Developer: Camelot Planning Software
Release Date: March 9, 2009
Ever since the original Super Mario Kart on the SNES, Nintendo has found a winning formula to bring sports games to the masses. First off, find a sport that features a simple control scheme, such as golf or go-kart racing. Next, make sure to keep the game challenging but don't complicate the overall rules of the game. Add in a healthy dose of multiplayer that follows the same pick-up-and-play philosophy of the single-player modes. Finally, throw in Mario, Princess Peach, Luigi, and the rest of the Mushroom Kingdom cast, along with some wacky elements, like mushrooms and piranha plants. Mix all of this together, and you have a sports game that has almost instant appeal to sports fans and non-sports fans alike. With a few sports already covered, Nintendo takes Mario and company back to the tennis courts with New Play Control! Mario Power Tennis, a game that takes the tried-and-true Mario sports formula and comes up with something unexpectedly average.
For those who thought the name of the game sounds familiar, that's because this isn't really a new game at all. This title is part of a new program designed to take some well-loved Nintendo games from the GameCube era and make them accessible to the Nintendo Wii generation. As a result, the fundamental game remains the same, but the control schemes have changed to be compatible for the Wii Remote and Nunchuk.
The premise of the game is quite simple. Choose any of the available residents of the Mushroom Kingdom, and go through various tennis tournaments, winning trophies along the way. Each tournament, played in either singles or doubles matches, features different requirements, such as more games and sets per round as well as more rounds to go through. As expected, each tournament has an increase in difficulty that prevents you from progressing further until you get better at the game.
Aside from the standard tournaments, you also have special themed matches outside of the tournament bracket. These matches take place on special courts and have special features of their own that add to the difficulty. For example, one match takes place on a Luigi's Mansion-themed court, where ghosts appear to hamper your movements. Another court takes place in a Super Mario Sunshine-themed area, where the court tiles move, increasing or decreasing the areas where a ball could be considered "out." Like the standard tournaments, these can also be played in both singles and doubles matches.
The game follows the tradition of the other Mario-themed sports titles in that it is extremely fun to play. The various courts, both regular and themed, add a lot of variety to the game. The same can be said for each of the characters, who, in standard Mario sports tradition, all have their own strengths and weaknesses. Their power shots are also different enough, both offensively and defensively, that their weaknesses are easily covered by these devastating moves. When playing against the computer AI, the game has just the right amount of challenge, though most seasoned players won't find that challenge until much later in the tournament brackets. As is the case with these games, multiplayer significantly increases the fun factor of the game. This is especially true of doubles games, where each match ends up being so close that you'll want to have rematches over and over again.
There are a few things that make the game less fun to play in comparison to the original Nintendo 64 title. For starters, power-ups on special courts seem to have been removed entirely or significantly reduced, depending on which court you play. In their place are power shots, which are built up by your character consistently hitting the ball without fault. What makes the system a bit flawed is the fact that the power needed to use the shots can be quickly amassed with only a few volleys, turning what could potentially be long, fierce sets into a race of who can get off the power shot first. There is some strategy that can be used for the power shots, but considering how easy it is to get the energy needed, most matches will quickly devolve into brief bouts. Finally, Nintendo didn't really add anything to the game. Instead of adding something like the ability to use your Miis, the company simply took the straightforward approach in doing this port. While this won't faze longtime GameCube users, it will irk new Wii fans who are accustomed to seeing their characters in games, like Mario Kart Wii and Wii Play.
The focus of the port is on the control scheme, and this is where the game begins to falter. The user has the option to use the Wiimote by itself or in concert with the Nunchuk attachment. The advantage to having the Nunchuk is to give you complete control over where your character moves at all times. While this makes it appealing for users who want to give themselves more control over the game, it also restricts their movements a bit, thanks to the short length of the cord. Users who don't tend to make wide movements are fine, but gamers who exaggerate their movements could find themselves hit in the face more often than not. For players who only want to concentrate on the swinging, the game supports Wiimote-only controls. Just like the tennis game in Wii Sports, the controls are responsive enough that you can pull off more complicated slices and lobs almost all the time.
The big beef with the controls, however, comes with the power shots. According to the manual, holding down the A button while swinging the remote gives you the offensive power shots, while doing the same thing with the B button gives you the defensive power shots. These work well and help you carve out your strategy, since you have to think about holding down the correct button in order to unleash your shot. The problem is that you have to go into the options menu to turn this on. By default, both defensive and offensive power shots are done the minute you fill up your meter. This completely destroys any strategy you may have, since the shot always seems to happen when you don't want it to.
The power shots also make the game easier by default, since they almost guarantee quicker matches. This move caters too much to the casual audience by assuming that they don't have enough skill to simply remember to hold down a button while swinging for their power shot. By doing this, it destroys any perceived difficulty the game may have, making it too easy for the single-player modes.
Interestingly enough, despite the fact that this was once a GameCube title, there is no support for the Classic Controller or the GameCube controller. Players who have played with the GameCube incarnation will suddenly have to relearn a new control scheme if they want to play against those who have only been exposed to the game via the Wii version.
The graphics remain largely the same this time around, which is both good and bad. Despite being made for the previous generation, the character models still look great. Everyone from Donkey Kong to Daisy animate well, whether they are running to the next shot or swinging at the ball. The effects also look great, especially for the super moves. Baby Bowser's paint attack, for example, has never looked better. The environments do vary, though. Some courts, like the Mario Bros.-themed one, are awesome and the standard courts look good as well. The audience in those places, however, is a bit too flat and ruins the illusion. Also, oddly enough, some of the themed courts are simply too bright and colorful, making it much harder to track the ball even when no power shots are being used. In cases like this, you'll be thankful that the game automatically moves your character if you only have Wiimote control, since the shots would otherwise be much harder to make. On a good note, the game now runs in 16x9 widescreen with 480p resolution, making the graphical package just a little sweeter on HDTVs.
The sound is still as whimsical as it was years ago. The voices are minimal, although it's still cool to hear Mario and company elicit their trademark grunts when hitting the ball or spouting off their win/loss quotes. Admittedly, hearing the loser say anything is a somewhat difficult thing to do, since the winner's quote overlaps it almost all of the time. The sound effects are still as tight as ever, with every bounce of the ball off the racket sounding just right. The music is actually a bit more aggressive for a Nintendo sports game. Every tune is designed to get you pumped up for a fierce tennis match instead of just sounding like you're about to have a fun game. It's not a knock against the musical choices here, since it amplifies the title, but it is a bit unexpected from the family-friendly publisher.
When it was first released on the GameCube, Mario Power Tennis wasn't exactly the perfect successor to the original Nintendo 64 game. The game was still fun, but there were enough changes made that somehow made the Nintendo 64 product a bit more enjoyable. The Wii port, New Play Control! Mario Power Tennis, doesn't fare any better now that the product is several years old. Normally, the graphics take the brunt of the criticism but here, it's the control scheme which, by default, makes the game much easier than it should be. While the game can still be fun, it would have been a better title if Nintendo had started a new Mario Tennis game from scratch instead. If you already have the GameCube game, there's no reason for you to invest in this title. If you are curious, rent New Play Control! Mario Power Tennis to see whether it can replace Wii Sports for your tennis fix.
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