Mario Tennis Open is not a game for the lone player, nor one that does do a good job of hiding its glaring weakness. The options available are slim – you can take part in a series of tournaments that only differ in name, as well as four minigames, and unlock items to customise your in-game Mii.
The latter might seem like that will provide drip-feed addiction, but the range of items is too limited to tempt you away from a desperate search around the menus for further game modes. Actually playing Mario Tennis Open does little to disprove the theory that this wasn’t designed with single player in mind. Power-ups are regularly dished out at the spot on the court where you’ll hit returns but unlike the spectacle of GameCube’s Mario Power Tennis, cinematics are traded for the gentle fizz of special effects.
It helps with the back and forth flow of each match but also eats into the personality of the characters, leaving little to distinguish between them besides their avatar. There are also strange design decisions. The gyrosensor sensibly disables 3D and places the camera behind you, allowing you to tilt the 3DS to aim each shot.
Yet it also automatically moves your character into optimum positions for returns, making it far too easy to play. It’s only by pinging back to a lofted view of the entire court that movement is handed back, allowing challenge to bleed back into matches. Tedious debates about the merits of the 3DS and what the extra dimension has brought to gaming have drowned out a bigger, more important shift in Nintendo’s thinking – online.
That seems to be reflected in the threadbare single-player options, which show a rare confidence from Nintendo in online play, and that’s justified with how good multiplayer is here. Power shots frequently appear, which makes matches a back-and-forth tussle that feels more personal when another player is controlling your opponent rather than lines of code.
It also highlights the true purpose of power shots, which is to leave your opponent second-guessing as to whether you’ll hit them or not. You can see which power-up will appear for your opponent and move into where the power-up will hit the ball, but your opponent has the option to ignore it entirely and hit another shot, capitalising on your incorrect guess. It’s a brilliant bit of gaming psychology that’s woefully (and understandably) underplayed in single-player.
The minigames also feel like they’re designed with more than one player in mind, the standouts being hitting the ball against a screen slowly scrolling through Super Mario Bros (warp pipes and all) and Ring Shot, a race to a set points total where players juggle between the need to hit winners and smashed returns through floating rings for extra points. There will rightfully be criticism for the slender single-player modes here, but the true worth of Mario Tennis Open is in multiplayer, both as the game’s biggest strength and a quiet indicator of Nintendo’s online handheld revolution.