If you played Mario Tennis Open for the 3DS, you will immediately recognize this game, minus the horrible screen-based optional controls. Thank goodness they didn’t try to duplicate that on the Wii U Game Pad and they stuck to the A/B X/Y buttons. Straight up, this is fun. I love hitting that ball back and forth over the net, smashing when I can, making Mario and friends blast a flaming (literally) backhand past a bewildered Bowser — and the chance shots and (new) jump shots add some excitement and extra power and even more flames. A shining circle lights up on court: run to it, execute the indicated shot and POW! Nice.
As a simple, fun, tennis game this works. What doesn’t work are the lack of extras that would justify the top-dollar price of this game. This time around, we have power-up mushrooms that make your player grow to giant size on court and improve hitting power and reach. Sounds good, right? It’s not. The animation is distracting, with play interrupted and cutting to the growing effect, then resuming back to play. It’s strange and disorienting in singles matches, and makes the game almost unplayable in doubles. Luckily, Nintendo seems to have realized this and made that play style optional, with the ability to choose “standard” and “simple” tennis, the former with no mushrooms and the latter with no mushrooms and no chance shots.
Online play works well. Special challenges, though, are boring and feel obligatory rather than a quality add-on. Rewards are predictable and lack anything innovative or exciting.
For now, I keep being drawn back to this game for the basic, satisfying, single gameplay. The rest seems like a poorly considered distraction.