I've spent so much time playing Mario Golf over the past year that I don't even take the game out of my Nintendo 64 anymore. The game has become a daily ritual for me. It only comes out when I get a new game to review, then it goes right back in. It's a golf game I know, but there's something magical about it that keeps me coming back. It's fun, light-hearted, challenging and easy to get into. In short, it's the quintessential Nintendo game. When I heard that Nintendo was once again teaming up with Camelot for Mario Tennis, I could hardly contain my excitement.
Mario Tennis takes everything that made Mario Golf the great game that it is and simply molds it to fit a different sport. In fact, the character models in Mario Tennis are exactly the same as the ones that were used in Mario Golf. But forget about all of the similar game modes, gameplay and characters that the two games share, it's the personality and unrelenting charm that ultimately makes them so rewarding. I love how the characters grunt and yell as the knock the ball back and forth. Sure, the pros do it in real life, but in Mario Tennis we hear the high-pitched squeals from Toad; soft, wimpy whines from Princess Peach; and hilarious "Mama mias!" from Luigi. The courts are also rendered according to real life specifications—the grass courts even wear thin as a match progresses—but in this game the lines are watched by Koopa turtles and Bomb Ombs, and they will either hide in their shells or explode when a ball comes flying at them. No one can warp the real world with such child-like playfulness quite like Nintendo, and Mario Tennis is filled to the brim with that unique flavor we've come to expect in their games.
Just like Mario Golf, you don't have to be a fan of the sport to enjoy Mario Tennis. In fact, both games seem to relish in their role as educators for the non-fan while staying faithful to their core audiences at the same time. I had a great time playing Mario Tennis, but I would have liked to have seen even more variety gameplay wise, and more hidden features and characters. The Tournament mode is a lot of fun and very challenging, and so are the various special events—only Nintendo can make the act of hitting a ball through a ring enjoyable. However, I still felt there wasn't quite enough to do. Mario Tennis is missing a bit of the variety that Mario Golf has, and as a result there's less substance to keep you interested over the long haul. It could be just that tennis as a sport intrinsically lacks the same potential for new ideas as golf offers. In tennis you're kind of stuck on the court, while in golf the environment and strategy is always changing with every new hole. When you think of it that way, Mario Tennis does a pretty amazing job of packing in the good times within the confines of the tennis court. But I still think the game relies a little too much on its gameplay to carry load.
Don't get me wrong—I share Dale's enthusiasm for the game. The gameplay, coupled with the simple controls, was handled masterfully by the developers. It was the fun of playing tennis in the Super Mario universe that kept me coming back to Mario Tennis. The game is definitely in the upper echelon of the Nintendo 64 library. Had it aimed just a bit farther outside out of the line and really gone for it all, I would have served up a 9.5 or even a 10 instead of a 9.