At E3 2015, I spent a couple of hours playing Mario Tennis Ultra Smash for Wii U. I’m a longtime fan of the series and have spent hundreds of hours playing Mario Tennis games on numerous platforms (N64, GBC, GBA, and GameCube). The earlier games did a brilliant job of imposing everything that’s adorable about the Mario universe on a solid tennis game; they’re addictive, fun to look at, and play well. Last week, I played a near-final version of Mario Tennis Ultra Smash. I was already sold on the game at E3 2015, but after playing it with more characters, I can’t wait for its release.
Unlike Mario Power Tennis for Wii, Mario Tennis Ultra Smash does not use motion controls. Instead, it offers a standard gamepad experience. While fans of flailing their arms about will be disappointed, as a longtime player of games in this series, I like the traditional controls much better.
In the E3 2015 build, there were only two playable characters — Mario and Bowser. Last week, I played a doubles match that pitted Waluigi and Peach against Donkey Kong and Rosalina. The characters have distinct movements and shots. For example, Rosalina floats around the court instead of running. I was told that Yoshi takes adorably small steps, since his legs are so short. My character, Waluigi, was lanky and focused on defense. Like the previous games, I really appreciate how the different characters have noticeably different levels of speed, power, and spin.
Confirmed playable characters include Mario, Luigi, Toad, Peach, Daisy, Rosalina, Wario, Waluigi, Bowser, Yoshi, Boo, and Donkey Kong. In addition to the characters available from the get-go, Mario Tennis Ultra Smash will have some unlockable characters. Known unlockables include Bowser, Jr., Toadette, Dry Bowser, and Sprixie Princess. I’m looking forward to seeing what other players there are to discover and hoping there will be some nifty crossovers.
There will be a number of different courts and surfaces in Mario Tennis Ultra Smash. The real-world surfaces include clay, grass, and hard courts. Clay is the slowest and has a higher bounce. Grass is the fastest and has a lower bounce. Hard courts play fast and have a level bounce. There will also be mushroom- and water-themed courts
What makes Mario Tennis Ultra Smash different from its predecessors is its generous use of power-ups. Players can pick up mega mushrooms and grow to a ridiculous size. Naturally, this gives the powered player a ridiculous amount of power that’s difficult to handle; counter-shots have to be times more precisely when dealing with a powered-up player. Visually, players that consumer a mega mushroom temporarily grow to take up a large chunk of the television screen. While the in-game effect is fierce, the visual effect is bold and hilarious.
If you want to have a more traditional tennis experience (you know, one where players aren’t taller than buildings) then you can opt for a mode that eschews power-ups. In this mode, Mario Tennis Ultra Smash plays more like its predecessors. The exception is the new “jump shot” technique, which can be used in all modes.
Mario Tennis Ultra Smash looks like a fine addition to the Mario Tennis series. From the limited time I’ve had with the game, it looks and plays great. Like the previous installments, the developers have done a superior job at making the players and courts feel distinct. The power-ups add a new layer of fun, especially in party-game situations. Mario Tennis Ultra Smash appears to have everything I loved about its predecessors, with a new wrinkle. I can’t wait to storm the courts as Waluigi when the game hits in late November!