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CONSOLE: Virtual Boy DEVELOPER: Nintendo PUBLISHER: Nintendo
RELEASE DATE (NA): August 14, 1995 GENRE: Sports
// review by SoyBomb

Mario was playing tennis BEFORE it was cool.

That's right. Before anybody was enjoying playing tennis with various members of the Mario universe (plus that weird Waluigi guy), there was only one way to do so: by owning a Virtual Boy. Alongside the seemingly vast array of launch titles for the ill-fated Virtual Boy was a 3D tennis game starring Mario & Co. But could it ever compete with the newer Mario Tennis games? Probably not, but it's not a total loss, either.

There's no real storyline behind Mario's Tennis, aside from a bunch of folks in the Mushroom Kingdom (plus Donkey Kong Jr., for some reason) wishing to play a jovial game of tennis. After first selecting whether to play in Singles or Doubles mode, you can choose whether to have a simple match against a CPU-controlled opponent/team for fun or join a tournament to prove your worth against all other contestants. Don't forget to select the level of difficulty and how many sets you want to play. You can then select from eight different players for your own avatar and that of your teammates/opponents. (I believe the roster is the same as Super Mario Kart, as a matter of fact.) Then it's off to the courts for some tennis action!

Isn't Toad too short to play tennis?

And that's where Mario's Tennis shows off just how average it can be. Unfortunately, instead of a more overhead view as would be preferred from a tennis game, you're pretty much BEHIND your own character, rather than overseeing the entire court. I realize that this design choice was made to emphasize that wonderful 3D effect of the Virtual Boy goggles (and it puts you more in the position of an actual tennis player), but it also makes the game more difficult in the process. It's harder to tell how close to you the ball actually is, and because the 3D effect is essentially just the ball sprite getting bigger, it'll take plenty of practice before you can tell exactly when to swing. My timing was off rather frequently, if only because I couldn't tell when the ball was actually in my racket's jurisdiction. Most other tennis games out there managed to see the light and provide a more bird's-eye view of the court -- even the later Mario Tennis for the Game Boy Color had this feature -- but Mario's Tennis blew it in favour of more tennis realism. Granted, the game's certainly playable, but it would not ever be considered the paradigm of a good tennis video game.

I could say something about the graphics, but come on... let's be realistic here. It's the Virtual Boy. Mario's Tennis is nothing more than red and black Mario sprites whacking a ball around on a court with a few varied backgrounds that you won't be paying much attention to while acting sportsmanly. Yes, the court (and characters) are scalable similar to sprites on the SNES, but nothing could ever be considered as "amazing" in Mario's Tennis. Everything is functional, though definitely sprinkled with classic Nintendo charm. As well, the music isn't all that great (Game Boy quality, I'll say), but for a tennis game on a console you are apparently supposed to stop playing every 15 minutes, it is hardly an issue.

Would I ever recommend Mario's Tennis over any other of the Mario Tennis games? Heck, no. Would I recommend Mario's Tennis for the Virtual Boy in general? Well, only if you really need a tennis game for your Virtual Boy... because this is the only one. It's a good distraction for about ten minutes, but it will never claw its way to the top of your favourite games list.

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