Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash

Game Review by Darren Carle | 25 Nov 2015
Game title: Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash
Publisher: Developer: Camelot Software Planning, Publisher: Nintendo
Release date: 20 Nov
Price: £34.99

OK, let’s get the tennis puns out of the way nice and early. Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash doesn’t manage to serve up an ‘ace’ but it does give a reasonable ‘return’ for your investment and with a friend in tow, you’ll definitely, er, ‘raise a racket’?

Anyway… the first issue with Mario Tennis is how to play the damn thing. There’s no tutorial to speak of, merely some load screen hints and tips. Even for veteran players, this is an issue as it’s been a long time since the last game in this series – over ten years on home consoles. For those new to the fold, it’s not an inconsiderable barrier and though there’s nothing overly strategic about this fun take on the sport, it wouldn’t have hurt to give players a heads-up on some of the basics.

Basic, though, is a word being bandied about when it comes to Ultra Smash. Whilst The Skinny is new to this particular franchise, a quick bit of online cribbing makes it clear that this iteration has to be the most bare bones of the series yet. Nintendo are clearly hoping for this to be an online, party game, and that’s fair enough, but it doesn’t excuse the lack of solo options.

There’s a regular, battle, knockout and mega ball mode but if you’re sitting on your lonesome, the appeal of each doesn’t take long to wear off. Battle mode is the more interesting of the options as it throws in a few Mario frivolities into proceedings, such as giant mushrooms, adding a nice little bit of strategy. Beyond that it’s difficult to get overly excited about mega ball mode, which effectively turns your tennis ball into a beach ball and counts how long each rally lasts.

However, Ultra Smash does pick up its slack overall when you team up with another player. Firstly, developers Camelot have nicely utilised the Wii U GamePad, meaning one player can view their avatar from the optimal position on the handheld screen whilst their opponent is given the same luxury on the big screen. It’s a simple idea, but given that other big Nintendo releases have merely used the GamePad as a duplicate screen, it’s certainly a welcome one.

It also feels pretty sharp and, like Mario’s other forays into HD, Ultra Smash certainly looks the business. It runs smoothly too, with no noticeable dip whether playing solo, local multiplayer or online. The mechanics feel smooth and responsive and there’s rarely a moment when shots don’t connect in the way you anticipated. It’s the kind of high quality release we’ve come to expect from The Big N.

Online matchmaking is quick and efficient and there’s a great deal to enjoy about the sheer randomness of who you’ll come up against next. In lieu of a detailed tutorial, it’s also the best learning curve as even a cursory few games will enlighten you to a slew of playing styles from around the globe. It’s here that Ultra Smash shows its depth and nuance behind the shiny, playful façade. With a friend in the same room jumping online with you, Mario Tennis really comes into its own.

It’s a pity then that Ultra Smash isn’t more of an all-rounder. It’s definitely a case of a game playing to its strengths whilst being open to some glaring weaknesses. In short, if you’re the Pete Sampras loner type then this title is probably more of a double fault. But if you’re more of a party-loving, Andre Agassi looking to dust off your Wii U with a fun, online game then Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash is a veritable smash.