It’s not a good sign for a series when the Game Boy Color installment is the best entry to date. Even though Mario Tennis has been released on numerous Nintendo consoles since its inception in 2000 on N64, the Game Boy Color version of the game indeed remains the strongest. Every installment so far has been good (the weakest entry so far — Mario Tennis Open for 3DS — was even decent enough), but there’s a reason why Mario Tennis GBC remains supreme — it innovated. Instead of simply scaling down the N64 title, developer Camelot structured it like an RPG that mixed everything great about the Game Boy generation of the genre with what makes a tennis game fun. Sadly, Camelot has never again returned to the RPG elements, which would have been much desired in the series’ Wii U debut, Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash. In fact, any mode besides barebones tennis would have been much desired.
The controls of Ultra Smash are simple — a good thing for any tennis game. At the touch of a button, players can execute either a Topspin — a high trajectory shot with high bounce and a fast speed — a Slice — a low trajectory shot with side spin low bounce and a slow speed — or a Flat shot — a no spin shot that happens to be the fastest. There’s also Lobs and Jump Shots, the latter of which is activated by pushing one of the shot buttons twice, taking players into the air and hitting the ball downward with more bounce than a typical shot. Special Shots are also available in the game including Charge, Leap and Chance Shot. Chance Shot is the most notable, allowing players to enter a colored chance area on the court and using the corresponding shot for a special effect. Ultra Smash — where the game derives its title from — is a modified Chance Shot that has players hitting the corresponding button twice for an Ultra Smash, which all but nets them a point. Players can choose to play either Singles or Doubles and select between three types of courts: Hard, Clay or Grass.
There’s not a whole lot to Ultra Smash’s gameplay, but that’s exactly the point. Tennis is not a complicated sport and Mario Tennis has always been an accessible, arcade-style take on it. Everything feels great, is easy to execute and mapped well to the GamePad controls. The problem is that there’s simply a lack of areas to actually play.
There are only four modes in Ultra Smash. Classic Tennis allows players to play without Mega Mushrooms to enjoy a match of tennis in its classic form, Knockout Challenge allows players to take on every character in the game with difficulty progressing as it wears on. Mega Ball Rally has players rallying a Mega Ball back in forth with it continually reducing in size in an attempt to keep a rally going on the longest. Mega Battle is basically the same as Classic Tennis, but features a Mega Mushroom that randomly appears and makes the player stronger. Even though there are only four modes, they’re not unique or far removed from each other.
Everything is basically a modified version Classic Tennis besides Mega Ball Rally, which is only fun when playing with a friend as the idea is to keep the ball going, which takes two people consciously trying not to beat each other. They might as well just had the game launch right into gameplay and allowed players to choose modifications like Mega Mushrooms, because that would have ended up with the same result. Worst yet, while the new power-ups are entertaining, the simple version of Classic Tennis is the only mode worth playing for serious players as the power-ups make every other mode unbalanced. There’s also online functionality that features the same modes as single player and support for amiibo shoehorned in.
It’s shocking how little content there is in Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash. As much as we’d love to explore the title further, the rabbit hole doesn’t go any deeper. There’s only four measly modes that are ultimately just rehashes of basic tennis and nothing else to be found. While there’s a limit to what you can do with a tennis game, adding more characters, more than one stadium and challenge modes alone, would have easily turned this into a great game. Thankfully, the gameplay is rock solid and as addictive as ever. Those who can find pleasure simply in playing a basic game of tennis with no frills or changes of pace will do fine with Ultra Smash, but anybody looking for substance won’t find it in this barebones package. Camelot needs to revisit their outstanding Game Boy Color entry to remember how incredible a Mario Tennis can be before heading back out to the court.