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A Game No Virtual Boy Owner Should Be Without
Author: Benjamin Stevens | Date: 2011/05/18 | Rating: 9/10

It is important to understand where I am coming from when I say that Mario's Tennis is a game that no Virtual Boy owner should be without. I'm not coming from the perspective of: I'm going to compare this tennis game to other tennis titles on other systems and determine whether or not it should be purchased because other better titles may be available for other systems. I'm coming from the perspective of: I already own and have an appreciation for the Virtual Boy and know that there is only a very limited number of titles available for it, so which ones are the ones that I'm going to add to my Virtual Boy library of games? In my opinion, no owner of a Virtual Boy should be without this game, which may momentarily be the case for some who bought the system used and didn't get this game included with the purchase, as it was originally intended to be.

This is the game that launched the Mario Tennis series that would later appear across the Nintendo 64, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, GameCube, and Wii systems. For those who are familiar with this series, who already enjoy it, and who own the later games of this series, this fact alone should be reason enough to get the foundational game that started it all. Of course, it is usually the case with Nintendo that they add to and improve upon later games within a series, so one purchasing this initial game of the series should already expect to find a simplified, less-developed tennis game as compared to the later games, and such is, indeed, the case here. Nevertheless, the fun factor that appears in the later games is definitely present here, and this game has what the other ones don't... the 3rd dimension, which is probably what attracted you to the system in the first place, as it did me.

This game can most certainly be described as simple, but sometimes simple can be a very good thing. There are 7 playable Nintendo characters to choose from, which are Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Yoshi, Toad, Koopa, and Donkey Kong Jr. Unlike the later games in the series, which gave various strengths and weaknesses to each of the individual characters, all 7 players in this game control almost exactly the same in comparison with one another. They all run at the same speed, as far as I can tell, and they all have about the same power and handling, though there might be some noticeable differences in their serves. I personally like this, since I can choose any character that I desire and can know that he or she will be on just about equal footing with any other character; however, others might prefer character differences, like those which appear in the later games of the series, and, thus, see this as something that is lacking in this game.

Like in the later games, the A button in this game is used to hit a standard drop shot, while the B button is used to hit a lob shot, which can go over the opponent's head if he or she approaches too close to the net. However, it seems that the button pressing possibilities end there, so while pressing A,A or A,B or B,B or B,A or A and B at the same time would give you extra spin or extra lob or extra power in the later games, such won't work in this first, very simple version. The skill in this game is all in the timing of the hits and the location of the player in relation to the ball during the hit. So if the ball is approaching your character to the right and you want to hit the ball far to the left, not only will you hold left on the keypad while hitting the ball but you will also hit the ball while it is still approaching and, thus, in front of your character, and how far in front it is will determine how much it will go to the left. Thus, in the same situation, you would allow the ball to go slightly past your character and would hold right when hitting it if you wanted the ball to go to the right, and the more the ball is past you when you hit it, the more your ball will go to the right. This timing and location technique, along with deciding on a drop or lob shot, is where the majority of the game play lies, and it is very sufficient to allow for intricate tennis play.

This game only has the very minimal, basic modes that would be necessary for it to be called a "tennis" game. One can either play a single match of tennis or a tournament consisting of 3 matches, such matches being either 1 or 3 sets long depending on one's choice, and one can do this either in singles mode (one-on-one) or doubles mode (two-on-two). In addition, there are 3 levels of difficulty for each of the aforementioned possibilities: easy, normal, and hard. Level easy is certainly intended for those who are picking up this game for the first time and simply getting accustomed to the controls, those who have never played a tennis game before, or those who may not be good at video games in general. For anyone who has ever played one before and who has any understanding of tennis whatsoever, this skill level will be a breeze once one becomes accustomed to the controls. Level normal should also be considered easy by those familiar with tennis games and familiar with this game's specific controls. Level hard, however, is a great challenge and is where some seriously intense games of tennis are to be found, and if one beats the tournament on level hard, one can expect an even greater challenge that awaits him. Despite the fact that this game only has one tournament, if one likes the game of tennis, playing this tournament or even just a single match over and over again on level hard or playing the even greater difficulty levels that can be unlocked never really gets dull, just as the game of tennis itself never gets dull to those who like it.

The overall look of the game is very simple but should be appreciated by Nintendo fans. Each opponent character has his or her own unique background that pertains to the character, so Princess Peach has a background that contains a castle, Donkey Kong Jr. has a background that contains a jungle, Luigi has a background that contains warp pipes, etc. The backgrounds themselves are simple but also fun to look at during the small breaks during the matches, sometimes having objects within them moving along in the air. There are no line judges or referees or audience members, just a simple tennis court with background and a Lakitu holding up the score in the corner. It should also be noted that the possibilities of different types of courts that appeared in the later games (clay, grass, hard, etc.), which determined the various speeds of the ball, don't appear in this game, so there is only one type of court, which seems to be some type of hard court. The 3D effects in this game are very good and the graphics of the backgrounds and the characters are nice. The characters themselves are 2D animated sprites that appear at the quality of characters in Super NES games and that move around in a 3D world, a style that actually looks nice and works well with this system. One can definitely get a good sense of how far away and close the ball is to the player throughout the game. The only thing that frustrates me in this connection is the sense of where the ball is when it is directly over one's character. It is much easier to judge where the ball is when it goes to the left or right of one's player, but when it goes right over him or her, the timing doesn't seem to be the same and it seems that one has to hit the ball later than what one would otherwise expect. But this itself is something that one just has to get accustomed to while playing the game.

Overall, Mario's Tennis for the Virtual Boy is a simple but fun and addicting game, which requires a lot of skill on the hard setting and especially on the even greater levels of difficulty that can be unlocked if one beats the tournament on level hard. For those who like and even follow tennis, you should definitely love this game, but I think that even those who don't follow tennis should enjoy this game, since Nintendo just seems to have a way of making all sports fun in their video games, regardless of whether one is a fan of their professional counterparts or not. I, personally, love the game of tennis, and since that is so, I can always just sit down and play a game of tennis when time allows it, which gives this game a high re-playability factor for me, despite the lack of other unique modes that the later games in the series have. The limited number of modes is the primary reason why I gave this game a 9 out of 10 rating. If I was just considering the overall fun and enjoyment that I get out of this game, I would give it a 10 out of 10. Nintendo Power rated this game as one of the top 5 games released for the Virtual Boy, and I can definitely see why from my own experience. This is really a must-have for any Nintendo fan / Virtual Boy owner.