No Foul: Hands on Mario Strikers Battle League Football Preview
Way back in the Gamecube era, Nintendo released a game called Super Mario Strikers, which gained some attention for its unique take on the sport of soccer. In the Wii era, we got a sequel in Mario Strikers Charged, and it was even more well-received, but since then, the series has been forgotten, at least until now. Nintendo is getting ready to welcome players onto the pitch in Mario Strikers Battle League Football. In preparation, they invited us to check out the game early.
As the name suggests, there is a league offering in the game, but as that is tied to online and there are no live servers for it, we didn’t get to sample that just yet. We did get to play the entire course of training modules for all the skills the game offers and a few matches, one against the Nintendo rep and the other with them on the same team. Before we got the chance to dive into a game, we had to learn how to play it. While technically it is a soccer game, there is more going on, so if you have years of FIFA games under your belt, you may have to forget what you have learned here. The training is essential because almost every action that you can do also has another more powerful options attached to it and learning how to use them and, more importantly, when to use them.
So let us talk tactics. There are two halves to playing, attacking and defending and depending on what you are doing, the actions available will be different. For almost all the options, regardless of which side of the game you are on, have a standard execution and a charged option, and while the standard does work, there are times when you will want some extra power, but that takes time. Let us look at shooting for a goal; if you have control of the ball and are within the half of the pitch that comes from the other team, you can shoot, and it is straightforward; you just tap A to do so. If you just tap the button, the character will take a shot towards the middle of the goals, but if you move the left stick in a direction, your character will aim for that side of the goal. If you press and hold A down, however, you will begin to charge up your shot, and if you release the button at the right time, you can unleash a perfect shot, which is more challenging for the goalie to block.
If you have the ball, you can pass it, lob it and even chain them together for perfect passes, with each successful execution of it powering up the shot when timed correctly. Even when you are on the defending side of things, the game offers more variety than you might think. Tackling is a massive part of soccer, even better when it’s not used as a means to launch an acting career, and Mario Strikers takes the objective and turns the zaniness way up. You can tackle anyone anytime, and much like the shots, you can also power up your tackles. While you are preparing to tackle, you are wide open to being hit yourself. Tackles are not just a way to steal the ball, as there are some tactics you need to consider when attempting on. In one of the matches I played, I was controlling Toad, who has a low strength score, and when I tried to tackle Wario, he just kept bouncing off. That is where Team Tackles come in, as Toad if I had charged up a tackle and then hit someone else on my team, someone larger, they would have been launched in the direction I was aiming and could have stolen the ball.
All those tactics, and it isn’t a Square Enix game, but there is a level of flourish to some moves usually reserved for a Final Fantasy game and that, of course, is the Hyper Strike. In Mario Strikers Charged, it was known as the Mega Strike, and the same basics apply here, but with a few extra additions:
- Any player can now pull one-off, and the second is the inclusion of the Hyper Strike Orb, which appears randomly in matches.
- Your execution of the move itself. The Orb is important because you can’t begin the move without it, and while it may remind you of Super Smash Bros, there are a few differences that make it better.
- Anyone in the team can collect it, and then the entire team can use it.
- You can’t have it knocked away from you once you have it, but you only get 20 seconds to use it before it is gone.
Where the challenge comes in though, is with your characters technique attribute, the larger that it is, the larger the zones are on the gauge for your perfect shot. To attempt it, you just need to hold down the shoot button and charge up your shot, once done the sliding gauge appears and within it are two blue sections, you just need to press A when the marker moves in to each blue space, do that and your shot will make it in. If you only get one blue, then the opposing team have a chance to deflect the shot, though it still may make it, miss both and its far more likely to be kept out of the net. Where the risk comes in though, is that during the entire time you do this, from the moment you stop to charge the shot, until just after you have attempted to mark both sides of the gauge, you are wide open for a tackle. If the opposing team does hit you, you lose the ball and your Hyper Strike potential, leaving you to start over, of course if you do make the shot and it goes in, then you get two points.
All that is just part of the game, there is still the entire gear section to talk about. Each of the 10 characters have five attributes, Strength, Speed, Shooting, Passing and Technique – that make up their skill. Mario is the all-rounder, Bowser is strong and slow, and Toad is weak but fast, and you can modify the characters by adding gear to them. You can opt to play matches with gear or without, and the changes can be significant depending on the gear. If your character has a low Strength skill, they won’t be able to tackle the bigger characters without charging up, but with a higher Speed attribute they can move around faster by default. The one skill that players will want to focus on is Technique, because the higher that number, the larger the blue sections are for the Hyper Strike. As you swap gear out, adding in a different helmet or such, some attributes will increase and others will go down, for example Bowser can wear the Cannon Visor, which adds 2 points to his Shooting attribute, but lowers his Technique by 2, so you have to balance.
Speaking of balance, the wizards at Next Level Games have found an insane level of balance between performance and presentation, as the game runs at a rock solid 60fps and at 1080p, at least while docked. There were times in the matches when there would be a few items bouncing around the place, such as the green shells and with characters sprinting, tackling and more, the game never had any issues keeping it all running smooth. The amazing presentation extends from the action on the pitch, to the replays and cutaways when you score a goal, seeing Wario eat garlic and then breath at the camera or DK start breakdancing, it never got old.
Sadly, as is always the way with these events, my hands-on time was nowhere near enough. I felt like I only just started to get my head around the tactics that each move offers before my time was done. The gear options alone would allow for some true competition, and I haven’t even talk about the items that you can use in matches. With plenty of customisation options, local and online multiplayer, this could be the Mario sports game that welcomes in players from around the world and that can only be a good thing.
Mario Strikers Charged Battle League Football is out on June 10th, we’ve got a bargain guide for the game live here.