Review: Mario Tennis Open (Nintendo 3DS)

Reviewed by Another World, posted May 27, 2012
I enjoy most retro styled sports games and have always loved an arcade-like experience. Mario Tennis Open seems like it will fit the bill rather perfectly. I only hope there is enough here to keep me engaged for the long haul.
May 27, 2012
  • Release Date (NA): May 20, 2012
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Genres: Sports
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
Attack the net, smash, and prove that your skills are worth bragging about. Mario Tennis Open is an arcade-like tennis experience for all ages. Compete in local and online multiplayer modes against a variety of characters across many different court types. Then spend your coins on new equipment while you quest to become the greatest tennis player on the Nintendo 3DS.
Another World

Welcome to the Tournament

Grab your racket and pick out your gear, the Mario crew is back for another sporty installment. Once again developed by Camelot Software, Mario Tennis Open strips away the RPG elements in favor of an arcade-like experience. All of your favorites from Mario to Bowser have returned for multiple modes of engaging tennis-ball-smashing fun. Pick your style of play, decide on a control scheme that fits you best, and begin the quest to become the ultimate tennis champion!

Traditional Rules of Play

Mario Tennis Open features multiple modes of play which range from tournament play to coin collecting mini-games. Tournament games can be enjoyed with your friends as Mario Tennis Open features local multiplayer and online play courtesy of the Nintendo Network. Single player mode is where most gamers should start out as it provides a means to hone your skills before taking on other players.

The single player game offers options for tournament, exhibition, and special game (more on this later) modes of play. Tournament and exhibition play can be experienced either as a single tennis player or along side another player. In single play it is you versus the other opponent, hit for hit, until one is triumphant. In doubles play you team up with another player which can either be computer controlled or player controlled. These modes of play can be used to train for more difficult matches as the level of difficulty can be set for each computer controlled opponents. The levels of difficulty range from novice to expert and eventually it is possible to unlock additional levels such as the pro level of play.

During tournament play you will face off against a randomly chosen set of characters who are battling towards the cup championship. Each cup tournament offers different courts, and each court provides varying levels of difficulty, ball bounce, and ball speed.

Exhibition play incorporates similar options of play but places the gamer in a 1-on-1 challenge against a single opponent. In Exhibition play the player can choose between all available court surfaces while attempting to master their footing, movement, and special power-up smashes. Game length can also be chosen between 1-5 sets and 2-6 games, where a quick 2-game 1-set match is ideal for getting use to the game's controls.

Training Your Racket Skills

The inclusion of a gyroscopic control scheme provides an easy mode of play for gamers new to tennis games or the Mario Tennis franchise. This control scheme can be engaged by tilting the 3DS into an upright position. The camera will switch to a behind-the-back view as the 3D is shut off. In this mode of play the character will automatically move into the best position, allowing the user to concentrate on smashing the ball cross court. Using the gyroscopic controls it is possible to beat a tournament in less than 30 minutes, relying on nothing more than mashing the X button. While the use of this control scheme offers a clever method of picking your shots, simply rotating the 3DS from side-to-side, it greatly hampers the skill building required to compete against real people.

When playing with the 3DS tilted forward, a mode which is automatically engaged when the gyroscopic controls are turned off, the character must be controlled using the circle or cross pad. Both modes of control offer similiar ways to hit the ball, which include using the touch screen or via the 4 face buttons.

The circle pad really shines in Mario Tennis Open. Moving any character around feels fluid and exact, where as the cross pad feels more rigid and unforgiving. Each successful hit returns the ball ablaze in color, learning which color goes with which button is just as important as learning what each button does. You will need to match colored returns with special colored markers if you expect to execute powerful special returns known as “chance” hits. Understanding the return type is important when “chance” power-ups are not available, and can mean the difference between a loss and a win. The 4 face buttons execute simple, topspin, flat, or slice shots, while A and B button combinations execute a lob or drop shot. Each shot will charge up before the ball arrives, so it is important to press the corresponding “chance” shot button as quickly as possible.

The touch screen options offer 3 styles of play. The first and second provide the basic shots with arrangements for left and right handed players. The third option maps each of the 4 face buttons to the touch screen but does so in a convoluted fashion. Starting at the Y button and moving clockwise, the 3DS incorporates a Y-X-A-B button placement. However, the touch screen provides an X-A-Y-B button placement. This makes it rather difficult to understand what needs to be pressed until the time is taken to memorize what each button does and what colored shot it produces. When starting out, it is best to just ignore one set of controls. Pick the style of play that you are most suited towards, be it the face buttons or the touch screen controls. Mastering one before the other is key to being able to switch between them on-the-fly.

