Mario Strikers Battle League review: Shooting for the stars - MrLiambi's blog


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Wednesday, 8 June 2022

Mario Strikers Battle League review: Shooting for the stars

Fresh off the back of Switch Sports, Nintendo has turned its attention to reviving another Wii classic. This time, it's bringing Mario Strikers back from the dead - some 15 years after its last outing.

That means the lazily-reskinned annual FIFA release from EA is no longer the only major football title on the Switch, which can only be good news.

So, how does Mario Strikers: Battle League hold up? We've been playing for the last couple of weeks in order to find out.

A new league

Battle League foregoes Mario's usual struggles to rescue Peach from a succession of dastardly enemies. All he knows and cares for here is football.

That means there's largely no story to speak of here - even if you're playing alone - with the game kicking straight into a tutorial to explain how you'll play, which we'll get to below.

Battle League instead offers up a Mario Kart-style succession of cups for you to fight for, facing progressively more challenging AI teams, alongside a few online modes.

These let you team up with your friends in 4v4 matches, join a club to play regular fixtures and earn points to progress through the rankings.

It's a fairly barebones setup, in all honesty, and one that relies on your interest in playing online to sustain matters. With that said, it might also be more than enough for a family that simply wants to play cups against each other every so often.

Each game is five-a-side, but, with an AI goalkeeper, that makes for four actual player-controllable characters. Players can choose a slim roster of recognisable faces, ranging from Peach and Mario to Waluigi and Toad.

These familiar faces all have different stats for attributes like speed, shooting and strength, but you can alloy this with equipable items, earned by playing and winning coins to buy them with. It's a simple enough system and gives some reason to keep playing over time.

Show me your moves

Actually playing those four-minute matches is a slightly more involved affair than you might expect from this sort of arcadey sports game, too.

The basics here will be familiar to anyone that's played a FIFA game in the last couple of decades - in possession of the ball, you can pass to your teammates along the ground or in the air, and shoot when in the opposition half.

There is a simple dodge move to avoid tackles, but things get more complex when it comes to timing. Every action can be carefully timed for bonus power and accuracy, from shots to passes, lending a solid skill ceiling if things get frantic.

In true Mario style, there are item boxes to hoover up, giving you useful power-ups - from speed-boosting mushrooms to red and green shells - that behave just like they do in Mario Kart. These are disruptive and useful without feeling overpowered, which is a fairly impressive bit of balancing.

The final twist is supplied by Hyper Strikes - signature shots from each character that offer a high chance of scoring, reaping double points if they do. These are reminiscent of Super Smash Bros for the way that the powerup randomly pops onto the field, sparking a scramble to grab it.

They're also hard to activate, requiring a fully-charged shot and a timed couple of taps to get maximum power, which are also open to interruption at any point. Succeed, though, and you'll be treated to a flavourful shot cutscene before the opposition tries to repel the shot.

These moments sum up what makes Mario Strikers unique - the small-team chaos that it inspires is seriously good fun when you're playing with friends. Against the AI, things can feel a little simple, but, with a human behind each player, the situation changes, opening up loads of tactical options.

You can run blocking strategies, like in American football, string together passing moves with well-timed taps for a better shot at the end, or base your game around item usage and Hyper Strikes, knowing that even a two-goal cushion isn't safe from you.

Things aren't nearly as in-depth as a proper football simulation, and there's no 'forever mode' to grind like EA's Ultimate Team to keep you coming back each and every week, but that doesn't mean you can't have consistent fun playing online, which is what counts for more.

Plus, you get to do it all without any risk of addiction that Ultimate Team's loot boxes bring with them. So, for a family game, this is a way better choice if football is your kid's thing.

Theatre of dreams

Compared to the drab presentation of FIFA on Switch, Mario Strikers also has a lot more to offer visually, with bold colours and fun stadium designs that pop nicely and lend real character to each match.

You choose a home stadium that takes up one half of the playing field, while the opposition's half is smushed opposite it. And the same goes for your team colours, so each matchup has the potential to look new and different.

The characters on offer are nice and distinct from each other at a glance, too, and the visual presentation is at its best during Hyper Strikes or as your team celebrates a win - it all has that Nintendo polish that other Switch developers can sometimes struggle to match.

Replays are a bit of a letdown, often failing to really capture what happened from the right angle or at the right moment, but you'll likely be skipping them all after your first few games anyway. When you do get a Hyper Strike away, though, the hand-brushed aesthetic that kicks in is really something to behold. We actually wish it was present more often!

The game has a zesty enough soundtrack to keep those menus from being too boring, as well, and, thankfully, when you're in in-game, there's no attempt at commentary to dull things down.

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