I've never really gotten along with tennis. Ask my high school gym teacher: He made an effort to catch the comedy hour that was my group's attempt to keep the ball in play and get a volley going.
Perhaps that's why I have fond memories of playing "Mario Tennis." It counted as playing a sport, right? But, "Mario Tennis: Open," the 3DS offering, feels a little light on the Mario, and isn't the ace I had hoped for.
Unlike the "Mario Kart" franchise, which has been seemingly perfected and only needs minor tweaks from installment to installment, "Mario Tennis Open" opted to head in some new directions, mainly the shot and control systems. You have your basic choice of shots: lobs, drop shots, and slices, so on and so forth. But, instead of having items or power moves, almost every other rally is given the opportunity of becoming a charged 'chance shot,' if you use the correct shot the game wants you too, that is. It not only makes the shots less special overall, but guides the game in terms of where you are moving and hitting the ball from. And they aren't anywhere near as visually appealing as the old game stopping power ups.
At the end of the day, tennis played without items or power ups is just tennis, and misses out on that Mario charm non-sports game fans such as myself look for.
What results is matches that aren't really that deep, or engrossing, and even something as simple as having to look at the touch screen to try to memorize the color coded shots interrupts the overall gameplay (you can control shots with the touch screen or face buttons, but the chance shot instructions only tell you which color to use, information you can only find on the bottom screen). They did include a gyro mode, but as with all 3DS games with that feature, you have to pick between controlling the game with motion or the 3D. I stuck with 3D.
Also missing is the RPG mode from past handheld entries, which makes the single player a little on the drab side. You have tournaments that get old fast without any kind of driving factor (there are items you can buy, but only for your Mii). They did add in some extra modes: A ring shot mode, a galaxy-inspired mode, and a Super Mario Bros. tennis game, but the novelty of them wears off pretty fast.
The plus side to the short single player is that the game comes with full-fledged online matches, the first for the series, as well as local and download play multiplayer. But, as with everything else with the game, the multiplayer is fun in short bursts, but lacks anything that really pulled me in or encouraged me to keep playing.
"MTO" is a fun title, and sure beats going outside and playing actual tennis, but just wasn't as deep or rewarding as it could have been. All will be forgiven however, if Camelot rushed this to spend more time working on the inevitable "Golden Sun 3DS." As long as they don't remove the RPG elements from that as well.