After 15 years on the bench, Mario and his mates are back on the pitch.
Mario Strikers Battle League see the series return for a third season after a lengthy layoff, following GameCube and Wii instalments. It reminds us Nintendo is the king of reimaging the world’s most popular sports into pickup and play multiplayer shenanigans — and this is a comeback we’ve been waiting for.
Mario Strikers is the arcade football game for soccer fans who find realistic football sims much too slow and technical. If you’ve ever played a soccer game before, expect the opposite. It’s confined, extremely fast and above all, aggressive and high scoring. Unlike the series formerly known as FIFA, entire games can be set as short as 3 or 4-minutes, and that actually works really well; it’s a bloody intense 4-minutes, and possible to score with a second on the clock at kick-off.
There’s a lot going on in Mario Strikers Battle League, and that drives its easy to pick up, but quite hard to master gameplay. The tutorial screens take a while to complete, and it’s definitely where you should start when new players come to visit. While each element on its own is easy enough to complete, when it comes to putting it all together, you’ll quickly realise practice makes perfect.
Realism, rules and referees have no place on the pitch. You’re actively encouraged to tackle players both with and without the ball – it’s more like a full body slam – and there are no red cards to worry about here.
You’ll need to be quick to pass and choose when to shoot, otherwise face the wraith of another player’s violent right hook. There is a dodge button, and it’s a hefty part of the tutorial. But with so much going on in such a small space, I often forgot about it, as I was preoccupied trying to find a pass or use an item.
Being a Nintendo sport, there are items galore, all of which you’ll be familiar with from Mario’s other ventures. They’re collected by Mario Kart inspired colourful item boxes, which can be obtained by either team and allow two to be kept in reserve. There are also colour-coded item boxes that drop depending on triggers within the match, which can only be collected be one side. I largely ignored items during single-player, as I didn’t really need them, and I found my time better spent lining up the perfect pass or shot for goal.
Shooting does take a fair bit of practice, largely due to its Joy-Con friendly one-stick, one button approach. The left stick (or only stick when using a single Joy-Con) controls both player movement and shot direction. Shooting directly in front will be easy pickings for the AI-controlled goalie, so once you’ve press A to shoot, you need to quickly move the left stick to aim for a corner of goal or try and lob his bulky body.
It’s complicated by the charge shoot, which increases your chance of scoring if you release the ball as the metre reaches its peak for a perfect shot. It’s tempting, but leaves a large opening to be tackled, especially by human opponents. With time, I found barely charging the shot, just giving me enough time to aim the ball into the left or right corner, was far more successful.
Mario Strikers Battle League is best played as a local multiplayer game, but unlike Mario Tennis and Golf, it’s hard for visitors who haven’t played much to match your skill level. Right now in this review, I’m caught up in the intricacies of shooting, which take several matches after the tutorial to figure out. If you’re a good sport, you’ll pass on your tips to your beginner friends.
Two-goal Hyper Strikes level the playing field in that regard. They can now be scored by any of your four field players, not just the captains, but only after obtaining the Smash-ball style golden orb, which enables the superpower for 20 seconds. When you’re within your half, start a shot and nail the A button twice when it aligns inside the Hyper Strike metre to blast the ball for a guaranteed two goals. If you miss the perfect zones, you’ll still have a chance to score, but it gives the opposition time to defend. The metre here is identical to the previous games, and most sport games, so multiplayer newcomers initially found this a more reliable option.
Should you want to remove the clutter, both items and Hyper Strikes can be turned off. This is a purer FIFA Street or Volta style of arcade street soccer, and reignites the focus more on perfectly timed passes, using through balls and shooting at the opportune time.
Mario has found a way to combine home and away pitches into a single match, as two maps are combined into one. It looks kind of cool, but outside of the visual signifier, as you can only score in your attacking half, it doesn’t do much. For the most part, Battle League runs well and looks good, with just the occasional slowdown when there’s a lot going on. It even has its own unique cel-shaded style, which animates characters’ Hyper Strikes; although, before long they start to disrupt the flow of play, as they take a long time and can’t be skipped.
As I’ll take any excuse to bask in my favourite purple console, I dabbled with the GameCube original not long after getting stuck into Mario Strikers Battle League. I’m amazed how well that game holds up, and how similar its second sequel is, now closing in on two decades later. The core gameplay is essentially identical, and even feels almost the same. Delving deeper, there have been advancements and mastering play is much more involved now, but it stays true to the original game that was much loved, but perhaps somewhat forgotten being released during the GameCube’s farewell season.
Such a delay between instalments is possibly because Nintendo and developer Next Level Games, who has made all three instalments, didn’t really know what else to do with Mario Strikers, and that certainly feels like the case in single-player. It’s a well-crafted game, but the Cup Battle mode doesn’t feel evolved from the GameCube or Wii games, nor does it last very long. Unlocking coins for bland looking outfits that ever-so-slightly affect a character’s attributes isn’t very rewarding. Still, after 15 years, there will be a legion of fans who haven’t played Mario’s take on soccer and need the single-player mini-tournaments to practice decking Luigi.
So like the mid-00s instalments, Mario Strikers Battle League is primarily a multiplayer game that needs a little practice. In person, Mario Strikers can be played across several Switches or a single console – where up to eight players can partake if you split-up enough Joy-Cons. As it’s a single screen regardless of if you’re playing with two people controlling entire teams, or eight people controlling one character each, it’s great to see a multiplayer game allow for so many players with no compromises. While I do think it’s most fun played in local multiplayer, its lifespan is probably dependent on a successful online community.
As well as the straightforward online quickplay, there is an online Strikers Club mode – if you’re in the Oceania region, feel free to join Club Stevivor! Here up to 20 players can compete together in seasons that last a predetermined amount of time. You can play matches, either alone or cooperatively, and earn coins and unlocks for your club.
While you’re playing together, the internal club leaderboards give you something to strive for, so you can compete against your friends, even if you’re actually playing for the same club and don’t play at the same time. It all seems like a lighter version of not-FIFA’s take on clubs and is Mario Striker’s hope of more longevity than Mario Golf, as it’s equally thin on single-player content. However, as we’ve been playing prior to launch, we haven’t been able to test it properly.
Check back in a few days for our final thoughts on Strikers Club.
Mario Strikers Battle League is a worthy comeback that finally brings Mario’s soccer inspired multiplayer mayhem into the HD era, after years on the bench. The core gameplay remains close to the original game, with deeper advanced techniques and a more comprehensive online mode than the Wii instalment. However, the single-player content is lacking, and while it’s a fantastic local multiplayer game for up to eight players – well beyond the usual four – it’s a harder one for many of them too pick up and play. Mario Strikers Battle League is a lot of fun, but unless you really commit to online play, it’s here for a good — but brief — time.
Mario Strikers Battle League was reviewed using promotional code on Nintendo Switch provided by the publisher. Due to timings, online multiplayer was not fully tested, but will be updated following the game’s launch. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.
10 June 2022
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