With the pre-release online tournament/beta for Mario Tennis Aces over the weekend, two of my predictions have come true: firstly, the myriad of defensive shots and plays are just as annoying as I thought they'd be. Secondly, and more importantly: the game's an absolute blast.
Provided you're not dealing with lag.
With Mario Tennis Aces dropping on June 22, the online tournament was a chance for people to get to grips with the controls while Nintendo got to grips with the servers. It's the same model Nintendo used for Splatoon 2 and ARMS, although with a slightly longer window than what ARMS had.
Four characters were unlocked from the off - Bowser, Mario, Waluigi and Peach - with Chain Chomp, Rosalina, Spike, Toad and Waluigi available once enough points were unlocked through online play.
It was a good chance to show off the fairly comprehensive tutorials, as well as the ebb and flow of the basic shots. Each shot has a basic counter: topspins with an yellow tail, dropspins white, flat shots purple, and so on. Using the wrong counter results in your character being pushed back slightly further - leaving you vulnerable or forcing you to burn energy - and there's a little haptic response from the Joy-Cons, too.
The first few matches were largely what you'd expect: players still learning how to charge shots properly, use their energy and trick shots without jumping over the ball. But once you got past that point, or hit the semi-finals in the online tournament, Mario Tennis Aces changes rather curiously.
The combination of balancing metre, selectively using zone shots, occasionally using speed so you have extra time to charge up a shot to regain ground mid-point ... it's a little like a fighting game, but on a tennis court.
What you'll see should you hit the finals: Toad commentary.
Each of the characters has a speciality, save for Mario who's marked as your typical all-rounder. Beasts like Chain Chomp and Bowser focus on power, although what's not mentioned is that their on-court reach is excellent too.
In the beta, at least, the powerful characters seemed to have the best of it. The harder the shots and easier you can charge, the more you can push characters back. Pushing players back means their returns aren't as powerful, giving you more time to charge, which builds faster.
My personal favourites ended up being the aggravating Rosalina, who gets extra curve and bend on her slices and topspin shots, and Waluigi. Because Waluigi.
But as fun as dealing with all of this on the fly is, Mario Tennis Aces falls apart as soon as you get the briefest hint of lag.
Once you search for a match, the game comes up with your opponent's name, character choice, and a five-bar indicator for connection quality. Over the course of 49 games, most of mine were between two and four bars. Two bars was playable, but not amazing, while three and up provided acceptable gameplay.
The problem is when the connection quality drops. Every couple of matches, I'd have a perfectly playable game of three bars - and then a few points in, the connection would completely tank, and it'd take a full second before Waluigi would run around the court on my command.
It's especially problematic in a game where charging - sacrificing movement for power, essentially - is so integral. It's even more paramount in a game where meter moves are as powerful as they are: while the special moves are great, it's really the zone shots and zone speed that are more important, and more frequently deployed.
Even the trick shots, which can be deployed using the right stick, are super useful. They're so effective at defending against lobs, as well as building charge - although timing is crucial if you want to gain (instead of burn) meter.
But when everything you do is a second delayed, it's all for naught. And when you're dealing with lag so extreme that you have to wait for your opponent to hit the ball, and the delay means you've got bugger all chance to charge your shot by the time it gets to you, the whole experience just loses its lustre.
Mario Tennis Aces launches on June 22. It'll be fun to see how many improvements Nintendo can implement into the netcode between now and then. Mario Kart and Splatoon 2 work pretty well, and hopefully Mario Tennis at launch follows the same fate.
On the plus side: if the online play is buggered, at least local play will still be great. The release version will also have that Wii Tennis-esque Swing mode support, which should be loads of fun regardless.