With both Virtua Tennis and Top Spin MIA for some years now, 2018 always looked like a dream for fans of the sport, as no fewer than three racket-based titles were scheduled to launch before the summer. Curiously enough, each platform would get two different games, with Tennis World Tour releasing on every console, AO International Tennis only for PS4 and Xbox One, and then Nintendo, naturally, bringing its exclusive generational iteration to the table, with Mario and co. from the Mushroom Kingdom taking the spotlight from Federer, Nadal, and all the rest. This is arcade-style tennis and it's far from realistic, however, the first thing we worked out is that just because it's colourful and accessible, it doesn't mean that it's easy.
With Camelot Software's name on the game, what Nintendo has been trying to sell long-time fans is the fact that it includes an Adventure mode that harkens back to the RPG the studio launched on GBA. Well, actually the mode has almost nothing to do with the GBA classic, but the result is convincing in its own right and stands as a testament to the amount and variety of content offered here.
In reality, the Adventure is a simple story hiding a 30-stage tutorial. In other words, it's where you'll go to learn the basics, shifting through the intermediate training, before becoming an expert and mastering some advanced moves (that don't make you invincible, but we'll get to that later). As you progress through these stages you'll probably have no interest in the story itself (we found ourselves skipping the boxes of text after about 15 minutes, and in the process missing a couple of clues), but the encounters themselves pose a good challenge, forcing you to master every type of move, understand character classes and when to use special abilities, and pull off tricks with both accuracy and intelligence.
If you're after a casual experience then you might find things too challenging at first, although over time the depth of challenge turns into a positive. Adventure mode has its own bespoke difficulty setting and you have to complete it as intended, whereas Free Play matches allow you to select CPU difficulty via the pre-match screen (Expert is already a challenge but Pro is very tricky even after 10+ hours of playtime... and then there's the Ace difficulty above all).
As you leave the opening ruins-forest section behind, you start facing the real deal. You might end up feeling a little overwhelmed when you're asked to endure a 300-hit rally with a rival who's performing Zone Shots every now and then, or when you're in the middle of a rally on the pirate ship court and there's a mast at the centre of the net that'll sometimes send the ball back at you unexpectedly.
And even harder are the bosses hiding the gems you're looking for, but those aren't tennis matches, rather they're fully-fledged boss battles asking you to hit, dodge and block as the time counts down. Yes, there's levelling for better stats and you unlock better rackets, but this Adventure is no RPG, nor your typical, boring Career mode in which you play the same types of matches again and again. It's in the middle ground; lighter than an RPG but truly entertaining.