It seems improbable, but here we are in the first week of Wimbledon and there's barely a cloud in the sky over London, we're four days in and two Brits are still in the men's tournament, and the BBC Breakfast News has only mentioned Henman Hill 47 times this week. Just you wait until Andrew Murray starts knocking out the big guns; it'll be the 'Murray Mound' before you know it. But the prospect of 'Tiger' Tim's fey clenched fist of triumph pales into the background once you realise Nintendo is bringing an almost pixel-perfect handheld version of Mario Power Tennis to the GBA.
Okay, so it's not that exciting, but having had a chance to play the demo at the recent post-E3 Nintendo game day it's clear that Mario Tennis Advance is shaping up to be every bit as instantly playable (and completely bonkers) as the somewhat overlooked GameCube 'Power' version released last summer.
The demo offered us the chance to play a quick 'best of three' single-player Arcade match with the usual option of Mario-related characters to play as, including the tubby plumber himself, Donkey Kong, Peach and Waluigi, although the full game will feature at least double that available to unlock via the Story Mode.
With a graphical finesse every bit as bold and cheery as the GameCube version, the Camelot conversion truly takes the GBA's visual prowess to unexpected heights, and fans of the original can expect all the crazy moves (with accompanying animations) to make it to the GBA. As before, each player is rated in three categories: speed, serve and shot power, with none of them ever excelling in more than one category. As ever, Mario's the steady Eddie of the bunch with a three star rating in each, while Donkey Kong, for example, has the best shot power, but the slowest speed.
And just like Mario Power Tennis, players can invoke special signature Power shots at key moments to try and steal the points, but also activate equally cheeky saving moves that allow your character to recover from otherwise impossible situations. Whether it's strictly fair for Mario to whip out his giant hammer to smash a shot across court is one thing, but for Waluigi to turn the court into what appears to be a swimming pool is another. It's certainly not cricket, which is probably just as well come to think of it.
Service with a smile
Controls-wise, everything has been compacted to a simple two-button system that all tennis gamers will be completely at home with. Service is the usual two-tap system that's been used for aeons, with one tap setting a rising power bar in motion, followed by another to confirm the strength of the serve, with directional controls giving you the choice to place it just so.
In the demo it was rather too easy to score an ace (and win games generally), but with four levels of difficulty available in the finished product it should be a different story come December, when the game gets its European release. The general play felt fluid and responsive, and although can't compete with the majesty of Virtua Tennis on the PSP, it's by far the best tennis game available on a Nintendo handheld by some margin - thrashing the ropey GBA port of VT to Love.
As expected, the game is set to support the under-utilised GBA wireless adaptor (bundled with last year's Pokemon games you may recall, and available separately) so there remains the tantalising prospect of four-player wireless doubles matches if you can find enough mates with the kit, and Nintendo has the good sense not to make this a multi-cart multiplayer game.
With Mario Tennis Advance only a few months off release, look out for our full review when the game hits later this year.