I know what you're thinking—it's not hard to imagine. That's because a long time ago, this was the case for Mario Golf games for the Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance, and later Mario Tennis: Power Tour for the Game Boy Advance. They were Mario sports games with stories and sometimes RPG-like progression. They were deeper than swinging a club or a racket. They urged you along with silly, cute tales that needlessly built the worlds around the games.
Then stories in Mario sports games fell to the wayside. Nintendo long forgot the joy of getting to know unfamiliar characters in the Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance entries to the Mario Golf series. They shied away from the Pokemon-like tale of vowing to be the very best in Mario Tennis: Power Tour (where you weren't playing as Mario or Luigi, but an anonymous boy or girl of your choosing). Mario sports games grew inevitably duller, the liveliest coming in the form of a team-up with rival Sonic at an alternate-reality of the Olympics.
Consequently, there's been a void for this very specific sort of game. The indie title Golf Story hit the Nintendo Switch last year with a vengeance, evoking the familiarity of Mario Golf with its own unique twists. It was a hit. This year, Nintendo seemingly got the message that fans missed story-based, non-simulation sports games. So on that note: Mario Tennis is back baby, with a story.
This news was officially unveiled early this morning, when Nintendo surprise-dropped a "mini" Nintendo Direct that was packed with announcements. Lots of ports were among them, but stealthily, a new Mario Tennis game snuck in there. The game's officially titled Mario Tennis Aces, and it's coming to the Nintendo Switch this spring.
The teaser we got of the game doesn't show much. The game will have multiple characters to choose from, including a very-dashingly dressed Waluigi (who had his debut in a Mario Tennis game long ago). The game's story mode will include an overworld to walk across on pathways and a variety of missions and boss battles, with the trailer ending with a peek at Mario hitting a poor Piranha Plant with a tennis ball.
The most striking realization I had upon watching the teaser is that Mario is the hero of this version of Mario Tennis, not some random self-insert implemented to give players a reason to interact with Nintendo's most recognizable heroes and villains. In Mario Tennis Aces, you're the greatest hero Nintendo has to offer himself: good ol' Mario.
With the fact that the Nintendo Switch itself is a hybrid portable console, it's pleasant to see the story mode that began on the Game Boy series of portable hardware make its return once again on portable. It stands to be seen whether playing portably will be the ideal way to experience it—as games like Xenoblade Chronicles 2 have shown its limits—but given the runaway success of Super Mario Odyssey and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, it will likely not be a problem.
Considering that there arguably hasn't been a great Mario Tennis game since the first few, the mere inclusion of a story in Mario Tennis Aces has piqued my interest again. Dare I say it, I'm actually eyeing swinging that virtual racquet again for the first time in ages. The latest installment in the series, the Wii U game Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash, was plainly bad. Playing it felt like playing a shell of what Mario Tennis once was; trying to innovate itself in the blandest possible ways. Of course, there's no guarantee that Mario Tennis Aces will be good. There's a chance that mechanically it can feel like another Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash (as it unfortunately sure looks like so far), only with better Waluigi hair.
But if I get to whack a few Piranha Plants with a tennis ball at my leisure, maybe that'll be enough. No matter the dumb story Nintendo cooks up for our once-plumber, newfound tennis hero.