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Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash – Wii U

Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash – Wii U

Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash - Wii UPlatform:  Wii U

Release Date (WW):  November 20th, 2015

Developer:  Camelot Software Planning

Publisher:  Nintendo

Genre:  Sports (Tennis)

Nerd Rating:  5 out of 10

Outside of the Mario Kart series, Mario’s tennis games have been one of our hero’s more popular forays into sports.  Mario Power Tennis for the GameCube was lauded for its playful spin on the sport and depth of gameplay, and I don’t think anyone can deny how fun the Wii re-release was when it came to slinging one’s arms around in the air!  With a reasonably strong history, I thought it was safe to assume that Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash would offer a comparable – if not superior – experience.

However, Ultra Smash gets a big fat Average stamp from this fan.  It is an exceedingly stripped down title; I don’t know if the developers were going with simplicity or hoping that players would spend most of their time occupied with the online mode, but there just isn’t that much to do in this latest installment of Mario Tennis.

Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash - Wii U

Daisy prepares to serve in a game of Doubles.
Nintendo blew the perfect opportunity to give us an Amiibo of this Sarasaland Princess…

To be fair what we do get is competent, well-made, and enjoyable, there just ain’t enough of it.  Ultra Smash features only 4 modes of play, one of which is the aforementioned online mode.  The catch?  Play is randomized between whatever users are online at the time and friend-matching is a no-go.  Nintendo has been slacking in the online department for years now.  I can understand them wanting to get in on the action, though I wish they wouldn’t keep half-assing it with stupid shit like this.  Either do it or don’t, but these feeble and outdated attempts aren’t helping.

We’re also given an Ultra Smash mode and a Classic mode, the former named after the “gimmick” in this entry.  Much like the “Power Shot” from Power Tennis, Ultra Smash introduces the eponymous “Ultra Smash.”  Ultra Smash mode is the “main” mode of gameplay and makes liberal use of the “Ultra Smash” mechanic in order to score points.  The Classic mode removes “Ultra Smash” shots but otherwise provides identical gameplay.  I don’t mind saying that it’s a little bit of a disappointment to find out that one mode is the same as another mode minus a single move; this feels more like an option to turn on or off before a match or in a settings menu.

Finally there’s a Knockback Challenge exclusively for a single player that pits him or her against a stream of AI opponents, the point being to rack up as long of a streak as possible as the AI gets progressively harder.  It’s fun to see how long one can last, but fundamentally it’s still the same game.  Perhaps the one remarkable aspect is the ability to “train” Amiibo.  Any existing figurine of playable characters are compatible and “play” alongside the human player in order to rack up experience and improve their skills.  I guess it’s cool enough, but I still haven’t figured out the purpose of having these “trained” AI players on hand, other than to make further progress through the challenge.  What I can’t wrap my head around though is the entire premise behind this mode – one can go head to head against the AI, but if using an Amiibo which translates into an NPC, it turns the match into 2 against 1 (Amiibo + human vs. computer).  It doesn’t make much sense to me.

Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash - Wii U

Amiibo NPCs doing what they do best: stealing Mega Mushrooms!
Note the unfair 2-on-1 setup…oh well, at least it’s in the player’s favor!

As for the tennis itself, it’s fun enough once you get into it, but it’s a far cry from the memories of “swinging a racket” on the Wii.  Instead the player pushes buttons or different combinations thereof to produce different types of shots.  Doubles or Singles can be played with any combination of human and AI players: human versus human, AI versus human, human + human versus AI + AI, human + AI versus AI + human, and so on.  There are quite a few different shots available to keep the game interesting, and I did enjoy using the thumbstick or D-pad to move around and chase the ball.  The shots are easy and never require more than 2 button presses (including the “Ultra Sash”) but don’t be fool if you have a friend get in on the action – the WiiMote is not sufficient for control.  Sure, the game will tell you the equivalent button presses (converting X, Y, A, and B into 1, 2, A, and B) but a few abilities will be missing and a few others will be awkward to pull off due to the WiiMote’s position.  Use of the Nunchuck is strangely absent.  If you really want to play correctly, any human players will need to use either the GamePad or another peripheral such as the Classic Controller, Classic Controller Pro, or a Fight Pad modeled on the GameCube controller.

Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash - Wii U

GIANT PEACH, courtesy of the Mega Mushrooms that occasionally make their way to the court.

The system isn’t that bad and I actually had fun with the multitude of different shots, but unfortunately there’s very little variation in other areas.  For starters, there is only a single generic arena to play in, though courts of different material (and thus appearance) are available that have a sometimes noticeable effect on ball speed and bounce.  About the only other options you’ll find to play around with are how you want the display(s) split between the TV and GamePad screens.  One addition of note is the Mega Mushrooms, which the Toads will sometimes launch from the sidelines.  When a player grabs one, they grow quite a bit, ultimately adding a good deal of power to their shots and making it easier for them to move around the court quickly.  It’s not a bad idea, but the increase in size can be a real hindrance to visibility, and “Mega” characters are substantially more prone to “body shots” than normal sized characters, which not only yields a point to the opposing team, but also robs the player of their “Mega-ness.”  It’s not quite useless, but it’s not quite useful either.

Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash - Wii U

The Sprixie Princess makes her playable debut.

As you attempt to figure out just what to do in Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash, you’ll probably notice the 25 unlockables.  These include a few extra characters (the Sprixie Princess from Super Mario 3D World being the most notable) and “star versions” of each character and courts made of different materials.  For the record, I still haven’t figured out how toggling between a character’s regular state and their “star character” changes anything.  They don’t even look different.  Also available are previously mentioned different courts – sand, carpet, “The Mushroom Court,” and others.  These items are unlocked by completing certain in-game requirements (which the game tells you) such as playing 10 games in any mode or winning a Knockout Challenge with a fully trained Amiibo.  This would be a reasonably “fun” way to move through the game except for Nintendo’s built-in shortcut: you can just buy the damn unlockables with the coins earned throughout regular play…and since there’s nothing else to spend the coins on…well…you do the math.

Graphically Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash is a great looking game.  The visuals are smooth, the characters have quirky and lifelike movements, and there are plenty of small but thoughtful effects peppered throughout the game, such as the tiles held by the audience at the end of a match, the growth animations when characters receive a Mega Mushroom, and the multi-angle replays.  Menus and interfaces are sleek and slick, voice acting and sound effects are top notch, and I don’t think anyone could ask for a better audio/visual experience considering the content and the platform.

Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash - Wii U

It’s tough to find fault with these top-notch graphics. Lots of little details really round out the polished look of the final product.

So in the end we have a beautiful but empty game.  Is the “average” rating harsh considering its strengths? Maybe, but I feel like Mario titles can undergo a bit more scrutiny based on the standard set over the years.  Perhaps future updates will add a few new bells and whistles to the package, thought I doubt any substantial additions can or will be made in this manner.  I wouldn’t call Ultra Smash a total wash, but it feels a scaled back digital-only title instead of a major release in Mario canon.  We have the beginnings of an interesting way to experience tennis post-Wii, we just need a more expansive and variable framework to use it in.  Maybe Nintendo wanted to rush one more big title to the Wii U before the holidays, but Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash seems to represent several missteps: not only is it a little “too small,” it also feels like a botched opportunity to put out a few special Amiibo, particularly the new Sprixie Princess and staples from the Mario sports Mario Party series like Waluigi, Daisy, and Toadette, which have yet to receive their own figurines.  (Seriously, why can’t we get Daisy and Waluigi before a slew of lesser known Animal Crossing characters…?)

Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash - Wii U

Check it out if you must, or if you think you might be keen on using the online functionality…otherwise it might be better to wait until this one hits the discount rack.  Until next time, that’s game, set, and match.

Reviewed by The Cubist

Written by The Cubist

The Cubist


Co-founder, Head Author, & Site Technician

Find out what these ratings mean and how I rate video games.

I collect as much video gaming paraphernalia as I can get my hands on, especially when it comes to hardware. With over 40 systems including oldies like the ColecoVision and Intellivision, obscurities like the CD-i and 3DO, and the latest and greatest including the Wii U, PS4, Xbox One, 3DS, and PS Vita, I get easily overwhelmed. Most of the time you can find me firmly nestled sometime between 1985 and 1995 when it comes to my games of choice, but I’m also having a great time seeing what the 8th generation has to offer.

Currently in love with: Mortal Kombat

Email me anytime, about anything: thecubist@nerdbacon.com

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2 Comments

  1. I agree with Steroid Gamer here. Definitely a bummer. It sounded fun (simply bc it’s a Mario sports title with solid graphics on a newer game system). But it also looks sorta boring…

    I want Nintendo to make a badass system like the GameCube. In my opinion, that was their last hardcore system before full dedication to mass-appeal family/child gaming on the Wii. Here we go NX!

     
  2. Steroid Gamer
    Steroid Gamer says:

    This is a real bummer. I was going to buy this game at launch, but saw all the negative feedback and decided to wait. I’m glad I did. I mean it’s a tennis game, but can’t they find more ways/modes for you to do than just traditional tennis?

    And don’t even get me started on Nintendo and online. I’m with you, Cubist. Nintendo needs to get there shit together. Last gen the Wii was behind in the online department but they were leading in other areas so it was kind of a wash.

    I figured they would get better about it with the Wii U but they haven’t. Some games have multiplayer that’s local only. Some have online only and no local play. Some games don’t have any multiplayer at all. I know Nintendo is full of savings so they aren’t going to hit bankruptcy anytime soon. Still, enough is enough. Get it TOGETHER NINTENDO!!

     

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