Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash Review

Lawn Tennis as a sport has origins stretching back some 150 years, with rules that have largely remained the same for the last 100 of those. It’s a game welcoming to anyone who can pick up a racket, and accessible to all, regardless of age, prior knowledge, or perceived skill. Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash appears to have the intention of being the friendly faced videogame embodiment of that very sport within. By stripping away the complex control schemes and many of the over the top game modes seen in previous Mario Tennis titles Ultra Smash has achieved just that, and welcomes anyone able to pick up a pad onto its courts.

As with the grand majority of Nintendo’s exclusives, Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash is polished to perfection, and shines as bright as any Grand Slam winner’s cup. Delivering sharp HD visuals, superb audio, and a solid, unfaltering frame-rate both on and offline, there’s no denying that this is a beautifully presented, technically sound game. My major concern though, which unfortunately relates to every other aspect of the game, is just that there isn’t enough game here to back it up.

The lack of depth is glaringly obvious from the outset, and will disappoint long time fans of the series. There’s a noticeable step backwards in terms of raw content, with Mario’s latest preferring to focus less on gimmicks and quirky game modes – there’s no mini-games, campaign or the overblown power-ups of before – choosing instead to provide a relatively concise core gameplay experience, more about simplicity and accessibility, with one or two unorthodox touches of Mushroom Kingdom magic thrown into the mix.

It’s obvious from all of the pre-release footage that, of the five modes, Mega Battle is the one you’re going to want to play. Available as either a Singles or Doubles exhibition style mode, the normal rules of tennis apply, and it’s all fairly innocuous fun… until a cheeky Toad throws a Mega Mushroom into the mix.

The series’ newest toy takes centre court across all game modes aside from Classic and affords the player a game changing boost in size for a brief period of time. Being ‘mega’ certainly has it’s advantages too, you’ll have far more powerful shots and a greater reach for one – but this is not without its failings, and you’ll need to use a degree of strategy rather than always assuming bigger is better if you really want to succeed.

These new mega characters loom over the court with abandon, which is ridiculous fun in Singles mode, but I’ve literally lost count of the times during a doubles game whereby a hulking great Bowser has delighted in the fact he’s just hit an Ultra Smash into the back of my skull at 200km/h – or vice-versa – which then loses us the crucial Match Point. The pillock.

Despite the opportunity for more of these insane Mushroom Kingdom inspired power ups to feature, the only other non-regulation gameplay perk comes thanks to the return of Chance Areas, the colour coded circles which appear on court and reward the player with a power or precision buff if the corresponding shot type is used in that zone. Their appearance guides you around the court and, coupled with forgiving timing for your hits, makes exciting twenty or thirty shot rallies, full of well placed lobs & drop shots a possibility, even if you’re not used to playing tennis games.

The titular Ultra Smash is also delivered thanks to these Chance Areas, and will prove all but impossible for less experienced players to return. To help keep the game balanced these will appear less frequently, and require slightly quicker thinking to pull off. I probably got a little over-excited the first time I hit one to be honest, with the Ultra Smash replay camera panning around a flutter-jumping Yoshi as he drives the ball to the corner of the court. Moments like this really serve to highlight the attention to detail poured into each of the extensively detailed models and recognisable character animations.

Ultra Smash reduces the controls down to a bare minimum for newcomers, allowing them to lean on the crutch of having ‘X’ simply return with an appropriate shot. However, there’s still the more complex system to play with, letting you pick your own flat, sliced, lob or drop shots depending on the situation at hand.

The newest addition to Mario’s racket-skills-repertoire is the Jumpshot, which sees him leap – often to an unfeasible height – and return the ball from mid-air, rather than waiting for a bounce first. It looks great, but, like diving for a far-reached return, can mean you’re not quite ready to return the ball next time it powers back over the net.

Outside of Mega Ball Rally – a mode aimed at getting the longest rally possible with an ever-shrinking ball – and Classic play, which lets you remove Mega Mushrooms or Chance Shots, Knockout Challenge is where Ultra Smash’s main body of gaming will lie. It’s the nearest thing to a conventional career or campaign in the game, with each of the 16 characters having their own individual progress file, as they take on a ladder of 30 matches, meeting the other characters across the varying court types with increasing difficulty. It feels like another one-and-done experience, only partially improved by the now obligatory amiibo inclusion.

Touch a supported figure to the gamepad’s NFC sensor and they’ll appear as your doubles partner for that run, learning and acquiring new stats with every fifth match as you go. At first this seems a strange, potentially unfair, way to implement the collectibles, but with the difficulty ramping up and the chaos caused by oversized characters, it actually works remarkably well. Outside of the Knockout Challenge you can then take your amiibo online, and use it, upgraded stats and all, for a more traditional 2-versus-2 doubles match.

