple controls allow anyone to jump into the game without much trouble, but they still allow for some depth.

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There are seven selectable characters and they've all got a slightly different feel to them. The characters in question are Mario, Luigi, Princess Toadstool, Yoshi, Toad, Koopa, and Donkey Kong Jr. Every character handles a little differently, being that they have different running speeds, shot strength, and racket reach. For example, Mario is average in every category, and Donkey Kong Jr. can hit the ball like a truck, but is as slow as a bus. Additionally, the computer AI will use different strategies against you depending on which character it's playing as, generally capitalizing on that character's strengths. Unfortunately, there are no unlockable characters, so what you see is what you get. The true tragedy is that you can't play as Bowser. If you could, then this would mirror the playable cast of Super Mario Kart. Perhaps Bowser was simply too big to fit onto the Virtual Boy.

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Only two modes are really available in this game, both of which can be played in either singles or doubles. The game's overall difficulty can also be changed, with higher difficulties being available through the use of a secret code. The first mode is just a standard exhibition match against any opponents of your choosing, and the second one is a tournament styled mode. In tournament mode, you'll face off against a few opponents or teams in a row, and if you beat them all, you'll be crowned the supreme victor. Mario's Tennis was originally intended to have a multiplayer mode, but because the Virtual Boy never got a link cable, that function was never implemented. The lack of modes really kills this game. You can try to squeeze more play time out of the game by beating tournament mode with every character on every difficulty, both in singles and doubles, but there's no point to doing that.

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With no multiplayer support and only a select few single player modes available, Mario's Tennis is a raw deal. The core game play is solid, but most people will get bored of the game after only a few minutes, as there isn't much value to be had here. For a pack-in game, it's adequate, but as a standalone release, it's disappointingly brief. Mario's Tennis is decent, but very lacking in features and content.

Word Count: 1,073

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