Having turned his hand to tennis with expert effect on the N64, Game Boy and GameCube, it's no surprise that Mario should be dusting off his racquet once again on a console that's ideally suited to tennis games.
Mario Power Tennis is an update of the GameCube version and the changes that the new motion controls have brought to the gameplay is probably more significant than in any of the other titles in the New Play Controls range. In replacing the familiar joypad controls with a new Wii Remote scheme, the designers have radically altered the balance, the feel and even the tactics used to play the game.
The problem is that maybe they didn't go quite far enough, because underneath it all there's still a GameCube game trying to get out. Unlocking the inner depths of what used to be one of the most accessible and flexible tennis titles on any Nintendo system is much more difficult than it ought to be when using the Remote.
Basically, it's really hard to aim your shots with any consistency or precision, which is not a problem in the leisurely-paced Wii Sports but is more than a little bit annoying in the faster, more tactical world of Mario Power Tennis.
Although you can plug in a Nunchuk to make moving your character a little easier than using the default D-pad setting, everything else in the game is controlled by timing your swings with the Remote. Pressing the D-pad or analogue stick won't actually influence the direction of the shot at all, which is a rather counter-intuitive way of doing things if you've ever played a Mario Tennis game before.
Smash & Drab
The shots are activated by an upwards swing for topspin, a downwards swing for backspin and a level, steady swing for a flat shot. Swinging early or late will influence which side of the court the ball will go. You'll also have to choose forehand or backhand, depending on which side of your character the ball is going to bounce on, and messing it up at any point will result in an unwanted drop shot or an accidental lob that your opponent will be able to smash right back at you.
There's also a charged power shot, which starts building in strength as soon as you stop moving around. Nailing one returns the ball with extra ferocity, but if you need to readjust your positioning you'll instantly lose your charge.
Despite several control options offering varying degrees of automation, there are none that are anywhere near as satisfying as the original GameCube pad - and the Wii version doesn't let you use one, or even a Classic controller. In the simplest control scheme you'll only have to swing the Remote at the right time, like in Wii Sports, while the most advanced option uses a fiddly combination of D-pad, motions and buttons, including the hard-to-reach plus and minus buttons.
Unless you're playing in single player mode, your opponents will be wrestling with the same problems and it's still a decent competitive multiplayer effort. Special moves spice things up and help level the playing field for gamers of mixed ability, though if you don't enjoy getting blasted off the court by Donkey Kong's barrel cannon or seeing Wario whip out a mechanical grabber to return a lost cause from the opposite side of the screen, you can always turn them off.
With a wide variety of multiplayer mini-games, a healthy roster of characters and some still-impressive visuals, it's a good value package
for anyone who's exhausted the challenge of
Wii Sports tennis and fancies trying something considerably more advanced. Solo players can take on a series of tournaments to unlock a couple of new characters, boosted stats and extra courts packed with gimmicks and power-ups, although beating the hardest ones requires a lot of patience.
But like most sports games it's at its best
with a group of people sharing the fun and learning the controls together. The sort of gamers who just enjoy a casual knockabout in
Wii Sports might find Mario Power Tennis rather frustrating. For the rest of us it's just about worth a shot, even though it's not quite the classic it was on the GameCube.