I am so bad at Mario Tennis Aces (but I still kind of love it)

For the moment, Mario Tennis Aces is the Nintendo Switch game to be playing (at least until Octopath Traveler releases later this week). Mario sports titles have always been an interesting little offshoot of the main Super Mario series – at first blush, you wonder why you'd waste your time playing a sports game featuring the cast of Mario, but once you actually sit down and really get familiar with them, their often deep systems become addicting. It should be little surprise, then, that Mario Tennis Aces has a lot of people hooked.

I count myself among those people, but not for the reason you might think. You see, I am downright awful at Mario Tennis Aces. I wish I could say that's a bit of hyperbole for the purposes of crafting an eye-catching headline, but really, when I think of my own play, the phrase "complete garbage" comes to mind.

Ever since Mario Tennis Aces launched, I've played a lot of matches against human opponents only to be thrashed by my adversaries time and time again. The number of matches that I've won is firmly in the single digits, though I am able to land a set win a little more frequently. Still, those victories are few and far between, and though I am ever so slowly getting better, I've got a long way to go.

I'll watch streamers on Twitch play this game and the things they pull off are totally bewildering to me. Half of the time, I fail to even return my opponent's serve and it feels like I lose without ever touching the ball. It goes without saying that the losses come quickly and I often wonder what my opponent on the other side of the court is thinking when they play against me, even though I know it's probably nothing I want to hear said out loud.

Despite this, I still kind of love Mario Tennis Aces. I don't really know what it feels like to dominate my opponents and coast to the grand finals in an online tournament, but I do know that it feels great to pull out a win by the skin of your teeth. The victories I do have were never heavily in my favor; instead, all of them were hard-fought, intense matches.

A lot of this is due to the fact that Mario Tennis Aces feels more like a fighting game than anything else. I'm not the first to make this comparison and I definitely won't be the last, but the presence of an energy meter you build up and deplete to do special shots and pull out clutch defensive moves makes the game's fighting inspiration clear. That meter adds a ton of strategic depth to Mario Tennis Aces, and it's precisely what makes it so much fun to play.

Instead of simply trying to get the ball past your opponent, you also have to focus on managing your meter and building energy. Gaining energy can be done in a couple of different ways. Landing a perfectly-timed trick shot is one way to build your energy meter (and timing your trick shots poorly is a way to deplete it), but you can also perform charge shots to gain energy as well.

If there's ever a point where you opponent has significantly more energy than you do, you're in trouble and you're probably not in control of the game. This, by the way, is a situation I find myself in frequently. Since you need to use energy to counter your opponent's zone shots (special shots with a ton of power and speed behind them) and slow down time to catch shots that would otherwise be out of reach, falling behind in the meter meta game can quickly lead to a loss – or at least a reversal of fortunes that results with you playing from behind.

The meter isn't the only thing that gives Mario Tennis Aces its depth, though. Each of the four face buttons on the controller are tied to a certain kind of shot – topspin, slice, flat, lob, and drop shot (the X button is used for both the lob and the drop shot). Learning when to use each one and how to counter them when they're used against you is integral to your success as a Mario Tennis Aces player, and considering my low win-rate, it's clearly something I haven't figured out yet.

On top of all of that, there's also different character types to take into consideration. Each character in the game falls into one of six classes: all-round, tricky, speedy, powerful, defensive, or technical. Speedy characters don't hit the ball very hard but they can move around the court quickly, so trying to sneak a ball past them will be difficult. Powerful characters, on the other hand, might have more difficulty covering the court, but they'll fire those tennis balls at you like a cannon.

Though it's important to learn how to play against each different class, these are only broad categories, and each character has individual traits and strengths that you need to figure out. Koopa, for instance, seems to be really good at landing trick shots, while Boo is particularly good at curving the ball. I think most Mario Tennis Aces players would agree that Bowser Jr. is a little too good at everything he does, making matches against him difficult if you aren't prepared for all he brings to the table.

Trying to figure all of this out is like a game in itself – or multiple games, for that matter. It's difficult for the new player to simply dive in and expect to find success in Aces' online mode, and while the adventure mode and tournaments against computers definitely help you get the basics down, they definitely do not prepare you for the level of intensity some play with. The introduction of personal ratings in July's tournament mode will probably help, but still, if you've yet to dive into Mario Tennis Aces, expect a rough go of it when you're first starting out.

That may not necessarily be a bad thing, though. Mario Tennis Aces' online mode is definitely a trial by fire for those who have some learning to do (like myself), but sometimes, that can be the best way to learn. As long as you don't mind having a win rate that's frankly embarrassingly low for a while, subjecting yourself to the pains of hefty loss streaks could help you improve faster than sticking to games against the computer.

After typing all of this out, I feel better about being an awful Mario Tennis Aces player. Even though I'm improving at a snail's pace, I am improving nonetheless, and though I may never have the reaction time or skill to roll with the best of them, I can feel some more wins coming my way. Writing this out has made me more optimistic about my future in Mario Tennis Aces, and I expect that to last right up until the moment I get tilted after my next seven-game loss streak.

How have you been faring in Mario Tennis Aces thus far? Have you been having a hard time getting a leg up on the competition, or are your days of grinding well behind you as you dominate tournament after tournament? Head down to the comments section and let me know, if for no other reason than it would be much more encouraging to know that I'm not alone at the bottom of the barrel.