‘Mario Ten­nis Aces’ a grand slam

The Republican Herald - This Weekend - - NEWS - BY CHRISTO­PHER BYRD THE WASH­ING­TON POST

I knew I was smit­ten with “Mario Ten­nis Aces” af­ter I lost a hard-fought match to Shy Guy — Nin­tendo’s cutesy, mask-wear­ing scoundrel. At 40-all, we went back and forth an­gling for the two con­sec­u­tive points that would clinch the game.

Our match fell into a se­ries of deuce, ad­van­tage re­ceiver, deuce, ad­van­tage server, deuce, etc., etc. That’s when my hands be­gan to hurt from clutch­ing the con­trollers too tightly; I was, by any mea­sure, fully ab­sorbed in the tit­for-tat bat­tle. Then, at some point, a row of racket-bear­ing Shy Guys walked across the court and, I swear, at least two of them in­ter­ceded on be­half of my op­po­nent, re­turn­ing shots he was nowhere near.

They over­whelmed me with their col­lec­tive num­bers. I yelped at the heav­ens, although I was be­mused by the out­come. Nat­u­rally, I wasted no time in hav­ing an­other go.

“Mario Ten­nis Aces” is the first sports game since, well, “Mario Kart 8” that’s cap­ti­vated me. I say that to make it clear that I’m not the sort of per­son that finds more re­al­is­tic sports-themed sim­u­la­tions par­tic­u­larly ap­peal­ing.

It’s a ques­tion of tem­per­a­ment. With tra­di­tional sports games I of­ten find my­self mea­sur­ing the dis­tance be­tween the sim­u­la­tion and re­al­ity which leads me to nurse some vague sense of guilt for not ven­tur­ing out­side and kick­ing a soc­cer ball around or what have you. By con­trast, the afore­men­tioned Mario games, with their manic, car­toony shenani­gans, strike me as self-con­tained dream­scapes that make me think of video games and lit­tle else.

Although it may be tempt­ing, and a bit dis­ap­point­ing, to jump straight into “Ten­nis Aces” on­line com­pet­i­tive mode, the game fea­tures a good sin­gle player mode. Of course, its “story” is lit­tle more than a breezy setup to jus­tify Mario’s ram­bles through a land dot­ted with dif­fer­ent ten­nis chal­lenges. (Es­sen­tially, Mario’s brother, Luigi, brings havoc to the land by ac­cept­ing a cursed racket as a gift from the malev­o­lent duo Wario and Waluigi.)

The stages are clever in their va­ri­ety. One might have you whack­ing snow­balls at a train full of Shy Guys while in an­other you’re re­turn­ing fire­balls against a gallery of Pi­ranha Plants. Col­lec­tively, these lev­els do a good job of drilling home the finer points of the game’s me­chan­ics.

Aside from learn­ing your ba­sic slice, lob, drop shot and flat re­turn, it’s es­sen­tial to keep an eye on the power me­ter in the up­per-left cor­ner. The me­ter builds up fol­low­ing suc­cess­ful ral­lies and scor­ing. Juic­ing up power al­lows you to use Zone Speed to dash around the court faster and to slow down the move­ment of an in­com­ing ball. Some­times, as your power me­ter charges, a star­shaped spot will ap­pear on the court as the ball is sail­ing in your di­rec­tion. Hur­ry­ing to that spot al­lows you to per­form a Zone Shot where the cam­era switches to a first­per­son per­spec­tive al­low­ing you to briefly line up a vol­ley. (The win­dow of op­por­tu­nity is con­tin­gent on the rel­a­tive level of the power gauge.)

Af­ter mak­ing my way through a sig­nif­i­cant amount of the ad­ven­ture mode, I was ea­ger to try my luck against other hu­man play­ers. Alas, most of the matches I played were af­flicted with ram­pant lag which led me to bat­tle the frame rate as much as my op­po­nent. Be­fore a match starts you can see the strength of your op­po­nent’s sig­nal. Although I played most of the game in dock mode with my con­sole rest­ing close to my router, I have yet to have a match where the frame rate re­mained steady through­out. (In any case, I like the game enough that I plan on pick­ing up a USB-Eth­er­net adapter so that I can see if a wired con­nec­tion fixes my is­sue.)

One thing that has miffed some of the more en­thu­si­as­tic play­ers is that cur­rently there is no op­tion to ad­just the num­ber of games it takes to win. As it stands, play­ers need to win only two of three games to win a match. Per­son­ally, I en­joy the fast pace of this setup but I un­der­stand why some may wish that they could tweak a set­ting to opt for some­thing that more closely re­sem­bles a full ten­nis match.

As­sum­ing my con­nec­tiv­ity is­sues are not re­flec­tive of the over­all qual­ity of the “Mario Ten­nis Aces” net­code, and in­stead the re­sult of some com­bi­na­tion of bad luck and my own some­times sketchy router, I imag­ine that it will be one of my pre­ferred lit­tle dis­trac­tions for the sum­mer. Fin­gers crossed.

WASH­ING­TON POST

“Mario Ten­nis Aces” for Nin­tendo Switch is a per­fect dis­trac­tion this sum­mer.

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