Quality tennis video games are few and far between, and titles showcasing the sport have become increasingly rare for the current console generation.
Enter Mario, Nintendo’s mustachioed mascot, to pick up the slack with the solid “Mario Tennis Aces.”
Considering the poor reception for his last tennis-focused game on the Wii U three years ago, it was a gamble to make “Aces” the initial first-party sports title on the Switch. But it succeeds here thanks in no small part to a mode that wasn’t present in 2015’s “Mario Tennis: Ultimate Smash:” Adventure mode.
From the moment “Aces” boots up, players jump right into an on-court clash doubles clash between the series’ most famous heroes and villains takes an unexpected turn. An evil, possessed racket has taken control of antagonistic Wario and Waluigi, and soon Mario’s brother Luigi succumbs. It’s up to Mario and his companion Toad to travel the world, collecting power stones Avengers-style and, uh, playing tennis.
Yes, it’s goofy. And “Aces” profoundly understands the silliness of its narrative, utilizing that self-awareness for the sake of levity. It’s all very Mario, and it shouldn’t be any other way.
The story-driven campaign itself is more challenging than its light tone might imply. Most encounters are not simple tennis matches, but rather skill challenges masked as battles. Many clashes, especially boss encounters, require at least one or two retries while discerning exploitable patterns.
Beyond the story, “Aces” offers three difficulty tiers of solo tournaments, online tournaments against other players and exhibition matches. The latter can be played either using motion controls (Swing Mode) or traditional buttons.
Don’t expect Swing Mode to be a perfect, modern adaptation of the tennis game from the classic “Wii Sports.” Some may come to prefer this version over the old Wii game, but it’s certainly less accessible.
The rest of the game carries a distinct arcade flavor — obviously, as it’s got Mario and Princess Peach on the cover. Meters fill up with successful returns and trick shots and part or all of it can be used on special shots that will be hard to return.
The meters, combined with characters who each have specific play styles, strengths and weaknesses, give off the vibe of a fighting game when it comes to head-to-head matchups — something the community has taken notice of since launch. It’s a unique way to approach tennis, to say the least.
No need for hyperbole with this game, but rest assured “Mario Tennis Aces” is a nice addition to the Switch collection of any rabid tennis fan or those looking for a little head-to-head competition on the go.