FROM JASON’S DS GBA SLOT — There’s not much to a tennis video game, right? Just knock the stupid ball over the net, right? Nothing but a skinned Pong clone, right?
The best thing about Mario Tennis Power Tour is that it transcends those tropes. Things certainly have changed since Tennis for the NES. For me, this is simply the best tennis ever — at least until Nintendo releases an updated DS version — because of the versatility of the game.
First, there are great RPG elements and the game actually has a story. You have to climb your way up through the tennis school’s ranks, taking little side-quests along the way. There are a handful of NPCs to have fun with and a whole range of playable characters unlock along the way — including Bowser, Kong, and Waluigi.
Winning helps you gain levels, which in turn gives you points to increase your character’s skills (you can distribute them as you like). That adds a layer of realism to the game as you start off clunky and gradually improve reaction time, braking, ball handling, and service strength. A whole slew of minigames are also there to build skills and distract if the action on the court gets repetitive.
The actual tennis play has an unprecedented amount of intuitive control. You can also add custom special moves that let you make dazzling saves or slam the ball with English or power, which is fun and adds a lot of excitement to net play.
And to mix it up, you can even choose to leave singles play behind for a while and go after the doubles cup. There’s nothing better than a two-on-two exhibition between Mario and Luigi and Bowser and Waluigi.
This game had me hooked, using RPG-style grinding tactics to keep me coming back for more. I’ve always been a sucker for in-game incentives. Tell me there’s a better sword in Final Fantasy somewhere and I’ll play until I find it. It’s just too bad that Nintendo’s multiplayer implementation has always been so piss-poor. This is one I’d love to be able to tackle on the DS wi-fi network.