Visit the Snack Bar

The game can not be paused when a ball is in play. Some volleys can last upwards of 20 minutes, depending on the skill of the player and the mode of play. Meaning that a variety of important options and bits of information are unavailable until play ends. In the pause menu the score, match type, and control quick-help screens are available for viewing. Additionally, the gyroscopic control options can be turned on or off, the game can be reset, and depending on the mode of play, the game can also be saved or exited.

Coins as Currency

Unlock-able items and coin grinding are the only RPG-like elements this game retains. After winning successful matches you will be presented with an item, which become available for purchase at the clubhouse store. Items can only be used with your Mii character and provide unique ways to raise stats. These items include rackets, uniforms, wristbands and shoes, which can be worn in different combinations. Each item comes with a unique set of stats that include power (serve, stroke, volley), spin (side, top, slice), and move (speed, acceleration, agility).

In addition to regular item unlocking are special costumes. These costumes, just like the unlock-able items, can only be worn by your Mii. Costumes are unlocked by completing in-game tasks and in some cases by snapping photos of exclusive QR codes. A listing of what tasks need to be completed can be found by highlighting a question-box in the clubhouse costume selection screen. Tasks include such things as beating a certain tournament, obtaining a set amount of victory metals, and meeting 50 Mii characters via StreetPass.

Collecting coins for currency is accomplished by competing in 1 of 4 fun mini-games, called Special Games. These games include Ring Shot, Super Mario Tennis, Galaxy Rally, and Ink Showdown. In Ring Shot you work cooperatively to move the tennis ball across the court and through rings. Each successful pass earns you achievement points and coins. Super Mario Tennis unfolds against a brick wall where an interactive movie of Super Mario Bros. the game is showing. You must move the ball along as if it was the main character, beating stages and collecting coins as you go. The disappearing floor of Galaxy Rally makes this mini-game a challenge as you volley with an opponent to collect coins. In Ink Showdown you must return a set amount of tennis balls without the opposing player touching them. You will also have to hit back squid ink or risk having your screen covered in a thick dark liquid.

The mini-games vary enough that they remain fun even after multiple replays. Coin collecting through this method is rather repetitive, and it begs the question why more mini-games and coin collection opportunities were not included.

Takin’ it to the Streets

StreetPass allows 3DS owners to challenge to a game of tennis Mii characters met in passing. You can also work together in cooperative play to collect coins in Ring Shot. StreetPass only offers the ability to play with another 3DS owners Mii, you will not actually interact with that person.

I spent over a week carrying around my 3DS in the hopes of collecting a Mii for Mario Tennis Open, but it never happened. While StreetPass has always been a clever feature it continually seems to fall short due to poor execution, namely its use relies upon the actual meeting of another 3DS, something which seems to rarely happen for gamers above a certain age group.

Playing With Friends

Multiplayer offers the ability to play both locally and online. During local sessions up to 4 gamers can compete in exhibition mode or experience the Ring Shot mini-game. Mario Tennis Open supports both card-to-card local multiplayer and via Download Play.  Online games played across the Nintendo Network can compete in exhibition play or in an open match. Exhibition play is limited to gamers on your friends list where open match play allows you to compete against regional rivals.

It will not take long to master the tournament modes and item collecting can become boring after long periods. The remaining challenge lies with taking your geared-out Mii online to compete with players from around the world. Online multiplier presented no lag while I was able to quickly access the network, find an opponent, and game for long sessions without interruption. This mode is the gem of Mario Tennis Open and the reason to keep experiencing the game.

Be Sure to Present Yourself Accordingly

Mario Tennis Open is not a realistic simulation of a tennis tournament, but it is a wonderful arcade-like experience. As such the game contains colorful graphical effects and whimsical backdrops. The attention to detail is apparent on each rendered pixel as graphics always fit the scene with grace and presence.

The developers paid careful attention to the angle of the court as graphics have been scaled in pseudo-3D which offers a realistic feeling both with the 3D slider turned on or off. When turned on, the 3D effect provides an exceptional depth-of-field perspective. It truly feels like you are sitting 20 rows back and watching a set of characters volley a barrage of glowing tennis balls imbued with video game magic.

Character graphics are smooth and effectively animated. Your Mii will come to life the very first time it appears on court wearing a custom combination of stat-enhancing tennis gear. As rackets swing, characters run, and balls are smashed, the exceptional character graphics may cause you to forget that you are playing a simple tennis game.

