I truly did not think Mario’s sports repertoire would ever return to a soccer-like state, being that it has been 15 years since Mario Strikers Charged entered the scene. Like a sequel to Half Life 2, it was a shot in the dark even considering another Strikers game was going to happen. Fortunately, Mario Strikers: Battle League has finally arrived on the pitch, and in traditional Mario Sports fashion, trims out most of the ‘unneeded rules’ that makes up its inspiration and adds throwing items as a game mechanic, rather than a rude and unwarranted gesture when playing real life Soccer.
The title starts by booting the player right into the heat of things, with a fiery hot tutorial right off the grill, and for a small moment, the controls feel heartier than Mario Tennis Aces. A player has many controls, ground passes, lob passes, dodge rolls, sprinting and of course, shooting — who would’ve thought? — at their disposal while ball carrying. There are also a good number of shooting varieties, such as the ability to curve a shot to confuse the goalkeeper — modelled after ‘Boom boom’ of New Super Mario Bros series fame — and combo shots which need to be timed right for the best results.
The defensive side of the ball allows the player to tackle other competitors, sprint, retrieve the loose ball, and set their positioning for better defensive strategies. All throughout this mayhem that occurs, item blocks will be scattered randomly throughout the arena. These blocks have Mario Kart signature items, such as the boost of speed mushroom, the slip and fall banana, and the invincibility star, which conveniently rears its head mostly when a player is down a few goals. The item quality increases if a player is losing, but no blue shells make an appearance, to everyone’s relief.
“The visuals in Mario Strikers: Battle League are incredible, along with the music.”
Although there are no rules in Mario Strikers: Battle League, tackling a player that doesn’t have control of the ball is a foul for the unruly crowd, who tosses a colour item block for the team on the receiving end of the foul. A solid punishment for players who ‘cheese’ pass interference. The team guilty of committing these acts can’t pick up the freebie item. This made me question when to use this underhanded tactic. A free kick would’ve seriously made me NEVER do it. Shout out to the Mario Sports team for shredding the rule books. Also, just for the laughs, the sides of the arenas are lined with electrical fencing, so when a player is shoved into it, they make fun noises, and become unusable for a few seconds. The Mario Strikers: Battle League power play.
The visuals in Mario Strikers: Battle League are incredible, along with the music. Jamming out to the rock laced anthems while playing such an action heavy sport is a great time, but it’s a great shame hit Nintendo tracks are not found on the soundtrack. Playing a match to Donkey Kong Country’s Gangplank Galleon, or Bowser’s Castle theme would have been delightful. The gameplay runs smoother than anything I have played on the Switch recently. For so much to be happening on the screen at once, the title doesn’t ever seem to waver, a huge accomplishment, Next Level Games really kicked it out of the park here.
There are only five stadiums in a spherical dome to choose from in the beginning, along with only ten separate characters. The diversity is lacking for a Mario Sports title, especially when the Golf and Tennis instalments have 17 and 30 characters each. Hopefully Nintendo keeps the game fresh and updates the roster regularly, as they’ve done with the other Mario titles. There are many customization options to choose from with each Striker, which will increase / decrease certain stats, like how different Karts work in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. A character outfitted with ‘Cannon’ style gear will see their shooting increase, and other stats decrease. This creates an air of building out your entire squad fresh and makes each team unique to the player.
“Mario Strikers: Battle League resurrects a fan favourite Mario Sports title…”
There are of course ‘Super’ techniques called Hyper Strikes which are unique to each character. Mario’s is a bicycle kick that was basically torn from Tidus in Final Fantasy X’s opening scene in the Zanarkand Blitzball stadium. It isn’t called the ‘Pele’ or the ‘Sphere Shot,’ rather the Fire Cyclone. These shots are performed by using a charge shot after collecting a big red sphere that randomly appears in matches.
Successfully firing off a charge shot plays the character animation for the shot, which is awesome, the first few times. The animation appears, every, single, TIME, a Hyper Strike occurs. There is no way to turn the animation off, so watching this may feel laborious after a few matches. A successful Hyper Strike will net the shooter two points rather than one, so these are of the highest priority during a match.
Playing co-op in Mario Strikers: Battle League is a delight, working with others on the same TV can become absolute chaos, but fun chaos. Players only need a single Joy-con to scurry out onto the pitch, and EIGHT players can play on a single console locally. This can become absolute madness when the game is taken online. The online aspect allows players to join Strikers Clubs that can contain up to 20 players, of which five can play a match at once. There’s a small degree of customization, like naming the club, jersey colours and policy adjustments — such as the club being ‘all about winning’— to choose from when creating a league.
All in all, Mario Strikers: Battle League resurrects a fan favourite Mario Sports title, with some of the most fluid gameplay on Switch. With every control feeling buttery smooth, it’s genuinely difficult to dislike this game without trying. There is a lot of fun to be had here, whether fans like any type of sport is irrelevant. This title puts the fun in Mario Sports.
Mario Strikers: Battle League however lacks a variety of stadiums and characters from the get go which may feel redundant when both teams have identical lineups (which has happened in my case). Fans looking for a single player experience may want to look elsewhere, although Mario Strikers: Battle League is a great time, there’s not a plethora of single player content. Like Super Smash Bros, Strikers can feel lonely without others.