Today, "Mario Tennis Open" goes online, offering fierce on-the-go 3D tennis matches by way of the Nintendo 3DS. Electronic tennis dates as far back as video games themselves, starting with "Pong" on the Atari back in 1972. So how has the electronic sport changed in 40 years?
Nintendo has been here before, on the Virtual Boy back in 1995. Hands down the best title released for the short-lived system, Mario's Tennis was one player … and one color, red. Playing against a computer was fun, but lacked the unpredictable excitement of facing off with a friend. Given that even Pong was for two players, it's clear to see why even a decent entry like Mario Tennis couldn't save Nintendo's pioneering system.
In 2000, Nintendo took another crack at tennis, on the glorious, polygon-heavy Nintendo 64. Mario Tennis was beloved among my college friends, which may or may not have been because my buddies turned it into a drinking game. The controls were tight enough to make tennis a competitive and addictive multiplayer challenge for the first time on a Nintendo system. With the title's success, Nintendo officially had a character-branded sport worth revisiting on their hands, akin to Mario Golf or Mario Kart.
The Nintendo GameCube's 2004 release of "Mario Power Tennis" was generally held in high regard, so much so that Nintendo opted to re-release the game for their Wii system four years later. Mario Tennis for Wii was modified to accomodate motion controls for the new system, and critics cited that because the game wasn't originally designed with motion control, it did not play well post-conversion.
With the popularity of Wii Sports tennis, there was a bit of disappointment in 2009 when the Nintendo team skipped on a new tennis title from the Mario gang. It seemed like a no-brainer: Take the minigame that got so many playing on the Wii and flesh it out, adding online gameplay and smarter motion controls with the WiiPlus, providing a wider range of characters with their own strengths and weaknesses and offering unlockable courts and tournaments. But that dream title never came, and Mario Tennis never became the Wii staple many expected.
Now Mario Tennis Open is arriving on the Nintendo 3DS. Hitting a ball back and forth over a net has never been more entertaining.
The controls are a bit odd. You're given the choice to use the motion sensors in the system to aim your shots, but swinging the portable around throws off the 3D effect and is distracting as you try to keep an eye on the ball, make your way to a power-up circle and charge up your shot.
Nintendo allows you to play with the touch screen, but it's sectioned off in an odd, bubbly way that was hard to use when my eyes were trained on the upper screen. So stick to the system's buttons.