“Mario Tennis Aces” is a strange game. The oddity comes from a fact that this is more of a Mario and the gang-themed… let’s say product… than a regular tennis game.
Here is the thing – at its surface, this is a tennis game featuring characters from the Italian plumber’s world but it has special mechanics unique to this title (not featured in the previous Mario Tennis games). Namely, throughout the match, you, the player, gather energy that is later utilized to make a “zone shot”. The closest approximation of the “zone state” would be bullet time in the Matrix movies: you get to move at regular speed, while the rest of the world around you goes in slow motion. Zone shots enable you to aim where the ball will land more accurately than the regular shots, and they do damage to the opponent’s racket, which is tricky because you have a limited number of rackets you can use throughout the match, and if your last one gets broken, that means the end of the match for you. The only way to avoid taking damage is to time your counterstrike perfectly and block the opponent’s zone shot.
There is also the trick shot ability. You use it to get to the place where the opponent’s ball will land super quickly, and if you manage to return the ball in time it will fill up your energy gauge, and you need that energy to perform your zone shots. Oh, and there are also Special Shots that you can make only when you are completely loaded with energy. Special shots are extra powerful and can break the enemy’s racket even if it didn’t take any harm previously, but if you mess up a Special Shot, you will have wasted all of your energy for nothing.
There is an online multiplayer mode with tournaments that award you additional outfits and characters, a Story mode akin to “Mario Tennis: Power Tour”, a Swing Mode where you get to use your Joy Con as if it was a Wiimote, and lastly, there is a Simple Mode where you… Play tennis? It has no special moves or trick shots.
“Mario Tennis Aces” is a strange beast. With over one million and four hundred thousand copies sold already, it is one of the best sellers on Switch, but I have to admit that I am having a hard time seeing it as a game that belongs in a Mario Sports series. It’s a game that looks great and has all the charm that we’ve grown to expect from the main Nintendo title, but I wouldn’t call it a sports game. If you have missed the free demo a few months ago, figure out for yourself if all the special shots, tricks, and moves listed above are too much for you or not, and make your choice.