Time to lace up your trainers and pop on those tennis whites as you follow the red-capped plumber and friends on a mega mushroom tour in Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash. But its supremely fun modes, character animations and courts are let down by odd development decisions that are far from ace.
As the latest instalment in the Mario sports spin-off series and developed by Camelot, Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash is a delightfully entertaining tennis game with a neat twist. Designed as a simple, pick up and play title, Ultra Smash contains four gameplay modes with Mega Battle, Knockout Challenge, Mega Ball Rally and Classic Tennis, alongside its online matchmaking mode. With 16 playable characters, four of which can be unlocked, tennis fans will be spoilt for choice when it comes to selecting their champion. And while there’s ample character choice, the game is also compatible with 22 amiibo that can be trained alongside your character in Knockout Challenge mode.
The major draw for Ultra Smash is in its spotlight gameplay mode: Mega Battle. Choosing either Singles or Doubles matches, players can verse others in local co-operative, online or via the game’s AI and select a length between one, three or five sets and two, four or six games. At the start, players will only be able to choose from the three standard courts available in hard, clay or grass, with another six unlockable courts available later. Once in play, mega mushrooms will be thrown onto the court after a series of points have been won, ramping up the excitement and hilarity with it.
Stylised after Alice’s adventures in Wonderland, chomping down a mega mushroom will turn your character into a walking on-screen giant for a limited amount of time, enabling you to power up, stomp and jump shot your way to winning points in either Mega Battle and Knockout Challenge modes. The gorgeously fluid movements, the beautiful control and the range of shots on offer is a real testament to Ultra Smash’s overall game design. From the outrageous curveball that slides through the air with serious spin to the straight-shooting fireball, Camelot has nailed it – game, set and match.
As players will be pointed in the right direction for chance, power and smash shots with different coloured circles such as pink or blue, Ultra Smash is made seamless for beginners and younger players. But those shots don’t have to be followed either, giving professionals the chance to shine with some well-timed drop shots, directional high arcs and brilliantly executed serve and volleys.
Though the mega mushroom adds to the game’s diversity with a good change of pace, the ability to perform ultra smashes is the strawberries and cream to Wimbledon; we can’t have one without the other. Double tap the assigned controller button at just the right time while inside a pink circle and you’ll perform a surprisingly devilish ultra smash. With a great action cutscene, using an ultra smash is a guaranteed way to outsmart your opponent with skill and good timing.
While Mega Battle keeps you on your toes, Knockout Challenge and Mega Ball Rally provide different forms of play. The latter is quite simple; hit the ball across the court to your opponent as many times as you can. Unfortunately, it’s a rather forgettable and throwaway mode, with no achievements to gain from it. On the other hand, Knockout Challenge is where Ultra Smash gets serious. Designed as the only single-player campaign mode, it’s a real shame you can’t play this as a Championship or Cup in lengthier matches. Instead, players will have to fight tooth and nail and compete with a series of increasingly difficult AI players in tiebreak games.
Once defeated you can spend coins – which are awarded to players after every in-game match – to verse that particular opponent again, or you can give up and restart from the bottom of the ladder. Thankfully, Knockout Challenge is less of a chore when teaming up with one of the 22 compatible amiibo. Playing as a team against one opponent, your amiibo will be able to train with you and level up their individual statistics in power, accuracy, speed and so on. To max out your amiibo’s stats, you’ll have to play a total of 50 matches in Knockout. But the real kicker is your amiibo can only be used in Knockout and its online mode; another odd decision.
Aside from its strong gameplay, one of Ultra Smash’s strangest design flaws is its complete lack of a statistics page in any of the five modes. For core tennis players, knowing how many jump shots you’ve successfully hit, or how many returns you’ve made compared to the amount of Aces performed is a must for improving on your technique. There isn’t even an option to view in-game amiibo statistics.
Coupled with this, Camelot and Nintendo have given players the opportunity to unlock achievement badges if you’ve passed certain criteria. But what’s utterly bonkers is that you can actually just purchase these “unlockable” badges with the in-game coins you receive after every match. Having played the game for eight hours, I amassed over 60k in coins which enabled me to unlock all 25 badges, simply by buying 14 of them. Thanks for encouraging my laziness, can I have a double pepperoni Pizza with that too? Oh, throw in a nice butler if you get the chance as well.
Of course, as it’s beautiful to play, Ultra Smash is also fantastic in HD. Character animations are all uniquely adorable with sighs, tantrums and Boo’s hysterical giggles keeping the game light-hearted and a joy to watch. Once unlocked, tennis fans can also move around different courts such as Carpet, Bounce-Out, Sand, Mushroom and Ice, while Morph court combines elements of all 9 courts available. Taking core gameplay to new heights, ever-changing courts are a great way to keep the matches tense with interest and excitement. Just beware of the Mushroom court; the ball gets a little lost in those white blind spots.
While Mega Battle and Classic Tennis modes are arguably the best, Ultra Smash also has an online mode. A simple, matchmaking mode with no lobby and limited customisable options means it falls flat rather than arcing high. Though it doesn’t make the game any less fun, adding more options to the table such as a time restriction on matches would vary opponent tactics considerably.
Ideal for family fun and a bit of light-hearted entertainment on a rainy Sunday afternoon, Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash stylishly reinvents classic tennis. But with the lack of a real Championship and a bare-bones online mode, there’s not much reason to return, mega mushrooms et al.