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Aside from a lame Wii port of the last GameCube title, Mario Tennis has been a quiet series for the last few years. Nintendo is finally changing that with the upcoming 3DS title Mario Tennis Open. When we finally got our first hands-on with on the GDC 2012 show floor, it was immediately familiar, which is exactly what we wanted.
Developed by Camelot, the team behind all the previous stellar Mario Tennis games (as well as Mario Golf and the earliest Hot Shots titles), Mario Tennis Open was immediately recognizable to us. It was the same dose of simple, fast-paced fun that we loved the series for. We were playing as all the regular characters (Mario, Luigi, Donkey Kong), running back and forth on the court, playing the net just like old times.
Though that hardly means things are unchanged, as we learned early on with power shots. Instead of charging them up to release at your choosing, they now happen whenever one of several different colored circles appear on the court. Hit the corresponding type of shot to match the attack (lob, topsin, slice, etc) and you'll do a much more powerful shot. This new feature added an unpredictable intensity to the matches.
Mario Tennis Open also takes advantage of the 3D in interesting ways. The game's regular camera angle is the standard top-down look for tennis games, but if you move the system enough, the camera situates behind the player. Once there, you use the gyroscope to change your view and direct the shot. An interesting trick that's visually stimulating, though we aren't sure how much we're going to use it when we play MTO for real.
After playing several matches to confirm that the classic gameplay remained intact, we began to notice that we were unlocking items through the exhibition mode, including special rackets, braclets, and outfits with cute Mario-centric designs. We're not sure if you can dress up all the Mario characters with these items or just your playable Mii, but we do know where you can show off your unlocked items. Mario Tennis Open will allow for online matches, a first in series history.
We're excited at the list of new options and that Camelot is remains behind the wheel, but we still have one concern. Fans of the portable Mario Tennis games will recall they both had lengthy RPG-style campaigns. While our Nintendo representative couldn't say for sure, we have a bad feeling this mode will be missing on 3DS. Hopefully we'll have definite answer before the games ships May 20.