It’s time for an all-new edition of Throwback Thursday! For this episode, I decided to review a launch title. As we all know, it’s launch titles that can certainly make or break a consoles success. The other launch titles for this system at hand were Red Alarm, Galactic Pinball and Teleroboxer. For those that are still having a mental block (which may be a good number of you), I’m talking about the other launch title for the ill-fated Nintendo Virtual Boy, it’s original pack-in game, “Mario’s Tennis”.
Obviously, Mario’s Tennis is the sport of tennis, played Virtual Boy style, pain in the eyes and all. I assumed that the reason that a sports game was packed in with the console, was because the concept of the Virtual Boy console was to be able to dab in the experience of Virtual Reality. It would be very easy to pick up a simple game of tennis, and be able to play it with the supposed virtual reality controls than a platformer game would have been. If not this particular game, I think any kind of sports game would have been a good choice. If some people may remember, back when the Intellivsion and Atari 2600 first came out, there were a lot of sports games made available. This was because sports games for the most part were very easily to recognize and understand without the need for a lot of instructions. This concept was probably what Nintendo had in mind when they made this decision to include a sports game as a pack in, and on the aspect of the reasoning behind Nintendo’s choice, I could honestly say, a better title could not have been selected.
However, as many of us know by now, the Virtual Boy was a far cry from the real deal. Remember, this was the mid 1990s when the console was released. This was a time period when a lot of movies based on the technology were out in theatres, and how quickly we forget how everyone wanted “the virtual reality chair” that seemed to be in all of the expensive catalogs and home shopping networks. (I actually asked my mom and dad for a VR chair for Christmas that year, and I got the Virtual Boy instead. They even wrapped the box in a large chair and let me bust, so when I opened the gift, it was a Virtual Boy sitting on a desk chair. How cruel!)
Mario’s Tennis allows you to play as one of 7 different Mario franchise characters: Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Yoshi, Toad, a Koopa or Donkey Kong Jr. The game supports both singles and double matches, both casual play and tournament modes, and three levels of difficulty. What’s a real shame about the game is that there is no two player option. When the Virtual Boy was released, there was an EXT jack underneath the head of the console, which was eventually going to be used for a connection link for 2 players to play titles at the same time, similar to the Game Link cable used for the original Game Boy systems. However, this link never came to be, and the games that were slated to use the said cable, which were this title, Faceball and Waterworld, had all multiplayer features removed from the code before they were released.
The view of the tennis court was done as well as it could have been done with the console. With a lot of red! Visuals of the now famous Mario pipes in the background, with a tennis court (somewhat of a small size when compared to the game sprites), that, guess what? Is red. The viewpoint is directly behind the character that you are controlling. This was done so that you could see exactly when you would swing your serves and returns. While these days, sports games like those for the Kinect would allow you to not need a character on screen, you could say that on Mario’s Tennis, it is done in the same way as Nintendo Wii sports games are done. (That’s the best comparison I could give.) The game takes a few interesting ways of using the many buttons and D-Pads on the controller to make it seem natural. Even a control as simple as using the left D-Pad when serving from the left and vice versa were well produced.
The one major problem that I do have with the game is the actual controls from the hardware to software point of view. On many times, I had found the controls to be very slow in response time and more than a tad bit sluggish. And when you are playing a sports game like tennis, a situation like that is simply not acceptable. There were other games made for the system in which the controls were super quick and accurate, such as Teleroboxer and Tetris. (Even Red Alarm was accurate, but it suffered from projectile speed, but that’s for another day.) The fact that the game’s control response time is screwed up is really a shame, because the game is not all that bad-looking, especially for a launch title. It’s graphics aren’t as good or crisp when compared to games such as Wario Land or Mario Clash, but for an early attempt, they are quite good.
Another part where the game fails is with the music. However, part of that is due to the technology behind it. (Kinda funny how a “virtual reality” machine could only display a single color and have the music chip like the original Game Boy, isn’t it?) The music is very simple, and in some cases, not existent depending on your level of gameplay, and the sound effects are literally nothing more than basic “beeps, bops, and blips.” No fooling. Which makes me wonder if there was a lot of thought about the music and sound effects (or lack thereof), mostly when considering that some great music was made with the Game Boy Classic sound chip. It’s almost as if they didn’t even try for this title, almost like they knew that the title was either going to be a pack in (thus who would care since it was a free game), or that they didn’t have confidence in the system from the start, so why bother spending a lot of time on the programming?
The fact that there is no 2 player mode, and no way for your friends to see how good or bad you’re playing, it really makes the game much more of a solitaire experience than a party game, which is a shame because I think that if these two items were added, it would have been a lot more fun to play. Even though the game is not one of my favorites for the Virtual Boy, I have to admit that I spent many hours playing the game when I first got the system, and long after the fact. I enjoy games of simplicity most of the time, and this game certainly delivers. For a good time waster when you are laying in bed, trying to relax, Mario’s Tennis delivers. (For the record, I discovered that is the best way to get around the terrible design of the console. Laying in bed with the system laying on your body. Seriously. Try it if you still have the system.)