After Part 1, you might find yourselves a bit exhausted, but trust me: I will TALK ABOUT THE GAME NOW. Note that I’ll be using the Wii U GamePad/Pro Controller in order to discuss the controls. For reference purposes, simply swap A/B and X/Y on your Xbox controller to get the gist of what it looks like.
Ultra Smash plays very similarly to Power Tennis with some minor additions. First, the game is no longer a two button (three if you count Power shots) exercise; now, we’ve got three buttons for returning serves. The A button gives you a Topspin, which is a high ball with a forward spin. For most people, that’s pretty much a default shot, and usually provides the highest bounce – note, as well, that it’s color coded with red, and mostly goes straight where you want it to. Second, the B button performs a Slice, a low ball with a backspin. As the seeming opposite of the Topspin, it’s got a blue trail. An additional nuance of Slices comes from its tendency to curve at wild angles, and you’ll be using the Slice with Tricky and Technical characters due to their ability to curve and aim the ball accurately (respectively!).
The Y button gives you the Flat Shot, so called because it holds no top or back spin – the ball literally flies as straight as it can with the most speed and power. In Power Tennis, this used to be two buttons together (A+B), though with the actual Wii U controllers you get an extra button to supplement that command; I found it much easier to perform with consistency in a heated match, that’s for sure! There’s also two additional shots to discuss which didn’t exist in Power Tennis: Lob and Drop Shots. These are, again, opposites, as the Lob Shot aims very high at the back of the court with a yellow trail, while the Drop Shot moves slowly, bounces low, and aims at the front. A Lob requires you to press A, then B, while the Drop Shot requires the exact opposite. These both exist to counter the “net play” tactic where people sit at the front of the net, since you can hit it directly over their heads with Lobs. If they do the opposite, a Drop Shot ensures a point if they can’t reach the front of court in time.
Further than that, you can vary the power, force, and direction of the balls much like in the earlier games. Pressing a button doesn’t just hit the ball; you want to anticipate the trajectory of the ball and “charge” the shot for maximum speed and velocity. While the typical charge shot remains in the game, they’ve added a dedicated button to cancel it (L on the Wii U controller), which means you can now move around. Charging makes it impossible to move until you return the ball, so this is a much-needed feature, to say the least! Double tapping a shot button before it comes to your character now results in a jump shot – while stronger than a typical charge shot, it’s also more difficult to aim, so you have to balance out the two in your game.
Lastly, there’s the Leap Shot (R on the Wii U controller) – literally, your character leaps for the ball. This is a last-ditch effort to return a ball that’s out of your reach. However, it typically hits the ball high up into the air, which gives the opponent the ability to do a Chance Shot. Introduced in the 3DS version of Mario Tennis, Chance Shots give your typical shot special properties, if you perform the shot where a colored circle matching that shot appears on the court. Most of them simply exacerbate the typical effects of those shots -Red makes Topspin faster and bounce higher, while Blue makes Slice shots curve in an incredibly unnatural way, While Lob and Drop Shots do something similar.
However, the titular Ultra Smash, the purple Chance shot, is quite different! A purple star circle appears; if you double tap Y, you’ll perform this incredible move, which turns the tennis ball into a nuclear bomb which goes incredibly fast while slamming into the opposite side of the court. It’s absolutely amazing when you do it the first time, and it ceases to get old! I like to think of Ultra Smashes as a reward for putting the opposite team in a bad position; one bad Leap Shot could lead into an Ultra Smash. While you can counter them, it’s very difficult to hit an Ultra Smash in its trajectory, so this encourages players to NOT do this.
All of these elements just make Mario Tennis a much more solid game, not only taking advantage of being a video game, but also adding more nuances to the core tennis. It’s hard to convey this in text, but trust me: this variance of shots and the necessity of positioning makes 2v2 matches incredibly intense. Character choices also effect the game significantly, with Tricky’s weird shot angle, Technical’s unparalleled aiming, Defense’s long range, and Power’s crazy fast shots. Team layouts can make or break a team much more than in previous games, and anyone who says otherwise clearly hasn’t played the character enough to realize they’re on a continuum of statistical advantages (for the record, Donkey Kong is the most powerful/slow, while Toad is the exact opposite). Each shot they can do is also affected by their stats, and that makes for some diverse games!
Probably the only thing that’s weird about Ultra Smash is the prevalence of Body Shots. That’s when you hit another person with the ball; for whatever reason, I’ve found this happen all the time, whereas it rarely occurred in previous Mario Tennis games. I suppose it’s punishment for not reacting fast enough, but I’ve seen lob shots hit people in the head because the game didn’t recognize it – frankly, I don’t get it. That goes for “out” shots as well, which don’t even seem to exist anymore; I don’t think I’ve had a single out in any game of Ultra Smash I’ve played yet, whereas that could happen a lot in Power Smash if you weren’t accurate. It’s a strange omission, to be sure, but it’s certainly something to point out.
As well, the movement speed of characters might disturb folks used to the other games. For sure, it threw me off balance; you can’t really Leap for balls that hit behind you any more, and running backwards is SLOW. The game clearly wants you to position your characters in the right place, but it can feel like most characters take forever to move backwards. This is alleviated somewhat with the Star variants (more powerful versions of characters), but it’s a strange addition to the game that there’s no safety net for such things (and the continued prevalence of Body Shots in that context also doesn’t help).
With all that said, if you’ve got a bunch of friends, a lot of controllers, and a Wii U, I can’t see how Ultra Smash won’t be accessible, fun, and full of depth for just about any video gamer.