Mario Power Tennis
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2007-07-16 GameCube Sports E10 (Everyone 10+) Nintendo / Camelot Co. Ltd.

Mario. At the very mention of his name, I'm taken back to the days of the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), sitting two feet in front of the television playing Super Mario Bros. 3. Over the years and consoles, Mario has claimed his spot as one of the finest jacks-of-all-trades in history. Plumber, superhero, janitor, soccer star, baseball pro, circuit racer, tennis champ, Mario's done it all. Mario Power Tennis for the GameCube helps further cement his status as a gaming icon with brilliantly addictive gameplay perfect for both tennis amateurs and pros.

While one could immediately compare Mario Power Tennis to the original Mario Tennis on the N64, one should be hesitant to do so, as this version has been given more than just better graphical appeal.

While there's no story, in the way one would normally expect, there are plenty of gameplay options to make up for it. Starting with a choice of 14 characters, you can immediately enter the tennis pro circuit, in either exhibition (practice) mode or actual tournaments like the Star Cup. If that's not your thing, you can also jump straight ahead into the mini-games with tennis themed versions of paint-by-numbers and tic-tac-toe, among many others.

For tennis purists, you will be pleased to hear that Mario Power Tennis strays little from the rules of the game. You have your choice of court surfaces, like in real life, as well as many customizable options to make the game your own. For quick matches, you can choose to play one set of only three games, or you can choose to play the full "best three out of five" scenario that you'd find at the Grand Slams of the real world, with many options in between.

Each court plays like you would expect, with grass courts having faster balls, and clay courts allowing the players to slide more as they are trying to hit the long shot. Adding to the realism are the variations in shots one can make. Lobs, slices, drop shots, straight power slams?‚» everything you would expect from a real world game of tennis makes an appearance here. Simply change your combination of A and B button presses, and you?‚…ll be ready to play with the best.

Another addition to the complexity is the variation of skills each character comes equipped with. While Mario is a more all-around player, like in many of his sports games, players like Yoshi (my choice) excel in speed. There are shot technicians like Peach, and those that rely mostly on strength like Bowser. These differences become readily apparent when playing against them during regular tournaments. Some come to net quite frequently, while others stay towards the back of the court.

As you progress through tournaments, the difficulty increases. Helping players avoid missing shot after shot are character specific power ups. Each character has two, one that helps you hit a ball that has flown out of reach, and another to send the ball back at such a speed as to stun or otherwise impair the return from your opponent. To use these special moves, your racket itself must first power up. This is done by either hitting multiple shots successfully, or by performing more specialty shots like slices and lobs.

While you could make it through the entire game only using a single shot, you would probably have a pretty hard time of it. Where the specialty shots help you under normal circumstances, the timing of your usage of power ups can also play a big role in your success. For instance, one of the easiest ways to win a point is to wait until you opponent uses a power up and then to immediately return with one of yours. While it isn't a foolproof technique, it's normally enough to catch the opponent off guard long enough to win the point.

After playing a few matches of regular tennis, you might find yourself wanting to take a break with a couple of the fun mini-games available. Some of the more notable options are the "Artist on the Court" and the "Chain Chomp Challenge".

In the former, you stand in front of a black and white portrait of a well-known Nintendo character, while a pipe on each side of the court spits out different colored paint balls. You must hit the portrait with these paint balls until they color in the picture, correctly, within a certain time limit. For example, we all know that Mario's hat is red, so it doesn't matter how many times you hit it with a green or white paint ball, you're still not going to complete the painting. This particular mini-game is a great way to practice with the different shots available, as you'll need the variety to hit the highest portions of the screen.

In the latter challenge, you are competing against three other characters, trying to earn points by hitting a chained chomper with a tennis ball. All the while you are on moveable conveyer belt, and you can only hit the chomper so many times before he will start to chase after you. You must then stop what you are doing long enough to run towards the front of the screen to step on a spray nozzle, sending them back away from you. This is a great game to play against friends, as you can sabotage them by irritating their individual chomper.

Other mini-games include Tic-Tac-Glow, which finds you earning shine sprites by cleaning up sludge from the court to make a three in a row pattern, Terror Tennis, which has you hit ghosts that are trying to escape from hanging portraits, and Mecha-Bowser Mayhem, which places you in a boss battle against a giant robotic Bowser. There are other mini-games to choose from, but this gives you the basic idea.

In true Mario fashion, the graphics are incredibly enjoyable. The characters and environments rarely contain a harsh angle, and everything seems to flow against the backgrounds superbly. The color palette, like in most Mario titles, is full of vibrant, eye-catching hues like those you would find in a child's playroom. The soundtrack is just as appealing with hum-worthy background music and character voices that we have all come to know and love.

Mario Power Tennis is a great game to play both alone, against the computer, or with friends. No matter what your skill level, there is something here that everyone can enjoy. While most licensed character games tend to be lacking in the overall fun department, the Mario sports titles never seem to be, and it?‚…s that dedication to quality that will always keep me coming back for more.