Maintain your calm and focus. Make sure you're being nice, and play the ball long, straight down the middle of the court. Don't put any spin on it, and it should be fine. Come on Yoshi, it's almost done. The rally is nearly at 100. Oh no, that one went too high and was far too weak! It seems Mario has no interest in maintaining our rally any longer. He takes advantage of the opportunity and unleashes a smash! Yoshi has no chance and we have failed one more in Mega Rally. The big ball had shrunk back to normal size, but it wasn't enough to reach the century. We start all over again in the one and only mini-game that Mario Tennis Smash Ultra has to offer.
It's hard to imagine that we would miss mini-games in one of Nintendo's sport titles. But that's clearly the case here as the new tennis game with Mario and his friends on Wii U is standing on very thin legs, and there are no additional mini-games in addition to the aforementioned Mega Rallies. The game also lacks a real tournament mode. There isn't even a rudimentary story mode. Back on the Game Boy Advance there was a whole RPG-esque story; now there isn't even an intro when switching on the console. It's not that a game like Mario Tennis actually needs a backstory or requires some external motivation, but it would help the overall atmosphere of the game.
It also bothers us that there is only one stadium with nine different courts, some of which differ only ever so slightly. Some of the most entertaining ones from the Gamecube are missing. On one court the ball is faster, on the other a little slower. Another one lets the ball bounce higher, the next one lets it bounce slightly lower. It gets better with the Bounce-out Court where the ball bounces outwards, and on the Morph Court the opponent's half is replaced by one of eight surfaces found on the other courts, that is if we make a successful chance shot or Ultra Smash. But it's not really that exciting.
There are only sixteen characters, where there were eighteen from the Nintendo universe on Gamecube and Wii. And, curiously enough, Bowser is not playable, only Bowser Jr. and Dry Bowser. Other more notable additions are Rosalina, Toadette and Sprixie from Super Mario 3D World. But this can't hide how little content the game offers. Even on the Nintendo 3DS, there were seventeen characters, and thus we can only hope that Nintendo expand on what's here with future updates.
It comes across as a bit of a throwback that there's no motion control support anymore, not even as an optional feature. Furthermore, Camelot had no clever idea for the Wii U GamePad. We can only play without turning on the television, or else the GamePad simply states the current score or alternative camera angles. It's just a simple tennis game that layers on a few crazy features on top. This is evident with concepts such as the Ultra Smash special, which is a particularly powerful and difficult to reach shot. But it's not impossible to recover from it when you're on the receiving end.
The only really new feature comes via the mega battles that exist next to the classic mode. Occasionally Toad will throw a mega mushroom onto the court, and that will allow either us or the opponent to grow super-sized. Our shots are more powerful and we can reach balls with greater ease. This special mushroom allows us to play more offensively, while we need to act very defensively when the roles are reversed. Apparently a somewhat weaker player in a match is supported earlier and more often with this power-up, so it acts a bit like the blue shell in Mario Kart. Either way it's a fun addition that also adds a strategic element, as you need to think about when it's best to collect the mushroom. In some cases perhaps it might be wiser to hold off for a bit.
The Mega Battles are, however, unable to compensate for the many deficiencies found elsewhere. The online mode is a nice addition as you can play against human opponents from all over the world. But even here the team has failed to integrate a tournament structure. There is only the choice of a ranked match and a casual game. Of course, we can decide whether we play singles or doubles, and whether we like to allow for Mega Mushrooms. We're offered the bare basics, but we were hoping for something more.
On the other hand the Amiibo support for Mario Tennis Smash Ultra is really nice. We can train a second player who supports us online in a doubles match or in the knockout challenge mode where they'll play by our side. We can teach this companion ten different skills. These include power, ball control and more. It's not obtrusive, instead it's a very practical feature.
Many question marks remain. Has Nintendo perhaps pushed forward this release due to the empty release calendar of the Wii U? Do they want to extend the game with new features through free updates similar to what is the case with Splatoon? Or is Nintendo planning for paid DLC? In any case, this game in its current form is a letdown. The gameplay of Mario Tennis Smash Ultra is fun but the package just feels too light. In other words: the tennis cake has a nice base, it even has a couple of nice layers, it's just a shame that they forgot about the icing.