Mario Tennis might be Nintendo’s best sports game

Mario Tennis might be Nintendo’s best sports game

Welcome to our weekly open thread, everyone. This time around, I’m joined by John Teti, and the two of us are here to talk about a bunch of stuff but mostly, we heap praise on the Nintendo 64’s Mario Tennis. As always, feel free to share your own weekend gaming plans down in the comments.

John Teti: What are you playing this weekend?

Matt Gerardi: I don’t know what caused it (I think it had something to do with that Nintendo 64 emulation story from a couple weeks ago), but I talked my friends into a Nintendo 64 multiplayer night. We played a handful of stuff, but unsurprisingly, the clear favorite was Mario Tennis. I’m pretty sure we’ll be taking to the courts again this weekend.

JT: Why unsurprising?

MG: It’s a great game! Like really great, and it holds up remarkably well. Have you ever played the original Mario Tennis?

JT: Oh yeah. I played the crap out of it in college.

MG: That sounds about right. It’s been popping up as an obsession every once in a while throughout my life. There was the period right after it came out. Then, it came back again when I was in high school. We used to play it in school—in our band room—using the TV that was designated for the music department. Even my band teacher got into it. And now it’s back again.

JT: It was an amazingly good simulation of tennis at the time, and you’re right, it does hold up. It’s like Hot Shots Golf for tennis. (And yes, I know there was an actual Hot Shots Tennis.) One of the things I admire about Hot Shots Golf is that it’s a fun, cartoony game, but it captures a lot of real, nitty-gritty golf strategy, too. You have to pay attention to the lie of the ball, you have to maintain good course management, and so on. Mario Tennis is the same way. It’s silly insofar as you’re playing with this cast of wacky characters, but it also moves a lot like real tennis. It’s one of Nintendo’s best sports games.

MG: Yeah, absolutely. It’s my favorite Nintendo sports game by far. And besides Super Smash Bros. Melee (my love of which I’ve already talked about way too much), I’d say it’s my favorite of any Mario spin-off game.

For me, the big thing it does right—and this gets to your point about it trying to simulate actual tennis—is its purity. There aren’t any power-ups or weapons or volley-saving special powers in the original Mario Tennis. It’s just tennis. That’s the complete opposite of something like Mario Kart, where the weapons are there to help out players who fall behind, but often they just lead to you having to witness your success crumble before your eyes through no fault of your own. If you start losing in Mario Tennis, it’s because you’re blowing it, not because you got hit with five shells in a row.

JT: Well, tennis doesn’t need the weapons, right? That’s one thing I love about the game of tennis, period: You’re never entirely “out of it.” Up through the very last point of a match, it’s always possible to come back. There’s no clock or fast-approaching finish line to arbitrarily end the action; the winner has to earn every point. So it was smart of Nintendo to embrace that aspect of the sport and not lard it up with power-ups. Because you’re never out of a game no matter how far behind you get, nobody needs the crutch. Although you can give players handicaps, right?

MG: Yeah, there are handicaps of a sort, but you have to unlock it per character. It’s basically a souped-up version of the character.

JT: Pretty different from Mario Kart-style weapons and power-ups, though.

MG: Absolutely. And here’s the thing: They did add these volley-saving super-shot things in the GameCube Mario Tennis and mucked it up.

JT: I never hear anybody talk about that one. Maybe there’s a reason for that.

MG: You know why, John? Because that one wasn’t the game where Waluigi made his stunning debut.

JT: Here’s a shameful admission: I used to play as Waluigi all the time on Mario Tennis. I might have used him more than any other character, now that I think of it.

MG: There’s nothing shameful about that. I love Waluigi. He’s the only character I use in Mario Tennis. I don’t get the Waluigi hate. I really don’t. Is it just that he’s superfluous?

JT: Yeah, that’s all. Plus, in English, his name doesn’t have a pun, so it seems especially clumsy. And just look at him. He looks like a creep.

MG: That’s why I love him. Don’t get me wrong. He’s no Wario. But I think I’m just attracted to how stupid of a character he is.

JT: He definitely has an ironic appeal going for him. What other Nintendo 64 games did you play with your buddies?

MG: We went back to the original Super Smash Bros., which I enjoyed way more than I thought I would. I hadn’t played it in, what, 15 years? Back when I was reporting for that big Evo tournament preview, I asked Prog, a Super Smash Bros. Melee commentator, what makes the original Smash unique and why it’s played in tournaments to this day. He mentioned that there’s a really fluid and satisfying feel to the combos you can do in that game that isn’t really present in the newer ones. And it’s true. I was just continuously kicking fools through the air with Fox. It was great. Mario Party, on the other hand, not so much. It was fun for a little while, but once the novelty wore off, we just couldn’t stand it.

JT: Do you like the more recent Mario Party games?

MG: I don’t think I played any of them past Mario Party 3.

JT: I’m looking forward to Mario Party 10 on the Wii U, because I’m looking forward to everything Nintendo makes for the Wii U now. The Gamepad is ideal for mini-games. You know I’m a big Game & Wario fan.

MG: Yeah, hopefully they can right that ship. They’re definitely on a roll, and like you said, the Wii U seems ideal. Plus the analog sticks aren’t made of ridged hard plastic, so they won’t inflame and blister your hands like those goddamned Nintendo 64 controllers.

JT: [Laughs.] Those things were murder! That whole controller is just a debacle, though.

MG: It really is. I mean, there’s a reason why Poseidon never held a trident by the tip, you know?

JT: Hey, we don’t know that. Maybe he went through an experimental phase in college. But yes, the point is taken, so to speak. Okay, a penis joke is probably a good a place to wrap up as any.

MG: I’d say so. Wait, are you playing anything this weekend, John?

JT: Yes. I’m continuing to explore the fun, funny Hohokum, and the good people from Jackbox Games—makers of my beloved You Don’t Know Jack—sent me a download code for their latest creation, Fibbage. I’m looking forward to that.

MG: Now that sounds like some solid weekend gaming.

JT: Yeah, I’ll be playing Fibbage on the Xbox One—been a while since I fired up that particular box. I’m sure there will be a thousand software updates waiting for me.

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