The Mario Tennis series is back - and just in time for the mustached plumber to get a Wimbledon invitation.
But instead of simply replacing the likes of Murray and Nadal with Nintendo’s wacky cast, this Switch title has put a new spin on the sport.
With a plethora of super-charged moves and a story mode packed with oddball mini games and boss battles, Aces is as delightfully Nintendo as they come.
Could it be the greatest video game to ever grace a tennis court? After my hour-long hands-on, I certainly think it’s got a great shot.
A whole new ball game
In previous Mario Tennis entries you’d mostly rely on the same moves your average tennis player has up their sleeve: lobs, slices topspins and power shots. These all make a welcome return in Aces, each providing tactful and rewarding methods of defeating your opponent.
Now though, Mario and co have also gained a slew of super-powered skills that even an at-his-prime Roger Federer wasn’t capable. They can momentarily pause time to aim their shots, slow down the ball to make it easier to hit or even trigger a ‘special shot’ that’s so powerful it can shatter the opponent’s racket and get them disqualified.
Don’t think you can just spam these moves though - they all use up a chunky portion of your energy gauge. Managing this meter successfully can be the difference between success and failure, which makes it ridiculuosly rewarding when you've finally maxed out your energy to execute a match-winning power slam.
Still, this move isn't quite an 'instant win' button, as it’s actually possible to counter these ‘special shots’ with a perfectly timed block. This adds a surprising breadth of tactics to Aces. Do you risk the destruction of your racket by attempting a block, or play it safe by stepping aside and surrendering the points? As a result, tennis matches become just as much a wars of wits as they are a battle of reflexes.
What a racket!
While Wimbledon’s off-court drama peaks at sweating over Andy Murray’s injury, Mario’s tennis tournament has more turmoil than an episode of Coronation Street in the new story mode, as a possessed tennis racket kidnaps poor Luigi. At least Princess Peach gets a day off being the damsel in distress.
In order to save him you must complete various challenges that often stray from your typical tennis match. During my hands-on, I tackled a time trial where I launched tennis balls at a bunch of fire-spitting piranha plants, and took on a boss battle where I used the somersaulting ‘trick shot’ power to dodge incoming projectiles.
These were fun respites from multiplayer matches, and a great way to master all of the new abilities that Aces introduces without embarrassing yourself against your friends.
In regards to how many creative challenges can be squeezed out of the game of tennis remains to be seen, but at the end of my hands-on I was itching to see more, which can only be a good thing.
Meet your match
As welcome as the story mode is, it’s not the star attraction in Mario Tennis Aces - that would be the multiplayer. The 1v1 matches I played were addictively fun, with the new special moves adding more tension, strategy and hilarity than in previous entries.
The unique traits and skills of each playable character also gives matches more depth and variability. Previously, the only difference between the likes of Mario and Bowser would be their power, speed and ability, but they now have their own special moves too. For example, with the trick shot Mario will vault into the air, while Bowser tucks up into his shell and spins across the court.
Not a fan of the new special moves? You’re free to turn them off and have a straightforward game of the tennis, which will no doubt be used by ultra-serious competitors for online games.
While I didn’t get the opportunity to play the other modes, you can also have 2v2 matches with three friends or get some Wii Sports nostalgia by turning on the Joy-Cons’ motion controls. Just be careful not to smash your TV this time.
Mario Tennis Aces Initial Verdict
Mario Tennis has long been one of the standout sport series in video games, with the super-tight controls and zany Nintendo personality a champion combination. If there was any criticism it’s that there’s been no reinvention for the past decade or so - but that changes with Aces.
The new special moves turn the casual back-and-forth into a frantic high-speed chess match, while the story mode looks to be packed with delightfully fun content that will help hone your skills in the process.
Whether the story mode will keep up the tempo remains to be seen and I’m still yet to play all of the multiplayer modes, but if first impressions are anything to go by, Mario Tennis Aces looks set to join the Switch’s evergrowing list of essential purchases.