Review: Mario Tennis Open serves up fast, addictive court action

Mario Tennis Open is a truly fun, hard-to-put-down game full of the charm and excellence you’d expect from Nintendo and Camelot. Its pick-up-and-play nature and smooth, fast online modes make it a perfect anywhere-anytime title. There’s a rhythm to single player progression that takes a little while to grab hold, but — once it does — Mario Tennis Open blossoms into a very fast-paced, addictive experience. This rhythm relies on the game’s two most prominent features: online play and the mind-boggling number of unlockable items for your Mii. Unlike previous attempts to give Mario Tennis an RPG-like structure, MTO’s central “career” line bounces you rapidly between tournament cups, exhibition matches, mini games and the equipment shop — all focused squarely on upgrading and decking out your Mii for online matches. And those online matches are so quick and easy to jump in and out of that it all becomes part of one big, fun cycle.

In other words, though the game features the Mario Universe in full bloom for you to enjoy, single player career mode is very Mii/online focused. That design decision won’t make everyone happy, but I’m finding it a refreshing change of pace for the series.

At first, the game appears a bit light on content, but that impression stems from the fact that — aside from the Mii accessories — nearly everything seems to be unlocked at the start. You can pick a favorite character, a favorite court, a favorite mode and dive right in. It’s almost too open-ended for its own good.

Dig deeper, however, and the game reveals extra layers: higher levels of difficulty, more tournaments, unlockable courts, hidden characters and bonus modes. Along the way, one factor becomes very clear: everything offered is incredibly fun and highly replayable.

Despite the optional gyro controls (I turned them off) and touch-screen panels, Mario Tennis Open is best enjoyed with classic pad-and-button controls. With obstacle-free courts and no character-specific crazy moves, this game provides a much more classic-feeling game of video tennis, with the “chance shot” elements providing just the right amount of exaggeration. As someone who still loves the original N64 Mario Tennis, I call this is a welcome return to basics.

The overall presentation is streamlined but beautifully produced. The game’s packed with great, funny little details — like the toucan perched on the ref’s tower on the DK court, or the way Wario yells, “FORE!” as he serves. The courts and characters look terrific and the music is superb, highlighted by some fantastic, high-energy remixes of classic Mario tunes. The 3D, however, is a bit of a disappointment (you’d think this genre would be perfect for the effect, right?), really only making an impact in the Ring Shot and Galaxy mini games.

There are four minigames, and all are great fun — which is very good, because you’ll return to them often to earn cash and unlock hidden characters. My favorite is the smooth and hyper-addictive Ring Shot, though the new Super Mario-themed game is a work of genius — basically a perfect combination of racquetball and a shooting gallery.

Online play launches quickly and the rapid-fire match-ups are intense, funny and unpredictable as you collect portrait medallions of every Mii you vanquish. At this point, I’m experiencing a bit of occasional lag, but nothing game-breaking. Hopefully, Nintendo can iron this out; in the meantime it’s worked fine for me 90% of the time.

I’ve been having a blast with Mario Tennis Open, though I can understand why its new form of single-player progression might not appeal to everyone. Make no mistake, though, if you want some intense, quick gameplay online and off, and you’re looking forward to unlocking a ton of kookie outfits for your Mii, this game will keep you entertained for a long time to come.


  1. I can’t believe a word of this review.
    Because the online is horrendous. I don’t know how you can say you’re having no game breaking lag, but I can’t even predict shots my opponent is going to make because the slowdown isn’t a slowdown, it’s a standstill. I’m enjoying the HELL out of single player though. In fact, since I bought the game yesterday, the only time the game hasn’t been running on my 3DS is when I stopped it to delete the Mario Tennis trailer I’ve had since last E3, as per my tradition (still waiting on Luigi’s Mansion and Paper Mario and Animal Crossing!). The game is definitely fun. A few odd “what the hell” factors, like how you don’t need to actually play the entire tournament series to get star players; just unlock the fourth tournament and then beat it with any character and BAM, Star Character unlocked. But since I’m a completionist, this doesn’t bug me too much. Money well spent? Money well spent.

  2. This is the only positive review I’ve read.

    Everyone else has said that the game has an incredibly shallow single-player experience without much depth or much to keep you coming back…

    Nice to see a different opinion at least.

    Still think I’ll pass. A portable game with a focus on online multiplayer is kind of an oxymoron… I don’t have access to wi-fi when I’m on a bus.

  3. @ wakko1337:

    What can I say; looks like I’m having a very different experience with online play compared to yours so far. In the couple hundred online matches I’ve played since yesterday morning, I’ve only encountered a handful of bad lag occurrences. Keep trying — see if it improves. For me, the online has been a heap of fun — even though (Mario Kart deja vu) I’m getting pummeled. I might get the 50 online wins to unlock the Bowser costume by 2013 at this rate.

    Glad you’re enjoying the rest of the game, though! My personal “what the hells” are the pie charts and the 2D intro movie. I agree overall: money well spent. By the way, I’m also doing the delete-the-trailer-when-I-get-the-game thing! 🙂

  4. @ gojiguy:

    To me, many of those negative reviews are border-line ridiculous. The single player experience is deep, but only if you play it long enough to get into the whole tournament/exhibition/minigame/shop/upgrade/go online cycle.

    Some reviewers seem to think it’s shallow because it doesn’t require players to grind for 40 hours just to unlock most of the characters. They need a reason to keep going back? How about the fact that the game is incredibly fun to play? What a concept! 🙂

    Because of all those “meh” reviews, I went into this game with lowered expectations, fulling expecting to have to write a review with the shallow-content angle. Then a funny thing happened: I found myself having a great time and — after hours and hours of play — realizing it’s going to take me weeks to unlock everything (or at least everything that doesn’t require a lot of streetpass contact). Shallow? No, quite deep, actually, though not as broad in scope as some might prefer.

    That said, you’ve got a good point about the online/portable problem. As good as it is, I would not recommend this game unless 1) you love Mario Tennis anyway 2) the online aspect sounds appealing and 3) You really like playing as your Mii (the only customizable character in the game). I fit all three of those conditions, so I’m one happy player! 🙂

  5. Still waiting for my Amazon copy to show up at my doorstep. Come on Nintendo, why do you insist on releasing games on Sunday!

  6. I’m not getting it, especially at $40 right now. Reviewers said the online isn’t fair because players have the option of gyro controls where the character is controlled automatically. I am sad about the single player as well. Mario Kart 7’s single player was terrible – after getting 3 stars on every course, there is no more single player fun. Yes online is important, but single player is even more important in video games.

  7. I was really looking forward to this game then I started hearing all these negative reviews it’s nice to see a change of pace. I was really looking forward to the online. For now I guess I’ll just wait until I can find it used or maybe wait for a price drop. Thanks for the review really informative.

  8. I’ve been on vacation in CO the last while, but now I’m back! Going to gamestop to pick this title up. Funny that people don’t seem to like it, and automatically decide it is a $5 bin game based on reviews.

    Has every game you loved seriously been rated a 9/10 or higher? Silly online generation.

  9. Wait… comments wait for moderation now? :/

  10. Yeah, I’m loving this game and the reviews for it aren’t very pretty. But half of them are biased and not very well thought out. *coughGamespotcough*

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