Mario’s Tennis is notable for being the first (and only) pack-in game for the U.S. Virtual Boy, and soon after powering up the gizmo, you’ll see why. It’s incredibly fun! There is a convincing amount of depth on the court which really immerses you into the game, and the inclusion of Nintendo’s finest as your opponents helps keep things lively. While it isn’t the deepest tennis game you’ll play, I’d wager it’s one of the most addictive, with the right blend of action and strategy to satisfy anyone looking for an arcade take on the sport.
Before hitting the court, you’ll first choose between playing a singles match, doubles match or entering a Tournament. (Single-player tournaments allow you to face three opponents, while doubles only two). Select between easy, normal and hard difficulty, the match length (one or three sets) as well as your character, teammate and opponent(s).
Your character always appears in the foreground with the camera fixed behind and slightly above him, her, or in the case of Toad, it. The net is kept low, with one row of “hearts” separating your character from your opponent, making it very easy to see into the distance. Hitting the ball relies on the proper positioning and timing of your swing. If you hit the button while the ball is in the air, you’ll perform an overhead smash; if you push left or right while swinging, the ball will move left or right on the court.
Lobs are performed in the same manner but using a different button. The earlier you swing while pressing the directional pad, the more sharply a ball will travel. Serving simply involves pressing a button to toss the ball into the air and pressing it again to make contact. After serving, if you run toward the net you’ll automatically volley once you get within a certain distance.
To get the most out of this game, you’ll want to play all of your matches on the “hard” difficulty level. This increases the game’s overall speed and takes into account the various differences in characters. Each player has varying quickness, power, racquet sizes, as well as court strengths such as net, baseline and ground stroke ability. Yoshi, for example, is the fastest of the bunch, but he has small racquet contact area so you’ll need to be more precise with your positioning to return volleys.
A tennis game wouldn’t be complete without a few faults (snicker, snicker), and this one is no different. Minor quibbles include the lack of league play, saved statistics, and multiple court surfaces such as grass or clay to compete on. It also would have been nice to play as or against more characters, with at least 14 to choose from instead of only seven. Apparently both Wario and Bowser had prior commitments… Yet Mario’s Tennis remains an extremely entertaining arcade experience, one where it’s easy to pick up but difficult to put down.
The clean graphics show detailed facial expressions for each character whenever they win or lose points. There is only one court, but there are different backdrops depending on the character you’re facing (Princess Toadstool has a castle in the scenery, for example).
Everytime you make contact with the ball you’ll hear a “plink.”
The game really does give you a feeling that you are there. While it’s simple to grasp, that’s part of its charm.
You’ll continue to play because it’s fun, although it is rather short. Only seven characters and no league play means the replay value isn’t as high as it could be. There is a code that will increase the challenge, however, should you find the difficulty lacking.
The manual is in full-color with a list of tennis terms and scoring rules. Each character has a full color drawing and all controls are explained beautifully.