The musical score of the game carefully blends past Mario themes with energetic momentum building drum lines. You will feel at home while aggressively attacking the controls. Sound effects fall perfectly in time with onscreen animations, making the smash of the ball feel satisfying and special hits feel terrifying.

Bring Your Sunscreen

After more than 30 hours of play I have yet to experience any bugs. What I have experienced are a few annoyances that should have been addressed from the start.

The first of which is the mismatched touch screen and button control placements. It makes perfect sense that they would wish to include both types of controls. What confuses me is why they chose to arrange the controls differently. What is even more confusing is how the touch screen received the logical control setup, where topspin is the top button and slice is the bottom button. The first few times you play the game it can become incredibly confusing if you decided to focus on both sets of controls. I chose to use the 4 face buttons at first, as it simply felt much more comfortable when holding the 3DS. However, I eventually switched to the touch screen because the control layout makes more sense. The result of which was a collection of finger prints that could have been avoided if the control schemes mirrored one another.

The game menus were carefully crafted so that both touch screen and button options are always available, except when changing your Mii’s greeting from the clubhouse menu. Here the only way to exit is to press the touch screen.

The mini-games are extremely enjoyable but remain the only means by which to obtain coins. Coins are required if you want to level up your character though the purchase of unlockable tennis gear. If you dislike the 4 mini-games or the idea of grinding for coins then you may end up never playing with your Mii character. The other issue is that if you do not care about the collectables then the game has little to offer besides online play. The addition of more mini-games and more oppertunites for collecting coins would have benefited the game as a whole.

Do Not Challenge the Ruling

The game plays smoothly thanks to the inclusion of fine tuned controls. The circle pad feels exceptionally responsive as characters glide around the different court surfaces. Buttons are accurately reflected by onscreen animations that always hit their mark.

Graphically the game could not be more beautiful. Everything was created by a dedicated team that has a passion for this franchise, and it shows. The same should be said for the sound effects and musical score. If graphics and sound are a key factor in your purchase decisions then look no further, Mario Tennis Open will deliver.

There are over 200 collectible items but the method for obtaining them is as simplistic as winning matches. Each successful win will grant you another item that can then be purchased using coins collected through repetitive mini-games. The collectable items are fun at first but if you do not use your Mii as a character then those items, and the point of collecting coins to purchase them, remain useless gaming aspects.

Besides online play and grinding for more stat-enhancing equipment, there is very little to offer after tournament play has been conquered. If the mechanics of an arcade-style tennis game appeal to you then you can always choose a different character and begin anew. Yet it seems clear that the majority of players will eventually leave the repetitive competition circuit behind for multiplayer gaming. Even here the game seems to fall short as Multiplayer modes simply do not offer enough variety past the most basic modes of play.

When examining the game’s elements as a whole they can appear rather stale. It feels as though the developers have not pushed the franchise in any new directions. Instead they have simply capitalized on what the 3DS has to offer and played it safe, making Mario Tennis Open feel like a fun game but one best enjoyed in small doses. 

+ Enjoyable arcade-like experience
+ Smooth circle knob controls
+ Simplified ball mechanic controls
+ Beautiful graphics and sound
+ Varying modes of play
+ Fun mini-games
+ Great online experience
- Confusing touch screen vs. face button controls
- Gyroscopic control’s easy mode of play
- Repetitive experiences
- Lack of franchise boundary pushing
10 Presentation
The game is a wonderful arcade-like package that feels like it’s missing only the coin-op quarter slot. Everything from the 3D to the graphical effects have been designed with care. The music fits the theme while providing a feeling of familiarity. This truly is one beautiful game.
8 Gameplay
The controls are smooth and accurate. The gyroscopic controls automatic mode feels like cheating. Character movement is fluid. The camera is perfectly placed, even during replays. The repetitive gameplay elements, lack of additional mini-games and minimalistic online play modes leave something to be desired.
7 Lasting Appeal
Once the tournament modes are beaten and a sizable amount of tennis gear has been obtained, all that remains is online play. After awhile even that becomes repetitive. The game is fun in small doses but I do not feel it has lasting appeal. With so many gaming choices there is just not enough gameplay content to warrant serious play or investing large chunks of time.
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
The game is beautiful and carefully crafted. The mechanics are spot on and provide an exceptional experience. There are unlock-able items and enough modes of play to keep you busy for a short while. However, the tournaments are not overly difficult to beat and really fun mini-games become tediously repetitive much too quickly. Online play is where this game shines but even that mode of play lacks ingenuity and variety. After a few rounds you’ll have your fix and start looking for something else to experience.


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