The more traditional surfaces such as grass or clay are available, but I quickly tired of those, instead opting for the super bouncy mushroom, or the ice court, a personal favourite which looks absolutely stunning, and leaves players slipping and sliding as they struggle to reach wide shots. Whichever you choose, it’ll inexplicably be in the same stadium setting, with the same capacity crowd of Shy Guys looking on.

The paucity of content is felt elsewhere, as well. Aside from the unexpected inclusion of the green Sprixie Princess from 2013’s Super Mario 3D World – who makes her first appearance as a playable character – the biggest surprise will be who’s not in the game. There’s Donkey, but no Diddy Kong, Yoshi, but no Birdo, and not a sign of a playable Koopa Troopa. Even the baby Mario Bros. haven’t made it out to play this time around.

The online play handles rankings similarly to Mario Kart 8, with a starting points level which adjusts up and down depending on your results. However, the only option open to you is to play via matchmaking, and you cannot invite friends or host a lobby. There’s also no offline rankings and there’s no trophies or cups for winning per se, but your progress is rewarded with the quirky courses and a couple of characters unlocking as you meet certain play time criteria. Each match also earns you coins, which can be used to fast track specific rewards, should you so wish.

What’s Good:

  • Beautifully presented HD visuals.
  • Simple gameplay mechanics mean fun for all ages.

What’s Bad:

  • A shallow selection of game modes.
  • No options for private games or playing with friends online.
  • Only a small roster of characters.

Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash has an air of familiarity, especially so if you’ve played Mario Tennis Open – but even without prior knowledge of the series, the game’s bright HD visuals and overall presentation quality will make it instantly appealing to Nintendo households this Christmas.

Nintendo have also announced anyone who purchases the game on the WiiU eShop prior to midnight December 17 2015 will also receive a free Virtual Console download of Mario Tennis for the N64 – A game that doesn’t look as pretty, but has more characters, more courts, and more modes than Ultra Smash.

Mega Battle is great fun, especially in local multiplayer, and has seen me both laughing and cursing aloud, but with no mini-games or notable campaign to speak of, and without the overblown power-ups I’m used to in Mario games, it’s a game that I’ll have all but forgotten by the time Wimbledon rolls around next year.

Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash Review

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided Delayed By Six Months

The release of the next Deus Ex title has been hit with a delay, Eidos Montreal have announced. Mankind Divided will now launch a full six months later than planned on August 23rrd 2016, Head of Studio David Anfossi posted on the game’s official website.

Saying the studio aims to build a “worthy successor to Human Revolution” and that they want to exceed the “extremely high” expectations of fans, the delay is to add refinements and tuning, he wrote.

“We are sorry to disappoint you with this news, and also thank you for all of your support and comments. This game is a huge part of our lives, and we don’t want to compromise on its quality.

So please be patient with us a little longer, and thanks as always for your passion and support – through thick and thin. It’s a huge responsibility to work on Deus Ex Mankind Divided – we know, but also a huge privilege. We’re determined to deliver the best game we can.”

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided Delayed By Six Months

Nintendo Direct Round Up (Nov 12, 2015)

Nintendo have broadcast a new Direct presentation – the company’s first since the passing of President Satoru Iwata in July. The new Direct followed the format of the earlier videos, this time hosted by Satoru Shibata and Ed Valiente in the EU, with Reggie Fils-Aimé alongside Bill Trinen in the US.

Aside from release dates, the news across both streams, although presented in a different order was much the same, so, without further ado, let’s get to it.

Straight out of the gates was the unexpected, but very welcome announcement that The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD is on the way to WiiU March 4th 2016, with the port being handled by Australia based Tantalus.

As well as enhanced visuals, the game will also support amiibo for the new platform, namely the Smash Bros. series Link, Toon Link, Zelda, Ganondorf & Shiek, and the newly announced Wolf Link.

A special edition of the game will come bundled with with the Wolf Link amiibo, and the game soundtrack. Nintendo also revealed that this new amiibo will carry some data forward to the new Zelda title, reiterating that title is indeed still on track to be a WiiU release.

Sticking with The Legend of Zelda, the recently launched Tri Force Heroes is getting a free update called The Den Of Trials, which will feature 30+ new stages to challenge even the most heroic traveler. The update will also include a couple of new outfits, and is due the first week in December.

The squid based tentacle shooter Splatoon is receiving another substantial update right away – with a new stage, Museum d’Alfonsino, and 40 new gear items heading up the party. We were also told to look forward to more free content upgrades into the new year, including the Mahi-Mahi Resort stage, seen at the end of this trailer.

In the US, a new holiday bundle was also announced, which features a premium WiiU console, Splatoon and Super Smash Bros.

A brief look at Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros. preceded the news that Super Mario Maker is receiving a new web portal next month, which will let you search the 3.3million (and rising) courses globally with more precision than available in game, using filters such as game style or theme, and then adding them to your favourites.

