Back in September, we celebrated the 30th Anniversary of the Super Mario Bros. franchise. Over the years leading up to Mario’s milestone birthday, we’ve not only seen new entries in the series, but have also witnessed the platforming plumber in a variety of spin-offs–with titles like Mario Kart, Mario Golf, and Mario Tennis topping lists for fans everywhere. Though the first two saw stellar releases last year, it seems that the latest title, Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash (which released a few days ago) wasn’t as lucky. While both the graphics and the mechanics were top-notch, there just wasn’t enough content to keep me entertained for long.
Looks aren’t always everything.
Despite my issues with the game (which I’ll get into in a moment), I’d like to start out on a positive note by saying that the HD graphics do look pretty good. The game ran at 60 frames per second and performance never dipped, regardless of whether or not I was playing alone, online, or with friends. That’s just something we’ve come to expect from Nintendo’s first-party titles. But, as the phrase goes, you can’t always judge a book by its cover–which unfortunately rings true in a negative way for Ultra Smash. Looks aren’t enough when there’s nothing to go along with them.
Mechanics were unsurprisingly top notch, as characters varied in skill, were responsive, and always hit the ball when I wanted them to. But despite working well, the gameplay was unimaginative and boring. In fact, the only new additions were the game’s namesake “Ultra Smash”, and the size-enhancing Mega Mushrooms that Toad occasionally tosses on the court during matches. Sure, Ultra Smashes were fun, but they were simplistic. As for the Mushrooms, opting to run over and grab one instead of hitting the ball, or waiting until the other team’s effect wore off, made the game more strategic, but only slightly so. When in a larger form, attacks were powered up, but the affects wore off quickly.
Chance shots (which debuted in the 3DS title, Mario Tennis Open) saw a welcome return, but with little to no change from their original form. Colored areas will occasionally pop up on the court, and prompt players to use a particular shot. There are four in total, including: red (which knocks opponents back with a top spin when he/she returns a shot), blue (which creates a stronger curve effect for the slice), purple (which becomes a high speed smash), yellow (a lob with higher trajectory), and last but not least, white (which produces a drop shot with next to no bounce). Much like before, each shot is associated with a particular button or combination of buttons, which basically mirrors and intensifies the shot normally tied to that button. Though it was possible to surprise opponents by going to the area and executing a different move, in doing so, you’d miss out on a shot that could potentially win the round.
There are four main modes in the game, and only one mini-game–leaving very little for solo players to enjoy. Yes, I know this is a game aimed at competitive couch multiplayer, but that’s no excuse. With Mario Kart, I was equally pleased by racing friends, strangers, or AI, but this game doesn’t offer that same type of opportunity. The closest it comes to it is Knockout Challenge, which operates like your average challenge tower. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about tackling challenge towers, but the amount of time it takes to complete one in Ultra Smash is crippled by the fact that the rewards for doing so just aren’t that great. After 15 wins, you will be able to score the star version of the character you were using. But, you could also just avoid the hassle by purchasing them with coins you’ve earned–which defeats the purpose, if you ask me.
Knockout Challenge’s only saving grace is the fact that you can use it to train an amiibo. As you rack up the consecutive wins, the amiibo by your side will level up as well. While using a seriously powered up Yarn Yoshi (who appears as regular Yoshi in the game, if you’re wondering) in online doubles matches was great, it was disappointing that I couldn’t use him anywhere else. It would have been nice if amiibo functionality was present across the board, especially for those who decide to play alone. Mii are also noticeably absent, which is interesting considering Nintendo’s affinity for featuring them in their games, and the fact that they were present in Open. But, I digress.
As for the other modes, they were best played with a group of friends. The only difference between Mega Battle Mode and Classic Tennis, is that the former features the Mega Mushrooms I mentioned earlier. Aside from that, they are exactly identical, and give players the same opportunity to either face off against the CPU, or grab up to three competitive companions. Admittedly, I had a lot of fun playing with three other friends. The game definitely benefits from friendly competition; timing powerful ultra smashes to take out opponents who just used a mushroom and coordinating with your partner to set up an epic shot was chaotic fun. However, it gets old really fast.
At the end of the day, Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash is a decent party game, but not much else. It looks gorgeous, performs well, and is pretty entertaining with a group of friends, but because of the lack of modes, sparse additions, and uninspired gameplay, there isn’t enough incentive to play it for very long. To be perfectly honest, you’re probably going to want to choose something like Smash Bros., or Mario Kart, next time your pals come over.
- Graphics are clean, making the best looking Mario Tennis game.
- Mechanics work well.
- Fun with friends.
- Severely lacking in content
- Nothing new
- Not enough for those who want to play solo.
3 out of 5 Burritos
This review was completed using a Wii U copy of Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash, which was provided by Nintendo. The game launched on the Wii U on November 20, 2015.