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Mario Tennis Is the Greatest Nintendo Sports Game From the N64 Era

It also introduced the world to the wonderful Waluigi.

Written by David Grossman
Originally Published: 

Few video game characters have inspired as much philosophical pondering as Waluigi. It’s often half-joke, half-real, like the post which suggests that “to choose to play as Waluigi is the ultimate act of false consciousness” or that “Waluigi is the true nowhere man” since “without the other characters he reflects, inverts, and parodies he has no reason to exist.”

In discussions of artificial intelligence these days, Waluigi has somehow gotten himself involved. As accusations of political bias fly, people began discussing “the Waluigi effect” which refers to the idea that if you are able to train an AI chatbot to understand one form of political discussion, it will be easier to train it on the exact opposite belief as well. Waluigi maintains a silliness to him that makes it hard to take the character seriously, yet he retains an oddness about him that has puzzled the masses for decades.

Waluigi as he appears in Mario Tennis Aces.


That’s one hell of a legacy for Mario Tennis, the 2000 Nintendo 64 game that introduced him to the world — which you can experience now if you’ve subscribed to Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack.

Mario Tennis is technically the second in a franchise, although the chances of many gamers getting their hands on the first, Mario’s Tennis, as it was released on the Virtual Boy, a half-baked VR system Nintendo launched in 1995. Nintendo’s worst-selling console of all time, its only real legacy is introducing the concept of Mario and his friends getting into different athletic competitions. But for the vast majority of people, the N64 game was Mario’s opening day in the wide world of sports.

It’s a fun game! Mario Tennis does a good job of breaking the game into its basic components, like the lob and the drop shot. The game offers four styles of court, including grass, clay, compositional, and the default hard court. There’s a lot of rallying, whacking shots back and forth, in what can build up into a tense match.

Mario on the courts.


Like traditional Mario games, Tennis teaches the player how to play it with a gentle-but-firm hand. If a player runs around a lot after they’ve hit a shot, their opponent will shoot it to the opposite side of the court, leaving Donkey Kong or Yoshi or Boo stranded. After losing a few easy matches in a row, I started to pick up on the game’s rhythms and was answering with my own shots. I started playing back, allowing for more time to move toward the ball, and began experimenting with spin.

For Nintendo’s second effort at tennis and its first with any real audience, the game works pretty smoothly. Mario games were big-budget affairs at this point, with even this tennis game earning an introduction that shows Mario and Luigi facing off against Wario and Waluigi, which gets interrupted by Bowser, but then everyone calms down when they realize they all just want to play tennis together. And then a bob-omb walks over and explodes? A little gag humor from Haruki Kodera, the game’s creator.

There were a few elements I found frustrating. The game’s replay feature is neat, capturing winning shots, but I found my player was routinely blocked by the Laiktus who were supposed to be filming, defeating the whole point. A little more annoying, I found myself accidentally powering up for a special shot several times, leaving my character stuck in an animation as the ball sailed right past them. But with a little practice, I learned to mostly avoid the problem.

Mario Tennis offers the option to play singles or doubles.


And then, of course, there’s Waluigi. He’s great in Mario Tennis, with every move feeling uniquely evil. He walks out in a cocky strut, kicking his legs in a way that can only convey “I’m Waluigi, I’m number one!” His long arms make him useful in reaching tough-to-get shots, and his eyes gleam in a way that feels very meme-like when he gets in a winning game. While Nintendo took the coward’s way out and didn’t give evil girlfriends to Wario and Waluigi, the character is filled with life, justifying his own existence by being memorable every second he’s on screen.

Perhaps in another franchise, adding character after character to fill out a sports game might be seen as a cheap trick. But Mario Tennis makes it work. Waluigi is chaos incarnate, and also a pretty good tennis player.

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