Some new info regarding Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash was also served up, with the announcement of Simple Mode, which strips back the power-ups for a more traditional play style, and the new move Jump Shot, which lets you return a ball without waiting for it to bounce. Fancy that.

While Mario’s undoubtedly the mustachioed face of Nintendo, it’s Pokémon that had kids turning on their Gameboy systems in the late 90’s with the launch of Red, Blue and Yellow… and now they’re back! The three games that started it all are hitting the 3DS Virtual Console Feb 27th, 2016, bringing with them wireless networking options which do away with the need for a link cable.

Three new Pokémon titles not enough, you say? How about the news that Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon will feature all 720 known Pokémon. This is all getting a bit Farfetch’d.

Still not enough of Jigglypuff and chums? How about we take a peek at a Pikachu picture? Pokémon Picross was announced, and joins Shuffle as a ‘free to start’ title on the 3DS eShop in December.

More? How about Pokkén Tournament for WiiU? The arcade style Pokémon fighter is coming in Spring 2016, and it was today revealed that those who purchase a physical copy of the game within its first production run will receive a free Shadow Mewtwo amiibo card, which grants early access to the mythical character.

That’s it; Gotta catch ’em all!

Moving on, we had a new trailer and release date for the delayed Star Fox Zero on Wii U, which is now due for launch in April 2016.

A few indie trailers – the futuristic Fast Racing Neo, Typoman and Image & Form’s SteamWorld: Heist popped up before Nintendo’s own Badge Arcade, an eShop title which allows players to buy attempts on fairground style crane machines with the hope of winning some new tat to adorn your handheld’s home screen.

We also saw LEGO Avengers, Project X Zone 2, Kerbal Space Program, Yo-kai Watch, Hive Jump, Terraria and Mighty No 9.

Capcom’s blue bomber is going gold for the Mega Man Legacy Collection on 3DS, with a limited edition amiibo announced to be launching alongside the game February 23rd.

While it appears the new gold amiibo is US only, gamers in Europe wont entirely miss out, as both it and the regular blue amiibo will unlock 11 exclusive new challenge stages for the game at launch.

Also on 3DS, we saw Final Fantasy Explorers, a 4 player co-op action RPG with MMO style classes and more than 20 different professions for characters to take on. Coming to Europe in January, the game’s western release will bundle all of the DLC released previously for owners in Japan along with the core game.

Europe will also see a special Collectors Edition of the game, which includes an art book, a 20 track CD, a branded 3DS carry case and exclusive in game quests.

More amiibo news: Early next year there’s a Lucas Super Smash Bros. amiibo joining the fight, and a foursome of new faces joining the cavalcade already lined up for the Animal Crossing collection.

Back to Zelda and 3DS – fans were treated to new footage of Hyrule Warriors: Legends, which introduces us to Linkle, a brand new character, who will fight alongside Tetra, Toon Link, Skull Kid and The King of Hyrule when the Wii U title goes handheld.

Speaking of handheld, Linkle has some pretty nifty looking equipment at her disposal. Dual-wield rapid fire crossbows. I suggest you don’t mistakenly call her Zelda.

Hyrule Warriors: Legends will be available March 25th 2016, with a limited edition available at retail.

RPG fans have a lot to look forward to, Nintendo tell us, with Bravely Second: End Layer joining the earlier mentioned Final Fantasy Explorers on 3DS early next year. The sequel to Bravely Default is set a few years after the first title and brings more of the same turn based battles and strategic gameplay using the Brave & Default system.

Bravely Second: End Layer‘s Collector’s Edition will come with a CD soundtrack, artbook and figurine to accompany the game.

Even more good news for 3DS RPG fans followed, this time with the reveal that both Dragon Quest VII and Dragon Quest VIII will be released next year.

Fire Emblem Fates was then announced as launching with two different versions – Birthright or Conquest. It was explained that while each contains a complete story, players of both titles will be rewarded with a deeper look at the varying sides of the conflict within. Those who wish to do so will be pleased to hear that ownership of one Fire Emblem Fates title will grant an eShop reduction on the other.

Due for release after the main games, a third DLC campaign, entitled Fire Emblem Fates Revelation will add even more to the story.

As with nearly everything else Nintendo revealed via this Direct, Fire Emblem Fates will have a Special Edition available, containing all three campaigns, and, quelle surprise, an art book.

Prefer your RPG’s on the big screen? Check out the new trailer for Xenoblade Chronicles X, releasing December 4th.

The game will launch both digitally and at retail, although those picking up the disc will find downloading 10gig of what Nintendo are calling “high speed data loading packs” from the eShop will “greatly improve gameplay experience”. They’ll essentially be using the data on the HDD to sidestep the lengthy disc-based read times when you come to play.

To round things off there was the huge announcement that Super Smash Bros. Wii U / 3DS is getting a new fighter…

Nintendo Direct Round Up (Nov 12, 2015)