Mario Tennis CoverNintendo has provided me with some great video game memories and lessons over the years. Super Smash Bros. taught me to be a relentless brawler, and to not let up until I sent my sister’s Kirby hurtling over the edge of the battle platform. Mario Kart taught me to abandon all of my ill will toward littering, and to not be reserved when it came time to paint the track with those pesky banana peels. How do my taillights look, Peach?! These games were—and still are—fun to play solo and with friends. Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash is no different.

With this latest Mario-themed installment for Wii U, as many as four players can smash aces and show off their meanest backhand in an effort to solidify their spot among Nintendo’s elite. Rated E for everyone, Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash serves up some hard-hitting gameplay that’s a smashing (shout out to Britain) good time for anyone who takes a swing at it.

Before any matches can begin, players must first choose their character. And good news is, the typical Nintendo crew is all here, including Mario, Luigi, Toad, Peach, Daisy, Bowser, Wario, Boo, Donkey Kong, and my personal favorite, Yoshi. What? I like turtles.

Next, players are prompted to select the difficulty level of their opponent. There are novice, intermediate, and expert levels available to choose from. Players can then choose whether they want to play singles or doubles, how many sets and games the match will include, and the court type. They can battle on a hard, clay, or grass court, all of which influence the speed and bounce of the ball. The final option asks players to choose the display style. Nintendo recommends a default mode, one that presents the player’s character in the foreground at all times. The camera is static, and it holds a birds-eye view that overlooks the entire court. While this view was fine and dandy, I enjoyed the Dynamic view much more. This view shifts the display as you play, constantly keeping sight on the ball. With tighter framing, it results in a more engaging, immersive play experience.

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Mega Battle is the recommended game mode for friends, so if you’re throwing a party, or just looking for some friendly competition amongst the family, this is what you want. Mega Battle fittingly introduces Mega Mushrooms, which do exactly what you would expect them to do if you’re at all familiar with previous Mario-themed games. These spotted fungi are thrown onto the court at random, and offer a serious advantage for any player who’s daring enough to momentarily relocate on the court. Grab one before they disappear, and that player’s character will boost in size, resulting in increased shot power, bounce, and racket reach for a limited time. It’s like a human growth hormone, a virtual steroid of sorts that brings a quirky, little giant twist to the classic game of tennis. Let’s just hope there’s no random drug testing in Mario’s world.

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Super-sized Toad and Bowser, not so super-sized Mario and Peach.

In Mega Ball Rally, players can play singles or doubles in an all-out effort to keep a rally going for as long as possible. As players volley the ball back and forth, a ticker will keep track of the consecutive hits. This game is great for players to practice their shots and hone their skills so they can enjoy success in the Knockout Challenge mode.

In Knockout Challenge, players look to rack up consecutive wins as they climb the competitive ladder. Facing tougher opponents each time, players can play solo or team up with an amiibo character to train them. This mode keeps track of current and record winning streaks, and allows players to earn coins that unlock special rewards. I played one Knockout Challenge before writing this review, and won 7-5. *Brushes shoulders off*

Then there’s Classic Tennis. In this mode, players can enjoy a standard game of tennis, without all the frills and thrills like the Mega Mushrooms, Jump Shots, and Chance Shots. So if you’re looking for something simple, there’s always comfort in a classic. Online play is also an option, which offers randomized matches that players can play solo or with their amiibo.

Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash may seem like silly fun at the start, but strategy enthusiasts will quickly learn that there’s a heavy amount of that involved. Sure, this title can (and will be) enjoyed by even the most novice players, but that doesn’t mean that the more mature gamer can’t revel in the game’s hidden complexity.

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Studying and recognizing the different shot types, for example, is the key to landing oneself in Mario Tennis lore. Every shot has a different button configuration, and a different color trail it leaves behind as it rockets over the net. Players needs to be quick enough to recognize their opponents shot and choose the proper return to take home the W.

There are topspin, slice, flat, lob, and drop shots—to name a few—all of which vary in bounce, speed, course, and landing position on the court. Jump shots also exist, which allow players to leap in the air before sending a shot streaking toward the opposition. Chance Shots, or colored areas that appear on the court, also inject more strategic opportunity into Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash. These colored spots display a corresponding shot combination, which players can utilize to trigger enhanced shot effects such as shots with absolutely no bounce, shots that soar to dizzying heights, and shots with a much stronger curve than normal. Ultra Smash shots can be performed in these colored areas as well. Players who can utilize these Chance Shot zones are sure to see their opponents stumbling onto their backsides.

I truly enjoyed playing this game, and, as per usual, I was impressed with the small stuff. The character-filled crowd that surrounded the court brought excitement and energy to each match. The Toads that sat perched on the sidelines, manning cameras and other broadcasting equipment was a nice touch (and hilarious). The game color was rich, the movements and mechanics of the characters fluid, and the visuals were just so gosh darn nice to look it. Ultimately, Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash is good family fun that would make a great addition under any tree or mantle this holiday season.