It’s been a while since we’ve seen a Mario sports title on a home console. Mario Tennis Aces—Nintendo’s upcoming Mario sports debut on Switch—is currently running a pre-launch online tournament demo ahead of the game’s June 22nd release. Part demo and part recurring online tournament, this weekend-long tournament gives players a glimpse of what to expect in the full game and, from my time with the demo, it seems that this is the Mario tennis game we’ve all been waiting for.
Upon first loading up the demo, the player is thrust into a tutorial, teaching the player not only the basics of movement and the game’s rules, but the various types of trick shots and special moves as well. As someone who had never before played a Mario Tennis game prior to this demo, I wish the tutorial had been broken up into chunks, as I felt slightly overwhelmed with all that information being dumped on me at once. Fortunately, Nintendo and Camelot slightly mitigated this by allowing the game’s control map to be readily available by pressing the plus button.
One of the most notable game mechanics new to Aces is that each player only has a certain number of rackets per match, and if they break, the player loses by knockout. You can break your opponent’s racket by performing a Special Shot, the animation of which is unique to each character. You can only use a Special Shot when your energy gauge is full, and if your opponent tries to block your Special Shot, they run the risk of damaging or breaking their racket. This is an interesting mechanic and forces the player to weigh the decision of whether to try to block a Special Shot or let it go and conserve their racket’s strength, and it’s that kind of push and pull that makes Mario Tennis Aces so unique.
That said, as with most games, practice makes perfect. After a few games, I could beat the CPU opponents with relative ease, and fortunately the demo allows you to play an unlimited number of matches against CPU opponents so that you can refine your skills before jumping into the tournament proper. Once I’d gotten a hang of the controls, I realized how good the game feels. As with most Switch games where precise controls are a must, using the Pro controller with the Switch docked is the ideal way to play. The game plays perfectly well in handheld mode using the Joy-Cons, but I still find using the Pro controller the best way to play the game.
Though the different controls and shot types can take some time to master, once you do master them, Mario Tennis Aces begins to feel challenging in other ways. Instead of fighting with the game’s controls, I began to anticipate where my opponent would aim their shots and what type of shots they would use. Once that shift happens, Mario Tennis Aces feels less and less like a gimmicky Mario sports title and more like a tried-and-true tennis game. That realism is often betrayed by the whimsical jumps and flips that we’ve come to expect from Mario and company, but it feels nonetheless rewarding when you pull off a hat trick that wins you the match.
The actual tournament, however, is the crown jewel of the demo. The game pits you in a 32-player online bracket where you search for an opponent and are matched up with a player in your current bracket. Each match consists of a two games and one set and, as you win each match, you progress onto the next round. Each match grants you a certain number of points depending on whether you won or lost, and these points are totaled and will be made available later on the game’s official website. Whether you win or lose in a particular tournament, players can continue to join tournaments for as long as the demo runs, and winners earn the chance to enter round 2 of the next online tournament.
Playing against a human, rather than a CPU, certainly can bring its own set of challenges, but the feeling of defeating another real player, who probably outskills the CPU, is often its own reward. When playing in the tournament, I often found myself trying to predict my opponent’s movements and shot types, but this is much more difficult than trying to predict the CPU’s movements, as CPUs are often more predictable. Even so, seeing each player neck-and-neck provides for some of the most rewardingly tense gameplay I’ve experienced in quite a while.
In terms of visuals, Mario Tennis Aces, when it comes to the demo, looks as great as it feels. The demo runs at a full 1080p and at 60 frames per second while docked and at 720p and 60 frames per second in handheld. Leading up to the demo, the screenshots I’d seen looked rather flat and grainy, but I’m happy to see that the game looks visually stunning, especially in handheld mode.
Despite the Mario Tennis Aces online tournament demo providing only a small glimpse into what’s to come in the full release, I think it’s safe to say that the game will be a smash hit when we see it hit store shelves on June 22nd. With such fluid gameplay, challenging shot types, and rules to consider, there’s no doubt that Mario Tennis Aces will be another tentpole release on Nintendo Switch.