PLOT Tennis court is in session.
RATED E for Everyone
DETAILS $59.99; Nintendo Switch
BOTTOM LINE Silly, civilized fun is this game's racket.
Mario Tennis Aces champions ridiculousness, and that's not a bad thing.
Tennis matches — as well as tennis trials such as hitting snowballs with a racket — are just a means to settle disputes, and games occur in haunted mansions or the decks of ships or a train depot. Serena Williams and Roger Federer may have used this month’s Wimbledon as an opportunity to cement their status as two of the greatest players ever (which ESPN noted every five minutes), but in Mario Tennis Aces a magic evil mirror can provide the competition or land some not-so-barbed jabs ("Mr. Too Cool to Shave" is how a gaggle of mirrors describe the mustached plumber Mario).
Though the adventure of Mario Tennis Aces isn’t as robust as some of Nintendo’s earlier sports games, the light role-playing aspects feel like a relief after so many kill-or-be-killed titles. Mario’s brother Luigi gets corrupted by a seemingly cognizant tennis racket that can be stopped only by a series of colored gem stones. So powerful is this racket that it instantly controls whoever touches it. If the racket grows in strength, it’s implied, who knows what havoc it can create? This sets Mario and Toad off on an adventure that has them playing tennis against mysterious creatures in a cave or masked oddities in the middle of a courtyard in a mountain town.
Forget any standard rules of tennis. Rackets can be made of wood or glass, and one can win by "knockout," that is by shattering the racket of an opponent. Like Nintendo’s "Super Smash Bros." franchise, characters here come with a bevy of special moves. Mario encounters many of his familiar enemies, but fire-breathing plants and Bowser’s turtle-like minions aren’t trying to steal one of Mario’s endless lives. Here, it’s all about the duel. While not particularly long, the narrative provides an easy way to master all of the game’s random trick shots, which will come in handy for those brave enough to venture online and play in competitions with strangers.
Mario Tennis Aces all feels surprisingly polite. Since enemies are fought via tennis matches — or tennis-like matches, to be more precise — they don’t have to be pummeled into nothingness for Mario to win. At a time when the pros and cons of civility are a public debate and being different can lead to being bullied, Mario Tennis Aces feels blissfully out of step with not only sports game trends but society at large. A moderately diplomatic Mario game is what truly feels rebellious.