I played it again not so long ago, and got a bit hooked on it for a second time. I was pleased to discover that it remains every bit as good and addictive and challenging as I remembered it. There are no bells and whistles. It's just a decent little tennis game, with a deceptive level of depth.
Super Mario Tennis Aces is not a game lacking in bells and whistles. Indeed, there are bells, whistles, klaxons, rattles, people smashing cymbals together, eleven screaming goats, a lost child crying for its mummy, and being stuck in a sweat box for 36 hours with a hen party, that wacky bloke from your office, and a box of comedy photo props.
It is - in a number of important, fundamental ways - the single most irritating tennis game I have ever played. Heck, forget tennis; I think hit might be single most irritating game I've ever played, regardless of genre.
So, here's the thing. The backbone of Mario Tennis Aces is an adventure mode. Like an actual backbone made of chewed-up chard instead of bone... it is both stupid and unwanted.
Structured like a traditional Super Mario Game, you go on a quest where every stage is either a wacky tennis match or some other sort of tennis challenge - hitting the balls at targets and that.
Nobody will buy this game for an Adventure mode. Frankly, they might as well have not bothered, and spent some time focus group-testing the rest of the game. And then they could've sold Mario Tennis Aces to the military as a new form of psychological warfare, rather than inflict upon us. Or they could've just skipped all those development costs, foregone the game altogether, and just put a load of anthrax in every cartridge case.
You see, two types of people will buy this game; those who want a decent tennis game to play on the Switch... and masochists. Unfortunately, the former group of people are shit out of luck.
The other main aspect of Aces is the tournament mode. This is what you might be expecting, but this being a Mario game... it's can't just settle on offering you a decent, basic, game of tennis. There are special moves - which can perform when your energy meter is charged - and you can slow down time to reach particularly tricky shots (though I never once achieved this). And you can, on occasion, leap into the air and launch a shot via a first-person perspective cross-hairs.
All of this is sort of fine, in theory. However... a number of things get in the way.
Which is an understatement akin to saying "That bear attack which resulted in the deaths of our five children really got in the way of us having a nice holiday..."
Firstly... your success or failure almost entirely hinges on pulling off shots using the special moves - or countering your opponent's special moves. Regular shots... well, so long as you hit a button, your character mostly always returns a shot, automatically moving to intercept the ball. Successful shots only really happen when you or your opponent is either distracted, or one of you is deploying a special move.
Secondly, the physics are - admittedly, as you'd expect - nowhere near realistic. Alright, it's a Mario game, but it feels so far removed from what I've always enjoyed about tennis sims, that it almost ceases to be tennis at all.
Lastly... and this, for me, was the most significant thing which detracted from any enjoyment I could've carved out of this garish travesty... it's annoying. So annoying. The default setting has utterly overbearing music and a ceaseless commentary by a pair of Toads, which is like suffering death by a thousand clucking, gibbering, maniacs. I was able to turn off both these elements... but what remained were the characters - who cycle through the same two phrases on EVERY SINGLE PLAY.
Take Waluigi for example; every shot is made with a provocative, machiavellian cackle, and a shout of what sounds like "Cheaters!". Every single time. FOR THE DURATION OF THE ENTIRE GAME. Even Mario's own whoops and "wahoos" sunk their claws beneath my nerve-endings.
While they're fine in a platform game, here they're distracting and grating. Yeah, I could've played it with the sound off, but tennis games need that audible "thwack!" of the ball to make them feel real.
Fortunately, there is an option to play tennis here without all the bells and whistles; just a game of tennis where you rely upon nothing but your "skills". Unfortunately, this is only available in the single match mode, it still has the characters uttering their inane catchphrases and bizarre noises, and it is hobbled by one of the most bafflingly wrong-headed choices ever made in the history of game design.
To wit: it is impossible to play a single game of tennis - against the Switch, or another player - with the standard rules. Oh, there's a thing they call tennis, but instead of being broken down into games and sets LIKE TENNIS IS MEANT TO BE PLAYED it's some weirdly streamlined, simplified, best-of-three serves nonsense. Why have they done this? Why have they done this, when tennis - with its full rules and all - is available in the tournament?! It's insanity.
I could've put up with all the cackling, and shrieking, and inane, repetitive comments, the special moves, the weird physics, if they'd just given me the option to play a game of tennis the way tennis is meant to be played. Instead, what I'm left with is a pervasive, sociopathic urge to murder every single character in the game.
And here's how I'd do it:
Mario - Drown him in a lavatory bowl.
Luigi - Strangulation.
Peach - Defenestration.
Daisy - Make her eat her own limbs.
Toad - Punch him repeatedly in his stupid smiling face so that it caves in on itself, then stomp him to death.
Toadette - All of the above.
Yoshi - Break his spine with repeated hammer blows.
Wario - Tie him up, and set fire to him in a car park.
Bowser - Amputate his legs, and drop him from a helicopter into a desert.
Donkey Kong - Deforestation of his natural habitat.
Spike - Nerve agent.
Chain Chomp - Nerve agent.
Waluigi - Torture, then nerve agent.
Bowser Jr - Hire a dirty urban fox to eat him.
Rosaline - Something to do with scissors.
Boo - Exorcisim.