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Nintendo Serves Up One Of Its Top Sports Games With Mario Tennis Aces

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The last time Mario and his Nintendo pals hit the courts was in 2015’s Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash for the Wii U. While that game offered plenty of fun gameplay between online or offline buds, it was thoroughly lacking in the single-player department. This was disappointing, especially considering the series had also been lacking in RGP elements since 2005’s Mario Tennis: Power Tour for the Game Boy Advance.

Three years later we’re getting a far better tennis game with Mario Tennis Aces, and easily one of the best sports titles Nintendo’s put out in some time. Here we get a lengthy adventure mode in which Mario (with the support of Toad) must rescue Luigi from some sort of evil racket sorcerer and a possessed Wario and Waluigi. It’s all very delightfully incoherent.

In order to rescue his bro, Mario has to make his way through a variety of worlds—each comprised of showdowns with other Mushroom Kingdom regulars as well as a final boss—in order to snatch a handful of bad-guy-beating power stones to adorn his own racket (how very Avengers: Infinity War).

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In addition to a bonkers storyline, the campaign also contains some basic RPG elements in the form of racket upgrades (more rackets equals more “lives,” essentially) and experience points that grant you better stats and special abilities. Don’t expect Mario Odyssey or Breath of the Wild-calibre adventuring—Mario Tennis Aces’s solo quest is mainly a resource to increase your skillset so you don’t get creamed online. Some of these stages are particularly challenging, so don’t be surprised if you have to go back to previous matches for some XP-boosting grinding. Even lost matches will earn you XP, which is a friendly touch.

Another welcome element that was lacking in the previous instalment is an offline solo tournament comprised of eight players, which can be played as three difficulty levels: Mushroom, Flower, and Star. Plus, all 16 characters are playable from the get-go, from old favourites like Peach and Donkey Kong to odder choices like Chain Chomp, who carries the racket in his mouth and balances the ball on his head to serve. What a goofball! Of course, each character has their own unique set of strengths and drawbacks, so choose carefully. But honestly, Peach is the cutest and who even cares if she’s not the best on the court (she so is).

Even more distinctive than the characters are the courts they play in, which are filled with unique obstacles like haunted mirrors that shoot your ball right back at you. While you can select any character you choose right out of the gate, many of the game’s most dynamic arenas need to be unlocked through adventure mode for free-to-play use.

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I’m making Mario Tennis Aces sound a lot like a sports RPG, but it’s far more aligned with a fighting game like ARMS. From powerful trick shots to perfectly timed defence swings, things can get quite intense for those up to the challenge. Each player begins a match with a set number of rackets, which can ultimately break if their return isn’t timed well when their opponent launches a special shot. One helpful tool in order to hit the ball at the exact right moment is activating slow motion, which in turn drains your energy gauge that can allow for near-unstoppable special shots. It can all get pretty complicated, but as I mentioned, adventure mode does a swell job of teaching you the ropes. And of course there’s always the tried and true Joy-Con, which can be waved around just like Wii Sports’ Wii Remote. It’s a little less complex but oftentimes more fun with a friend. Just don’t swing it near anything too precious. I’ve broken many a wine glass.

Like its Wii U predecessor Mario Tennis Aces includes online multiplayer, which isn’t ready ahead of the game’s June 22 release. It worked splendidly in Ultra Smash, and there will likely be way more action on the Switch. If for some unlikely  reason it’s a complete unmitigated disaster, we’ll be sure to update this otherwise positive review.

Mario Tennis Aces is out this Friday exclusively on the Nintendo Switch. If you’re looking for a fun and frantic tennis experience with a fresh coat of Mushroom Kingdom sheen, look no further. If you just want an excuse to flail your Joy-Con around with a bunch of inebriated friends, this also does the trick—just sayin’!