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Mario Tennis: Service with a smile

A sneak-peek at Camelot's latest effort...

How often do you hear people clamouring for a new Mario Tennis to be announced before big industry events or when console launch line-ups are revealed?

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That's right, never - which is both surprising and slightly sad for a series that has been consistently brilliant, a mere Hawkeye bleep behind Mario Kart as the best of the chubby plumber's spin-offs. (Until the disappointing New Play Control update for the GameCube's Mario Power Tennis, at least.)

So we've decided we're going to make a bit of a racquet (sorry) about this one, because it's shaping up to be a 3DS must-have. For starters, it's being developed by Camelot, who were responsible for the sublime N64 game and its almost-as-good GC follow-up, as well as the Game Boy Color spin-off and its successor, the GBA's terrific Power Tour. Both handheld titles wove role-playing elements into a surprisingly substantial story mode, though there's little evidence of any stat-building stuff in what we've seen so far of this new game.

POWER DOWN

In fact, it looks almost identical to Mario Power Tennis. From a visual standpoint, this is a very good thing - bright, crisp, smooth and quick, it's an absolute dead ringer for the Cube game, and with the extra image depth likely to prove useful when it comes to pinpointing the position of the ball, it should play even better.

Especially as - fingers crossed - there's little sign so far of the overpowered super-shots that upset the perfect balance of the N64 version. If they do show up, we hope the developers at least trim down the three-second animations that accompanied each and every one and made the AI cheatiness even harder to swallow. If you've never played it, imagine the equivalent of Mario Kart's infuriating blue shell - but in every rally.

Thankfully, they could be switched off in the multiplayer modes, for which the series is rightly revered.
Just four characters have been shown off so far, but past form suggests at least a 16-strong roster. Those disappointed by Waluigi's absence from Mario Kart 7 (hey, he has some fans) should be in luck, as it was on the N64's courts that he made his debut - it's unlikely Camelot would ditch him as Nintendo so callously did.

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And we don't need Ray Winstone's disturbing enormo-head from that betting ad to tell us how strong the odds are on a Galaxy-themed arena. In short: we're excited, and you should be too. It's going to be ace. [New puns, please - Ed]

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