Reviewing most Wii titles these days almost seems like a redundant exercise, after all they're bound to be successful regardless what the gaming journalism industry at large has to say about them. But there are still people out there, outfitted with a Wii, who won't buy into all the gimmicky elements of Nintendo's uber-platform and are, most likely, awaiting games for the system that truly expand its interactive foundation.
A few games have come and gone, but aside from the odd gem that seems suited to the Wii, it's been amazing that up until now the only substantial Wii tennis outing was the offering found with the system's launch title, Wii Sports. The controller and system alike seem utterly suited to the tennis genre, yet we've seen nothing of worth served on the platform.
Leave it to Nintendo then to give us our daily bread. Unfortunately, said bread is well and truly past its use-by date, and we're beginning to see that even Nintendo are being somewhat lazy.
While the Wii has shown itself to be a throwback system with the Virtual Console offerings and backwards compatibility with GameCube games, The Big N have seen fit to reintroduce a number of classic GC titles with renewed motion control functionality. Most of these games seem more than suitable to the idea with the likes of Pikmin and the Metroid Prime series getting the motion control nod, and throwing Mario Power Tennis into that manifest was always a given. The problem is, even on GameCube Mario Power Tennis wasn't all that great (especially given the strength of the first Mario Tennis game on N64 which was brilliant), and on Wii with renewed controls it doesn't even come close to delivering the sort of experience we deserve.
Tapping into a collective of games from the GameCube is a good idea of those games deserve an altered control treatment, but with tennis on the system, my money is on building a title from scratch. Mario Power Tennis suffers from being far too easy to conquer, regardless of your control method, and the cheating party-game inclusion of signature power moves just takes any skill away from a series that was among the strongest tennis videogame outings ever.
If you never dabbled in the previous Mario Tennis outings, Mario Power Tennis offers a party game environment of Wii remote swinging that's sure to get even your grandmother moving.
You have a host of Nintendo characters from Mario and Luigi, Bowser and Wario, Peach and Daisy to Shy Guy and Yoshi, Boo and Koopa Troopa, Donkey and Diddy Kong and so on; each character has their own unique playing style and a signature power move (as mentioned before) and you can play either singles or doubles either on your own or with three other friends for some four-player multiplayer action.
Default settings see Tournaments played with one set, then two and finally three (when you're playing for the championship), and for the most part matches only last around five or so minutes.
Swinging your remote around hits the ball and you can plug in the Nunchuk to manually move your character, or just let the game position them automatically so all you're worrying about is swinging. There are a few additions in the form of gestures that change the type of hit, from power to lob to drop shots - all performed with a slight addition to how you're handling the Wii Remote (for example swinging up will lob the ball).
The game seems to encourage over-the-top swings, but in reality you can sit on your couch and play with minor flicks of the wrist. It's not as inclusive, but I actually found it to be a more precise way of playing.
Unfortunately, there's no real depth here. I ploughed through the game's single-player Tournament Mode in less than an hour, defeating every cup and unlocking more and more ridiculous mini-games. So the real meat here is in multiplayer, though it's all local which is a real missed opportunity given the strength of Mario Kart online. And as I mentioned earlier, the addition of power moves just takes skill away from the game and turns it into an arm-swinging free-for-all.
Beyond the Tournament Mode, you can jump into an Exhibition Match (basically a quickplay option) or play Special Games (mindless and boring mini-games that offer nothing but frustration). Holding the A and B buttons down on the title screen will make Event Games appear, which is basically the multiplayer option for other registered Wii Remotes. You can have up to four players slogging it out in this mode, which stands as the most fun offering all round.
Visually the title has translated well, but it's also a case of revealing the Wii, which is supposedly more powerful than the GameCube was, is barely ever used to its fullest extent. If Nintendo ever want the system to be taken seriously by the hardcore gamers out there, we really need to start seeing better looking games.
This brings me back to the point that the next tennis game for Wii needs to be built from the ground up. Forget Nintendo and their family/party-game philosophy; let's get some Sega love in here with a purpose-built Virtua Tennis, or 2K's PAM to build a much more extensive and deep Top Spin.
The Wii almost seems built for the tennis game genre, yet we're still not seeing anything of value. Mario Power Tennis is clearly an easy game to have gotten off the ground and will undoubtedly earn Nintendo some easy money (like so many other Wii titles), but you're not going to find anything of substantial skill within - this is clearly a party game aimed at the whole family; young and old, leaving this jaded hardcore gamer desperately wanting more.