Mario and his pals have always been adept athletes, excelling at basically every sport under the sun. While baseball and golf make for fun gaming experiences, it's always been Mario Tennis that's held a special place in my heart. I can't quite put my finger on it, but ever since the original back in the Nintendo 64 days I just can't get enough of the courtside action. With a new Mario Tennis announced at E3 I'll get my chance to once again deploy my best backhand, but this time things might be a little bit different.

At first glance Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash looks incredibly similar to other Mario Tennis games, and I'm not surprised. Tennis is tennis, and outside of new courts and arenas it's hard to dress it up any more than that. As I played a best-of-three set with a few folks at the booth I could see where the major differences lie. Franchise purists need not worry, as the typical Mario Tennis experience is still here and untouched, but those who don't mind a little experimentation are bound to have some fun.


Up to four players can join together in one match, already making Ultra Smash a good idea for a gaming get-together. Standard tennis matches are available, but they don't venture far from the established Mario Tennis formula outside of the new Jumpshot mechanic. This is nothing to sneeze at, as the Jumpshot is a very potent move that could surprise an opponent into giving up a needed point, but as the only major new mechanic included in the core game it's a bit boring.

The Mega Battle is where things get weird. These matches start out as ordinary tennis games, but when the Mega Mushroom appears and turns one of the four characters on-screen into a giant then things get a little more interesting. With the transformation comes increased hitting power and speed, so those on the other side of the net need to be on their guard. What's more the transformation lasts for multiple points, so this giant Mario I'm up against could be hitting serve during the next point. If you're a person who loves scoring aces, these Mega Mushrooms will be your new best friend.

While the Mega Mushroom was the only power-up being thrown on the court in this demo, I wouldn't be surprised if other items will be included in the full version. The Fire Flower could turn every shot into a fiery blaze of glory, the Tanooki Leaf could allow players to float in the air a bit longer to track and return the ball, the possibilities are endless. I hope the name "Mega Battles" isn't an indication that those mushrooms are all we'll see, as there are plenty of other crazy power-ups that could turn a match upside-down in an instant.


The demo only gave a choice of four playable characters in Mario, Peach, Toad and Bowser, but NIntendo has said that there will be more to choose from including some making their Mario Tennis debuts. I can't help but wonder if that means just new Mario-centric characters coming to the court or faces from Nintendo's entire library are making the jump. Mario Kart 8's successful implementation of Animal Crossing and The Legend of Zelda has to be giving the Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash team ideas, though I admit that seeing Link playing tennis would just be weird.

Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash looks to fill the role that every Mario sports game does: friendly and wholesome fun for all ages with Mario and his many friends. I don't expect this game to be the blockbuster system seller the Wii U is looking for, but there are plenty of families with younger kids where this game will become a perfect new addition to the library. The Mario sports games are always good for some quick fun, and Ultra Smash so far is no exception.

Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash launches exclusively on Wii U this holiday season.