Wait, can you use your hands in this game? Why is everyone using their hands? Am I misunderstanding football?
Let’s make a quick comparison, shall we? Real football: nobody gets hit by red projectiles, balls don’t catch fire, and players pretend to hurt if the other team even breathes in their direction, after which they temporarily stop the game. Mario Football: Red projectiles everywhere, it’s actually even weirder when the ball is off fire and Bowser can legally check Rosaline’s body in the electric fence and the game continues cold and indifferent to Rosaline’s astronomically expensive medical bills. These are clear advantages of playing Super Mario Strikers Battle League over watching a real football match, making the choice between the two obvious. However, this highly anticipated Wii sequel to Super Mario Strikers Charged does have some issues of its own, some of which drag down a very fun cartoon-violent game in a way that’s just a bummer.
Much of Mario Strikers plays the way you would expect from football. Teams are made up of four players and one AI-controlled goalkeeper, with the player always taking control of the team member currently in possession of the ball. When the ball is in your possession, you can pass to another teammate using either a regular pass or an air pass, but be careful as the opposing team can absolutely intercept and steal the ball in the middle of this pass. You can also try to hit the target, with the arc of your shot determined by how you hold the analog stick when you press the button. These actions can also be charged by holding the respective buttons, making the ball move faster and possibly making it harder to intercept. When you are on defense, you have the ability to grab an opponent, who can also be charged, although the success of your grab depends on the invader’s power stat compared to his target. If you’re about to become an unlucky target, you also have the option to dodge to the side, which will successfully make your would-be invader look like an idiot when he falls face down on the field. All of these actions feel fast and enjoyable to use, especially when you perform a perfect version of said actions with perfectly timed input, adding an advantage such as a faster shot or a temporary boost in speed.
Speaking of stats, one of the most interesting additions to Battle League is equipment that can change a character’s stats. Equipment can be applied to the head, arms, torso, and legs, each of which increases a stat and in return reduces the other. This allows for some really weird permutations of those characters. Want to make a Toad that can send Donkey Kong into space? Battle League allows you to do this and more. Equipment must be purchased with in-game currency, which can be earned by simply playing the game. While I think the fact that I can create a Vario that could beat Sonic the Hedgehog in a race is great fun, I would like it to be related to something other than gear since the inconsistency you sometimes have to doing to get the desired result can make the characters look too goofy, though this is an admittedly minor issue. Other fun ways in which Strikers adds the spirit of Mario is through the presence of items and super shots. Items work pretty much the same as they do in Mario Kart, with the crowd throwing item boxes onto the field, which can be smashed for the item roulette. Some of these crates can be used by any team, but more often the crate will be in the color of a specific team and therefore only available to that team.
From time to time, a glowing sphere will appear on the field, and if you pick it up, the entire character’s team will begin to glow. If he successfully charges while this effect is active, that character will unleash his unique Super Shot with stylish animation and his personal effect on the ball and field. If a Super Kick was sent to your goal, you must press the buttons to help your goalkeeper repel the attack. Super shots are super cool showing characters hitting a ball with the power of love or throwing it into space for an orbital attack, but I found these animations to wear out after a while. They are unmissable, and by the third time in the match, when I saw Yoshi put the ball in a giant egg, I can’t say that I was even a little tired of it. This is especially annoying when you take into account the small composition of the game, which makes it quite likely that after a couple of hours of play you will see most, if not all, supershots, each of which is at least twice.
Unfortunately, this brings us to the parts of Battle League that are a little disappointing. One such aspect is a roster that lacks Mario’s athletic props like Daisy, as well as previous Strikers members like Diddy Kong or Petey Piranha. It is likely that some of these characters are planned to be added later in updates, but right now their absence is hard to miss. There are also frustrations with the Battle League online mode, most notably the game’s ability to only connect up to four Switches in a single match. This means that a full 4v4 game is possible, but only if two people are playing on each switch. While I’m sure the prospect of eight separate connections to the Nintendo Network will likely see the whole thing collapse under its own weight, the lack of even that possibility is still overall a bummer.
After all, Mario Strikers Battle League is an incredibly fun Mario sports game, with fast-paced games and a vibrant visual aesthetic that adds to the hype. There are some issues that prevent the game from being as good as it could be, most notably the small cast and limited online options. The ability to create Rosalina, the ghost that haunts goalkeepers in their nightmares, is surprisingly fun, and the club feature lets you use your friends’ wacky goblins for yourself if you so desire. The Strikers at their core are still as fun as ever and still outshine regular football on every avenue. Let’s hope that as more additions are made to the game’s content, some of the common issues will be resolved and the Battle League will actually be able to shine as brightly as intended.