Nintendo has a longstanding history when it comes to tennis games. For the NES there was the aptly named Tennis, and that title was followed by Mario’s Tennis for the ill-fated Virtual Boy. Things soon changed when Nintendo scored an ace in 2000 with the release of Mario Tennis for the Nintendo 64 and GameBoy Color. Since then, however, the series has lost some power on its serve, resulting in safer game design and a more conservative approach when it comes to game modes. Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash for Wii U may fault when it comes to single-player offerings, but when it comes to its multiplayer game it serves up a strong game.
Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash offers up a fun and mechanically sound tennis game; yet we can’t help but wish there was more offered. What the game lacks are options and depth as it only offers the following modes: Mega Battle, Mega Ball Rally, Knockout Challenge, Classic Tennis, and Online. As you have likely determined for yourself, there is no single-player career option offered in Ultra Smash.
If you are looking for a deep and engrossing single-player game, Ultra Smash probably won’t satisfy your needs. With there being no career mode, all matches played are simple exhibition style games. Mega Battle is your standard game of Mario Tennis, but includes the new Mega Mushroom item. This new addition is tossed onto the court at random times, and collecting it will increase your strength for a short amount of time, or until you are hit with a body shot. The Mega Mushroom will give the player a slight advantage, but the item is typically distributed in such a way that – when playing a Singles match, both characters will be giant-sized, thus negating any imbalance it may introduce.
What about the other modes, you ask. There is Mega Ball Rally, which you rally a massive ball for as long as you can to earn more coins. The ball does shrink in the size the longer the rally goes, therefore making it more challenging to earn a larger coin bonus.
Knockout Challenge is the only mode that has any sense of progression as it presents an infinite amount of challengers. The more challengers you defeat, the more coins you will earn. If you fail to beat an opponent, you can use your coins on a rematch, or simply start the cycle all over again. In Knockout Challenge, you can use an amiibo to play as your AI partner. Once a match reaches its conclusion, your amiibo will gain experience and level up. If you find yourself struggling against challengers, tap a Yoshi or any of the compatible amiibo to give yourself an on-court advantage.
Your main incentive to play Knockout Challenge is that earning a 15 consecutive win streak will unlock the Star version – meaning the character will have enhanced abilities, of the character used to achieve this feat.
Speaking of unlockable rewards, there are 25 to earn in Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash. Of the 25, 12 are Star versions of the starting roster. There are four characters to unlock – Toadette, Bowser Jr., Dry Bowser, and Sprixie Princess, six tennis courts, two COM strength options – Pro and Ace, and amiibo Training. All of these rewards have specific requirements, or you can spend coins to unlock them.
There is also Classic Tennis, which offers two styles of play – Standard or Simple. Standard features both Jump and Chance Shots, meanwhile Simple omits them in favor of more traditional tennis rules with an emphasis on strategy and well-placed shots. Both modes can be played in either Singles or Doubles.
As you can tell, none of these modes – except for Knockout Challenge, offers compelling single-player content. However, Mega Battle, Mega Ball Rally, and Classic Tennis allow for local-multiplayer, and that is where the appeal of these game modes and Ultra Smash, as a whole, will be found. So while the game double faults on its single-player offerings, it does have better service when it comes to its multiplayer game.
Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash supports online play, but it faults here as well. Players can filter the match rules and setup to fit their needs. Offering up Singles or Double, players will then decide on what type of game they want to play – For Fun or a Serious Match (this will impact your online rank). As far as game modes are concerned, you can select from: Any, Mega Battle, Standard, or Simple, with a play time of Casual (tie-break game), Extended Play (2 games, 1 set), or either. When playing Doubles, you can partner with a friend locally or use an amiibo. The use of amiibo as a partner in online matches is a nice addition and something we wish Super Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS would offer.
Unfortunately, all online matches are against random opponents. You cannot create a lobby to challenge friends, nor is there a tournament or community mode ala Mario Kart 8.
Despite these shortcomings, Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash does offer a well-made tennis game. Mixing up your shot types, using the new jump shot, and balancing your use of Chance Shots to catch your opponent off-guard are essential for victory. Local and online multiplayer is competitive, fun, and the true appeal of the game. Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash has all the tools be an elite tennis game, but doesn’t offer enough content to achieve that goal.
- Solid tennis gameplay
- Fun local and online play
- Shallow single-player
- Bare bone game mode offerings
(Editor’s Note: A copy of the game was provided by Nintendo for review purposes.)