A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Mario Tennis Aces is a tennis simulation game that sends Mario on an adventure around an island where he must complete tennis-themed challenges. There's no violence or scariness beyond the occasional body shot that makes characters wince. The overall vibe is one of friendly competitive play and -- if playing with friends locally or online -- a sense of cooperation and teamwork. Each character emotes in his or her own way, with traditional heroes like Mario and Peach cheering and frowning in appropriate situations while villains like Bowser and Wario express anger and gloat with victory. Parents should note, too, that while much of the game isn't terribly challenging, there are sections -- especially puzzle challenges and boss fights -- that can be frustrating and could force players to search online for strategies and solutions.
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What's it about?
MARIO TENNIS ACES puts players in the shoes of Mario as he journeys around an island on a role-playing game-like tennis adventure to find a quintet of "power stones" connected to the world's most powerful tennis racket. It begins with basic tutorials that teach players how to hit a variety of shots, including trick shots and special time-pausing power shots. As players move from location to location, they unlock challenges that force them to practice and exploit specific techniques and shot types. They'll also tackle puzzle-like challenges -- such as hitting a ball against a magic mirror in a haunted house -- and go up against boss-style enemies with special abilities that they must defeat in order to keep progressing. Mario's level and tennis stats improve with each event. Outside the adventure mode, players can take part in short tournaments against computer-controlled opponents, set up matches against other players both in the same room and online, and try "swing" mode, which allows kids to wield their Joy-Con controllers like real rackets to hit the on-screen ball.
Is it any good?
If you want something more game-like than just a straight tennis simulation, this might be the game for you. Mario Tennis Aces gives players much more than a standard career mode where they master skills and climb ranks. Its adventure mode expertly melds the sort of things kids tend to love about Mario games -- colorful graphics, boss battles, puzzles, and a quirky story -- with a surprisingly strong tennis simulation. The best part is that the adventure challenges are crafted to teach players to master the game's more intricate strategies. Many events focus on learning how to direct shots to specific zones, power up special shots, block incoming power shots from opponents without damaging the racket, and pull off risky trick shots. Other challenges introduce inventive play ideas not seen in other tennis games, like portals that gobble up balls before spitting them out again on the other side of the court, and people who run across the court serving as ball-deflecting obstacles. Some puzzle-like levels and boss fights can be frustrating and tricky -- there are no hints, so you may need to look up solutions online -- but taken as a whole, the adventure mode keeps things fresh and fun throughout.
Nintendo's game smiths could've put a little more into some of the other modes, though. Skilled kids will be able to blast through all of the tournaments in a single night. And while the ability to set up your own matches and play with authentic swing controls is appreciated, there aren't a lot of options or game types to tinker with. Players who simply love tennis for the sake of tennis -- and who want to play the game socially with friends or family -- will have fun here, but others may lose interest. Thankfully, the lengthy and varied adventure mode makes up for these shortcomings. Taken as a whole, there's an awful lot to do, making Mario Tennis Aces one of the best and most satisfying Mario sports games in some time.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about character strengths of the personalities within this game. What sort of behaviors did you see that you think are worth learning from, and are there any that you thought were inappropriate?
When you play with your friends and family, how do you act when you win and lose? Do your fellow players' emotions affect how you behave?
Does Mario Tennis Aces make you interested in learning or even playing tennis? Why or why not?
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