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This review originally went live in 2010, and we’re updating and republishing it to mark the arrival of N64 games on Nintendo Switch Online.
When Mario Golf was released back in 1999, it was already known that Camelot was working on another Mario sports title for the N64, and following a decent title released for the sadly ill-fated Virtual Boy, Camelot gave Mario another go at tennis.
Mario Tennis (N64) is set up a bit differently from Mario Golf (N64) in that you don’t have to sit through a cumbersome (and honestly quite difficult) single-player mode to unlock almost every single character, one by one, for play in other modes. In fact, only two characters are locked at the start of the game, and they can be obtained rather easily.
What you’re most likely to jump into to get the feel of the game is a standard match. These come in two flavours: Singles and Doubles. It’s not too hard to guess what those mean: Singles is a one-on-one match, while Doubles, unbelievably, is two-on-two. Yes, as this is a Nintendo 64 game, four-player matches are a possibility.
Very similarly to Golf, Tennis uses a button combination system to let you choose exactly what kind of hit you want to make. Charge up with ‘A’ and then hit ‘B’ when the ball’s close, for example, to do a lob shot – this tends to make the ball go up high, coming down very slow towards the back of the opponent’s side of the court. Do it the other way around by hitting ‘B’ then ‘A’ and you’ll do a drop shot, which gives the ball a very small arc and makes it hit the ground almost immediately once it’s past the net. There are plenty of different combinations (yes, with just two buttons!) and knowing when to use what type of shot can easily help turn the tide in your favour.
The courts you play on are fairly grounded in reality. All but two (both only available in special game modes) feature no bizarro Mario-esque special gimmicks whatsoever. Some of them feature a large picture of the owners (such as Mario and Luigi) spread over the ground, but these serve no purpose other than to differentiate all of the game’s courts. Each one also has its own unique characteristics that determine ball speed and bounce strength, which serves as a sort of “difficulty setting” as you can choose what you want the game to be like just by picking a court.
Curiously absent are the “human” characters introduced in Golf, as the cast here is made up entirely of familiar faces from the Mushroom Kingdom, with the exception of two of them: Daisy, who had only appeared in Super Mario Land and one or two obscure titles; and Waluigi, who actually made his debut here. Of course, both of them have appeared in just about every multiplayer Mario game released since, but it’s interesting to see what the two originally looked and acted like in 3D.
As in Golf, the characters are divided into certain skill types. Mario and Luigi are all-around types, as usual, but the rest of the cast is divided into Speed, Power, Technique and Tricky players. Each of these caters to a different play style: Power players should try to beat their opponent with super-strong and fast smashes, while Technique players should try to use their incredible accuracy to send the ball flying towards a nearly unreachable or unexpected spot for the opponent(s).
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Mario game without a few outlandish game modes. Ring Shot is another familiar concept: rings will appear over the court, and whoever hits the ball through them will get points. With each hit, the rings increase in size and become worth less, so you’ll want to try and get the ball through them as soon as they appear.
The Piranha Challenge is a simple test of skill. Three Piranha Plants will fire balls at you (One at a time) and you simply have to hit them all back. The other side of the court also has an opposing player, though, and he or she will actively try to hit back all balls you manage to hit, after which you cannot hit them a second time. If you manage to hit all 50 balls past your opponent you can pride yourself on beating one of the hardest challenges in Mario sports game history!
The Bowser Stage features a special court set in Bowser’s castle which continuously tilts back forth over a pit of lava. To make matters worse, there’s item boxes above the net – smash the ball through them and you’ll get items to annoy your opponents with.
The lack of Game Boy Colour link support if you’re not playing on original hardware means you’re unable to import four more customized characters from the GBC game or six more courts, some of which also feature unique characteristics (such as one with the fastest speed and the strongest bounce).
For a 2000 N64 release, Mario Tennis looks great. Every character has a large variety of facial expressions and animations, and the game always runs smoothly. Like Mario Golf, the music is upbeat and pleasant, though not too catchy, although the character-specific courts feature remixes of music from their appropriate games. A nice touch.
With Mario Tennis, the portly plumber proved once again that he can make any sport more entertaining. This game has received many sequels over the years, some of which introduced some questionable and not-always-enjoyable gameplay elements. The 64-bit entry, conversely, is a pure, unspoiled Mario Tennis experience and one of Mario’s best outings with a racket. All in all, a fun, frantic game and an absolute blast to play with friends.