Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash is a barebones installment of a beloved franchise on Wii U that leaves gamers with very little to do outside of a few traditional game modes.
As one of the older franchises at Nintendo's disposal, Mario Tennis has managed to hold a spot that's near and dear to fans' hearts. Heck, it's the series that featured the debut of the now infamous Waluigi, and the earliest iterations of the sport-centric Mario spin-off were some of the most enjoyable games ever. Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash takes a massive step back for the franchise, however, leaving fans wondering how the Big N could even think was doing right by its consumer base by releasing this as a finished product.
Gone are the modes that fans have come to adore in the series. Tournament or Campaign options are nowhere to be found, with Nintendo attempting to make good on these heavy absences by implementing a mode that randomly tosses Mega Mushrooms onto the in-game tennis court. What's left are traditional Singles and Doubles options, with a mini-game of sorts, Mega Ball Rally, offering little solace for those hungry for a meatier game in Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash.
Despite lacking content, the latest Mario Tennis has some redeemable qualities – albeit far and few between. The gameplay itself is solid, if not simple, which makes for some awesome local multiplayer sessions. Up to four friends can participate simultaneously, and playing with or against them is made much more enjoyable thanks to the various serves that are at a player's disposal. Whether spiking it into the ground, arching the shot, or nailing an Ultra Smash, there's some strategy to be found whilst in the midst of competitive play.
All of this is found regardless of how many gamers are playing, and it's nice to see the game maintain its visuals despite adding additional player inputs. Those that are without a co-op companion can also jump online, and the service actually seems to be working quite well for the time being. That said, it's a rather rudimentary means of playing against other people from around the world, as it doesn't allow Wii U owners to setup online games with friends – instead forcing them into random singles or doubles matches.
Outside of standard tennis games are three modes that put a different spin on traditional play, such as the aforementioned Mega Mushroom-centric Mega Battle option. This mode tries to offer up a unique take on the franchise by ballooning characters to absurd sizes in a bid to dominate opponents. Sadly, this feels more like an imbalanced serve-fest rather than a meaningful addition to Ultra Smash, making it as short-lived as many of the other modes on-hand.
It doesn't help that each and every one of these modes is filled with A.I. opponents and allies that are less-than-stellar – jumping from pushovers to unbeatable monsters with little in between. This holds especially true in the amiibo portion of the game, which allows consumers to scan their compatible character into the tennis-based fray. The end result, sadly, is a very basic and largely unseen means of helping the character grow, which pales in comparison to the way a similar system is implemented in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS. Stats go up, but they aren't inherently present in the action figure's play.
Then there's the final roster, which consists of an abysmal 16 characters. Most of the iconic mascots from throughout the Mushroom Kingdom are present and accounted for in the starting 12, with the final 4 unlockable mascots leaving a lot to be desired. It doesn't take much time to unlock them either, as players are able to completely bypass unlock goals entirely by using coins they collect whilst playing the game. Add in the fact that mainstays like Diddy and even Koopa are nowhere to be found, and fans hoping to see more familiar faces are sure to be disappointed.
While the gameplay itself appears polished and the characters are as charming as ever, Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash just doesn't offer much for Wii U owners. The brief enjoyment comes to a head after just a handful of play sessions, as there's just not much else to do within the game afterwards. What is present seems like a good base for what could have been a really solid Mario outing, but it appears that Nintendo wasn't willing to leave Camelot's latest in the oven quite long enough.
Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash is available exclusively for the Nintendo Wii U on November 20, 2015.