Game: Mario Tennis
Console: Nintendo 64
Release Date: 28th August 2000
Released in the middle of the N64's lifespan, Mario Tennis was the first proper tennis game to feature Mario and friends, since I'm not counting Mario's Tennis on the Virtual Boy or the original Tennis for NES, which featured Mario as referee. Also of note is the fact that Waluigi debuted in this game, as a partner for Wario in doubles games. Alongside Mario Golf which was released a year previous, it paved the way for further Mario sports games on the Gamecube and later consoles.
The gameplay is solid for a tennis game; mostly intuitive and easy to grasp. The characters seem a little big on the court compared to most tennis games featuring real players. Running around the court can feel a little slidey in a similar way to Mario's momentum in Super Mario 64, and learning the distance at which players lock on to hit the ball can take a while also. As with most Mario sports games, each character has slightly different stats and this affects gameplay also.
Players can choose to compete in tournaments of rising difficulty, ring challenges where the goal is to pass the ball through rings, a special match with Bowser, with items and a tilting court, or a Piranha Challenge where balls are spewed towards the baseline, and players hit back as many as they can, out of 50. This is a great variety of tennis based matches and challenges, and with doubles also featuring in the game there's a ton of stuff to complete and work through.
While there's a good selection of characters unlocked at the start of the game, there's a couple that can be unlocked through completing cups and connecting a Gameboy version of the game to the N64 with a transfer pak. There are also unlockable courts and cups to provide the game with even more content than it initially seemed to have. As with many Nintendo titles, the replayability is very high.
Overall Mario Tennis is a solid tennis game with tons of modes and things to do. There's lots of characters and it's generally very good fun despite not having ultra tight controls as we'd see in today's realistic tennis games, or whacky super powered shots as with Mario Strikers.