Hot on the heels of a remastered Pikmin comes another big in-house Nintendo title pitching for wider recognition on the world’s mainstream console of choice. Mario Tennis was an office favourite on back in the day, and we’d have to say it’s a perfect fit for a conversion to Wii. Nintendo’s developers are the geniuses behind the ultra-playable and iconic Wii Sports Tennis, so to effectively repackage it with the equally iconic Mario characters sounds like a guaranteed means of earning even more megabucks.
In its original N64 incarnation, this was one of the simplest tennis games since Pong. With just two buttons used to access the full range of shots and no timing required to hit the ball, anyone could get a decent rally going. Advanced players could call on topspin, sliced shots, flat shots, drop shots and lobs, plus an intuitive double-tap method of charging up harder hits. It was easy to learn and, once you got used to it, extremely precise.
The GameCube version sensibly retained the same basic controls, adding more graphical flair, a variety of trap-laden courts and some new minigames. Despite the addition of a pair of never-miss special moves for each character, which could be charged up multiple times during a rally, it played the same way as the virtuous original. With such a fine track record, surely it can’t fail on Wii? Unfortunately it’s not all good news. While it’s undoubtedly bigger and more polished than Sega Superstar Tennis, the near-perfect controls of the earlier versions haven’t carried over tremendously well to the Wii remote.
The motion recognition is solid, but there’s a fundamental problem with the way the Mario Tennis mechanic is applied to a no-button control scheme. On GC and N64 you’d move your character near where you thought the ball was going to land, then press a button to choose a shot. Your avatar would be frozen in place and the earlier you pressed the button, the more power you’d get on the shot. The same applies to the Wii version, except you don’t have any buttons to press. As soon as you stop moving the character, he starts charging his shot. If you make a positioning adjustment, the charge is lost. To hit the ball you have to time it just like in Wii Sports and the angle is determined not by the direction you’re pressing the joystick (because you can’t touch it) but by how early or late you swing the remote.
So the lean, accurate Mario Tennis gameplay of old becomes no more tactical than the knockabout fun of Wii Sports tennis. Instead of being able to aim the ball exactly where you want, to force your opponent out of position and create angles for zinging returns, all you can really do is hit it and hope. With that in mind, you have to play the game a different way. It’s Mario Tennis, but not as we knew it.
There are four control options, each with varying amounts of automation. The most advanced option allows you to move the character (via the D-pad is the default, although you can also plug in a Nunchuk) and select your own shots, while the simplest does practically everything except hit the ball for you. We found the game to be more playable when you don’t have to bother moving the character. Movement with the D-pad is entirely unsatisfactory and swinging the remote while it’s got a Nunchuk hanging out of the bottom makes it harder to switch from forehand to backhand. The fully manual option also requires use of the tiny plus and minus dots, despite not having any functions at all on the two Nunchuk buttons.