Mario Power Tennis Reader Review
Mario Power Tennis, from the same people responsible for the Mario Golf series, retains all that was good from the excellent N64 version of Nintendo-flavoured tennis, but those simple strawberries have now been topped with golden syrup, treacle, chocolate sauce, cherries, sprinkles, gravy, salt and pepper. All it needed was creamy Gamecube textures to complement the subtly balanced game mechanics, and this game would have been ready to serve (and volley), but in an effort to provide more modes, mini-games and wacky courts, Camelot really have over-egged the pudding.
The N64 original, without the pro-active ‘Power’ colourant in the title, perfectly combined traditional Nintendo pick-up-and-playability with the subtle nuance of real tennis. This Gamecube update maintains the fundamental controls and physics, so at its heart is a superbly playable tennis game, perfect for manic four-player doubles action, or with two players for a tight cat-and-mouse duel. With a two-button control system still managing to cover the full gamut of tennis shots – from sliced drop shots to diving returns, top-spin lobs to forehand smashes – it has the accessible simplicity of old rally-oriented games like Super Smash Court Tennis (PS1) or – whisper it – Pong, while adding the depth of more sober tennis sims like Virtua Tennis (DC) or Top Spin (Xbox).
The characters all slot into the time-honoured Nintendo speed/power ratio model, with spin and accuracy also joining in to mix things up. The game does not baffle the player with statistics or figures however, rather describe each character in a word, and let the player find out their attributes for themselves. This helps keeps menu-navigation time to a minimum, and encourages more time spent out on the court, vital for sustaining interest in a group gaming situation.
Past the character selection screen, the first problem is encountered. Court selection presents a choice between the three staple surfaces of tennis – rubber, clay and grass – then a superfluous array of aptly-named ‘Gimmick Courts’, each with its own character-themed pitfalls, obstacles, moving parts and generally annoying and distracting extras. There is simply too much moving around on the screen to concentrate on any task beyond attempting to see the ball. There are various things to avoid and collect, but everything happens at such a cacophonous speed that it takes any skill from the game and reduces it to simply hitting returns until your opponent gets eaten by a ghost or something, then serving up and doing it all over again. Very tedious, very inane and not worth anything more than a cursory glance.
Once an normal surface has been chosen, the titular ‘Power’ shot rears its gimmicky head. Displayed by a glowing racquet, a Power shot is earned by little more than a simple 10-shot rally, and once activated, can be used either defensively or offensively to stay in, or close out a rally. Each character has their own unique pair of shots, depicted in typical Nintendo fashion, with spinning banana boomerangs, Donkey Kong in a cannon, that sort of thing. Sounds fun enough, but in practice it means sitting through at least one – sometimes four or more – goofy five-second animations PER POINT. They act as such a break to the action – with the camera cutting and zooming through different angles to show the assorted wackiness – that when control eventually returns to the player, spotting a character before they are required to make a shot is an achievement in itself. Having said that, they are all made with real Nintendo charm and sparkle, so each is fun to see once, but thankfully the option to turn Power shots off is available prominently after a (sensible) court has been chosen.
There is certainly a place for Nintendo craziness – it just isn’t here. Wario Ware; Mario Party, Mario Kart: all mad as kippers and all great games. Tennis isn’t something that needs rotating floors and floating power-ups to make it interesting. It is a sport so well devised that tinkering with it just feels pointless. Even to kids, who must surely be the intended target, a game of regular tennis (albeit with 10-foot lizards and 3-foot mini-monkeys) will appeal more than a confusing disarray of moving obstacles and objectives. Maybe Nintendo need a reason to justify reselling a game perfected five years ago. To owners of the N64 version, this game improves nothing but the clarity and smoothness of the graphics, factors that should never be enough alone to qualify a repurchase. As an experiment in reinventing the wheel, it fails, but handily the old wheel still works perfectly, if you don’t already own one.
7 / 10