Mario Strikers: Battle League Football Review
The original Mario Strikers was this little spark of creativity from Next Level Games in the mid-2000s. It took Mario and his friends out of Nintendo’s comfort zone with some crazy styles and animations. We got to know another side of all our Nintendo favourites.
Now, 15 years later, with Nintendo’s style guide for how it wants its characters to appear, can we genuinely get another game as good as we got then? And in the 15 years since the last game, what else new can be brought to the franchise? And can Waluigi still point to his crotch?
The first Mario Strikers game on the GameCube was a pretty simple affair, far removed from the over-the-top style we saw later in the Wii version. It was great to see our Mushroom Kingdom pals without their usual kit. Strikers Charged on the Wii amped everything up after that. You’d skydive into the arena, the fields are interactive, with Twhomps dropping in the middle, or a cow being swept through in a storm. The grunge design, too, was dripping from the ceiling.
Battle League finds itself sitting somewhere in the middle of the two games, both from a presentation point, and in how they play. The madness on the field has been toned down a bit, but the eccentricity of the players remains — they’re as animated as they’ve ever been. The number of unique animations for each character in the way they play football, react to goals, or get scored against, is refreshing.
The way the football is played is also a mix between the two games; in the original, you had one Captain and an army of Toads, Koopa, Birdos, or Hammer Bros. to make up the numbers. In the first game, only the Captain could do the signature Hyperstrike. While in the second, it was the same; your minion teammates could do charged shots at least. Now Battle League has mixed it up again, as now all characters on the field are A-lister Mario characters, and the minions have been removed. (You can still select three Toads or Yoshis to be on your team, but you can’t have three Wario, for example). Hyper Strikes, as they’re known now, are picked up via an orb on the field and can deliver two goals over a standard goal, and they can be defended against by jamming A when the Boom Boom Goalie has the ball in their hands.
Gone are the possible six-goal Megastrikes, gone is the Megasaves screen using the pointer to save goals, and gone are the character-specific Super Abilities. The fields have gone more streamlined; there’s no more Thwomps, meteor strikes, or anything to get in the way aside from items. It’s just a way more refined football game — and while it might be a little less intense, it is way more fun. Although I can’t decide if the smaller fields mean there should be one less character, or they should make the fields bigger — they’re just a tiny bit too small. The game’s roster is, at the moment, just a little bit small as well. You’ll often end up playing teams with some of the same characters and it can be a bit confusing with everything else going on. If Nintendo plans to add more characters, this will help out a bunch.
Mario Strikers Battle League lets you get by in the game for a while just using the standard football plays. You can always try and save a game with a Megastrike as well. But there is a high ceiling of play here on offer, with advanced techniques needed when you start playing against the harder CPU or real-life players. You’ll really want to go through the tutorial and learn it all, even if the tutorial is a bit like pulling teeth. Mario Strikers Charged has no real rules, and you can tackle as much as you want. There is also no offside or anything remotely close to FIFA. So you’ll want to use all the techniques you can.
The customisable battle gear also adds another level of nuance to the game’s meta. While on the surface, giving someone a cool visor and some Megaman looking legs might look great, it also changes their stats. You can turn a slow but strong Wario a little bit faster, or Peach can bulk up a bit to make her a better tackler. The gear is unlocked by spending coins given for winning games that can change characters’ perceptions, and it’ll be interesting to see how some pro players pick this up.
So you know how the game plays now, but what is there to play? Hate to report it, but it’s just football, football, and football. But that should be obvious, right? There are no mini-games or story, no hub world or anything like that. From the main menu, you’ve got single games of football either on one machine, on multiple machines, or over the internet. The “single player” content essentially is a string of different cups with a different theme. In one Cup, all the teams will be fast. In another, they’re a strength-based team, or they like to pass the ball around. It’s another good exercise on how to defeat different team matchups and an excellent way to get some coins to unlock more gear. While I did say this was single-player content, you can play through the cups with up to four players; I’d recommend this as your CPU teammates can be a little dumb at times, and the more challenging cups can get tricky.
There is a tonne of ways to play football here, however. Playing through the cups, just single matches with up to eight players on one console. You can team up with another player on your console and play locally or online. The game is a bit demanding on that front, and it always defaults you to teaming up with someone on your machine — weird.
The big new thing in Battle League is the Strikers Cup. It’s a pretty cool addition to the game and should see communities of people playing this game for a while. In the Strikers Club, you can create your own team or join some friends’ clubs. Each club can have 20 members. Team members earn tokens for playing in matches to give back to their team. If you’re the Club Owner, you can customise your kit and your stadium down the goal line posts using the tokens earned. Team members can vote on how they want their stadium to look.
Strikers Club moves in real-time; for one week, there’s a season, followed by one-week off-season. Every season will have a different set of rules as your team plays against other teams. Teams are assigned into divisions, and the more your win, the higher your team goes in the division list. Your team will want to play as many matches as possible, as even a loss can bring you points.
You can still play against other teams in the off-season, but there are no rankings. Unfortunately, the game is in “off-season” mode at the moment, so we can’t see how the rankings work. You can play in your club’s kit and stadium in all the other modes as well.
With everything going on screen, all the items flying around the game does a tremendous job of running at a 60fps frame rate almost all of the time. The in-match rate is 60fps but can be reduced when playing online with little skips in lag. Cutscenes and introductions are just at 30fps, but in both handheld and docked, the game runs at seemingly a crisp native resolution.
Mario Strikers Battle League Football takes a bit from the first game, a little more from the second and polishes it out into its own fresh thing. We talk about content in games, and on paper, there are fewer characters and stadiums here in Battle League; but there’s more to do over a period of time, especially with the Strikers Club which will build communities. Mario Strikers Battle League Football is the best in the series so far.
+ Slick soccer action at 60fps
+ Strikers Club will be in your rotation for a while
+ Great to see Mario characters doing non-Mario things free from the leash
- Tutorial is like pulling teeth
- Soundtrack all sounds a bit the same
- Stadium unlocks require Strikers Club
- No Waluigi crotch chop