Mario Strikers: Battle League Review
By: Yannis Vatis
I’ve never been a fan of sports games, particularly of the football (soccer for the NA folk) variety. The way I’ve always seen it is that if I wanted to fail at kicking a ball around, I might as well do it outside. At least I’d get some exercise and fresh air. Games like Mario Strikers aim to adapt the sport into a more visceral and fast-paced experience, making them more appealing to a core gamer like myself.
While Nintendo’s latest attempt at making an arcade-like football game largely achieves that goal, ultimately, it missteps in terms of content and online play.
The premise of Mario Strikers is pretty simple. It shrinks the game of football down to a 4v4 affair, throws in characters from the Mario games, and ties it all together with flashy shots and techniques. It’s the kind of adaptation that made NBA Jam such a successful formula during its time and Mario Strikers accomplishes this mission well.
Most of the rules of football apply, minus a referee and plus an electrified fence around the pitch. All you need to focus on is scoring and stopping your opponents from doing the same by any means necessary. Everything goes here. Tackling can lead to stuns and players being knocked down. Knocking them into the fence incapacitates them longer. There’s really nothing here that would be considered legal in regular footie, and it’s what makes the whole experience work.
The lack of restrictions means you can go ham and have a blast. Defense largely feels just as engaging as offense because you have no concerns that the game will stop and grant your downed foe a free kick. But that doesn’t mean attackers will have a tougher time making contact with the net.
When the ball is at your feet, the game is at its absolute best. Characters move fluidly and sharply, an experience that harks back to the arcade age. You can employ a variety of dribbling techniques and tricky maneuvers to weave through defense lines, making you feel like a real badass. And it all comes together when you unleash a Hyper Strike, which is an over-the-top super shot that differs from character to character.
The controls, admittedly, take a bit of getting used to. The game’s most basic elements are simple enough to grasp and can carry you a fair bit. But the real fun is unlocked once you get into some of the more advanced techniques so you may need to put a bit of time into refining your footwork.
Overall, Mario Strikers has the type of gameplay to suck in players looking for a sports title that feels more like a video game rather than a simulator. And it’s a shame because there isn’t enough content to keep you enjoying said gameplay.
Riddle me this: how is it that Nintendo, with such a large and diverse pool of characters, is able to make such large rosters for Mario Kart and Smash but doesn’t bother to do so for their arcade footballer? If you ask me, it’s likely because the big N is the king of missed opportunities as the selection here is somewhat thin.
You’ve got most of the usual suspects, like Mario, Luigi and Peach, some more niche favorites like Waluigi, and some DK cast members. But that’s all distilled down to a 16-character roster, including the DLC ones. This would have all been fine if the game had more mode variety but it lacks in that areas as well.
There’s no true campaign mode in Mario Strikers. Yes, you can play Cup modes and Quick matches against AI opponents but that’s about it. With a game that wants you to evolve your skills, chucking in an overwhelming tutorial isn’t the way to keep me engaged. The Mario universe has always found ways to make wacky stories through its various spinoffs so it feels like we’re getting a lot less for our money by not including some sort of story mode here.
I can jive with the idea that this was always meant to just be a multiplayer experience, and it’s absolutely fantastic when playing with someone in the same room. But even in its endeavor to be an online competitive game, Mario Strikers fumbles hard. I don’t think I’ve ever managed to play a smooth match online in this game. Even with good connection quality, there were still laggy instances and stutters that ruined well-coordinated attacks, the part of the game I enjoye the most.
A Buy or A Miss?
Mario Strikers: Battle League has core gameplay that’s exactly what you’d be looking for if you want to play an arcade-style football game. When the game is played under the right conditions, whether against the AI or a human, you’ll have an amazing time setting up flashy offenses and messing with your opponents.
If you’re lacking people to join you for couch battles, though, you might quickly find that the game doesn’t give you much to do. Competitive games are never meant to be played against NPCs for long and with online play being so poor an experience, it’s hard to recommend this game if you want to enjoy the full package.