Back to the Court
Nintendo's mascot-themed sports titles have always been pretty fun and entertaining experiences and the Mario Tennis series is definitely no exception to that. The series has seen two handheld installments, one on the Game Boy Color and another on the Gameboy Advance, but the DS never did receive its own iteration so it's nice to see the series return to the portable scene on the 3DS. Incredibly, it's been about 6 and a half years since Mario Tennis Power Tour on the GBA, so what have Mario and the gang been up to in the meantime? Not too much, as it doesn't greatly expand on what we've already seen in previous versions, but Mario Tennis Open shows us that developer Camelot still knows how to cook up a mean game of tennis.
The first thing you'll notice about this particular entry in the series is that it's a lot closer in looks and design to the previous console games than the handheld ones, taking certain cues from Mario Power Tennis on the Gamecube. In fact, the game looks great visually. The graphics are vibrant and sharp and the 3D actually works fairly well, not unlike Super Mario 3D Land, giving a fair amount of depth to the playing field while also not being too overbearing for the eyes, no matter how far you have the 3D slider turned up. The presentation overall is very impressive, with the actual gameplay being very fluid frame rate wise and the menus being attractive and appealing.
A Return to the Basics
In past handheld Mario Tennis titles, the main campaign featured an RPG-like experience that had you create your own character and manage his/her stats as you progressed through the story in order to become the tennis champion. Ironically enough, this is what kept the past games interesting in the long run, but sadly, developer Camelot decided not to include that mode in this game, instead opting to keep the game grounded in a more traditional exhibition and tournament-based mode using Mario-themed characters.
On that note, while it's nice to be able to control the dozen or so Mario characters as well as your Mii, the game doesn't differentiate too much between them when it comes to technique and ability, even though they may be labeled as a "power" or "all-around" character. They don't even have their own personalized special shots that reflect their character/personality, which feels like a missed opportunity for Camelot. It's still fun to play as your favorite characters, though.
Sadly, the main mode (being the tournament) leaves a little to be desired since it just features tiered matches against other players until the final match (over 8 different tournament cups between singles and doubles matches). The actual tennis experience itself is fine, however, with all of the usual techniques such as lob, slice, drop shot and so forth. One new addition to the game this time around is the inclusion of "chance spots" that appear on the court from time to time, and if you're standing right over it when it appears and perform the appropriate technique, the effectiveness of that particular technique will be enhanced. It's an interesting mechanic that encourages the player to try and mix up the different techniques in order to win instead of simply hitting the ball back and forth with a normal shot.
Visuals and 3D are fantastic, special games introduce fun new gameplay types, tennis is solid as usual
Very few new additions to the game, loss of several modes present in earlier games make this version feelbare-boned