Tennis games don't come by very often. This is quite a surprising fact given the popularity of the sport and the popularity of many of the tennis games which have been released. The last great one, Top Spin, focused on arcade style gameplay paired with some of the big names in tennis but since then it has been a long time between drinks. While Mario Power Tennis may not have the stars of the circuit, Nintendo has their own line up of stars to put in the game. It may not be the most licensed sports game around but it sure offers a fantastic game of tennis.
Mario Power Tennis as you may expect doesn't take the sport overly seriously and offers modes not usually seen in other sports games. Basically three modes are on offer; exhibition, tournament and the special game modes. Exhibition is fairly self explanatory allowing you to play either doubles or singles with a variety of famous Nintendo characters on offer in the game. It's a shame you can't customise these characters but considering the star power they have for Nintendo it's not hard to see why it wasn't possible.
Although the game doesn't take itself overly seriously, it does in the tournament format reflect the Grand Slam from the real world. Featuring major tournaments on grass, hardcourt and clay it is easy to see the comparison to the real world tournaments such as the US Open. The tournaments feature the quarter, semi-finals and final much like top spin. The difference being you can save between matches which is a good thing. Sets also by default only go up to three games and most matches except for the finals are only one set long. This allows you to breeze through the game quickly and move onto new characters before getting tired with the current game. For those who want a more serious game you can adjust the set number of games and sets but not in the tournament format.
Aside from the small games on offer, it follows exactly how a tennis match plays out via singles or doubles. There is however a few new things to the sport which Mario and his friends have added such as the defensive and offensive power shots. Each character has these powershots at their disposal and once the racquet's begin to flash, they are available to use. They range from flying across the screen to get a hard to reach ball through to using a sledgehammer to an almost unreturnable ball back to the opponent. It is here that the game becomes quite unique and often in multiplayer, powershots can become a regular thing. They also revolve around the ethos of the character. For instance Koopa will get in his shell to move around the court while Princess Peach will use hearts to hit a ball back sometimes.
As you progress through the tournaments you also unlock small games to play away from the serious tennis action. These range from belting balls of paint to colour a picture, to taking on one of the more famous enemies from Super Mario Sunshine. A lot of the game will be very familiar to people who have played many games from Nintendo over the years as not only do the characters feature from games such as Donkey Kong but so do environments. The roster of players include the brothers, koopa, bowser and his son, peach and daisy and others. The only question is, where is Pikachu or any pokemon for that matter?
The courts which the games are played on vary. The tournaments are played on serious courts in the Peach Arena while exhibition matches can be played in places such as the Donkey Kong world and WarioWare factory each with their own unique game mechanics such as crocodiles and moving courts. These novelty courts really bring across the not so serious side of the game offering players both advantages and disadvantages throughout the matches. The graphics of the game are extremely good with highly detailed character models that you have come to expect from Nintendo and of course the novelty courts. No commentary is provided but there is voice acting for the points, done by an older version of Toad.
Mario Power Tennis may not be the most serious simulation of tennis around but it does combine two fantastic properties together in a great way. The familiarity of the characters will allow all gamers to relate to the game plus the fact it offers both serious and not so serious game modes really enhances the game and makes it one of the better tennis games around, even when compared to proper simulation titles.