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Strip away its trademark power-ups covering bombs and bananas, stats-boosting gear like supercharged boots and muscle-enhancing chest protectors, and the cutscene-triggering Hyper Strike shots on goal, and Mario Strikers: Battle League Football is an enjoyable-enough arcade-style soccer fest best enjoyed with a friend or seven. It’s a five-a-side, fouls-are-fine affair where some players don’t use their feet to move the ball on, while others’ feet never even touch the ground. It's fast, its high-impact action amusing and wince-inducing, and there’s just enough depth to gameplay to make executing a perfect dodge away from an incoming tackle feel great.
What’s disappointing, though, is that the addition of Mario-standard extras to the mix do little to elevate Strikers above merely being a decent time, a fun-for-15-minutes rush of endorphins, primarily in the company of others. This is of a level more akin to 2021’s Mario Golf: Super Rush than the evergreen extraordinariness of Mario Kart 8 and its Deluxe Switch version - not that there’s anything wrong with just being a good game rather than an exceptional one. But it’s a shame the solo-play appeal wears thin so fast with Canadian developer Next Level Games’ (overdue) third entry in the Strikers series.
Check out a gameplay overview of Mario Strikers: Battle League Football below…
With just your lonesome to play with, there are one-off ‘strikes’ - as is this game’s name for a match - to participate in; knockout tournaments to play through, which each ostensibly focus on playing rivals with a particular ability (strength, passing, speed and so on); and online leagues through Strikers Club mode, which we’ve not been able to try yet in the pre-release phase of coverage (please bear that in mind when scrolling to the score below). But when it comes to modes of play, competition formats, there’s little to be truly excited about. Then again, that’s true enough of real-world football too - traditions are traditions, as 2021’s proposed European Super League stands as a testament of failure to.
Presentation wise, Strikers is pretty slight. The roster of characters you can pick a team of four from - your goalkeeper is always the intimidating Boom Boom, who guards his penalty box with punishing physicality - is slim, just 10 options available at the outset of play with no teasing spaces in the line-up for unlockable players later down the line. In comparison, the previous Strikers game, 2007’s Mario Strikers Charged on Wii, gave users a total of 12 captains to build a team around - such as Mario himself, Bowser, Yoshi and Daisy - completing a team’s line-up with a trio of sidekicks ranging from Toads to Boos. Maybe more will be added through DLC, but out of the box (or I guess, fresh from the download) 10 feels pretty meagre, however varied the stats are between them all.
Stadiums are composed of two themed halves - a Royal Castle design can be combined with Mushroom Hill, Jungle Retreat and more, or pairs can be matched if the aesthetic dissonance bothers you - and there’s a choice of five kits per team at the beginning of every ma… sorry, every strike. All intros and goal celebrations can be skipped - and you’ll be grateful of that the more you play - but what can’t be prevented from playing out in full, every single time, are the Hyper Strike animations. These see the game slip into a sort of cel-shaded, comic-book style sequence where the player in question performs a special move - some of which are exaggerated versions of real-world skills, others actions that’d get you red carded if you tried them at your local Sunday League game. All of them are worth seeing once, but quickly become unwanted interruptions in the flow of a game.
That said, when the opportunity arises to trigger a Hyper Strike, you’ll want to - successful execution of them rewards your team with two goals, rather than one. Alongside the usual item boxes that get thrown onto the pitch, all of which are used in the same way you’ve experienced in Mario Kart et al (mushrooms make you run fast, a red shell targets an opposition player), glowing, crackling orbs of power also appear. Collect one of these and your four outfield players will become Hyper Strike ready for 20 seconds - all you need to do is get into a shooting position and charge a shot to the max by holding down the A button. This brings up a meter below the player in possession - tap A again where the marker passes through the blue strips, and you’ll unleash an unstoppable blast. Slightly mistime these taps - which are akin to how golf games tend to control your swings - and you’ll still get a shot away, but the keeper will have more chance of saving it.
Everything you do in Strikers rewards you with coins - the better your performances, the more coins you receive. These are spent on gear for your players (before each game you can choose a squad with gear equipped or left to the side), which increase and decrease stats depending on what main ability benefits from each item. It’s all a balancing act at first, but once you’re flush you can turn any player into a superstar, albeit while still understanding that Bowser is going to forever remain stronger in the challenge than Peach, and Toad will be a nimbler athlete on the ball than Wario. Increasing these stats makes the game easier to beat, but there are three difficulty levels to pick from, with hard mode offering a stern test indeed.
There’s nothing really wrong with Mario Strikers: Battle League Football, grating menu music aside - there’s just not enough of it, even factoring in its fantastical accouterments. Having player-made cups, offline leagues and kit customisation, more players to pick from(!), penalty shoot-outs (all ties are decided by the golden goal rule) would have helped; so too more variety in the Hyper Strikes, as each player only has the single special to pull off. The game’s on-pitch rough and tumble makes it feel as much like Smash Bros. as a ‘proper’ football game, and slapstick animations help sell the bone-crunching tackles and electrified-fence frazzlings - the ball cannot leave the field, and players knocked into its walls will get a stunning shock. But once you’ve the measure of the Mushroom Kingdom’s idea of a kickabout, the only thing that’ll really have you coming back to this is multiplayer. Locally, that’s a winner. Online, we’ll have to wait and see.
Pros: great fun with a friend, simple controls that offer some depth, games are never dull
Cons: roster of players is thin, not enough game modes, that menu music is horrible
For fans of: Rocket League, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Speedball 2
Mario Strikers: Battle League Football is released exclusively for Nintendo Switch on June 10, 2022. Review code provided by Nintendo. Find a guide to GAMINGbible’s review scores here. *Please note that this score does not incorporate an assessment of online play, and may change when we have played the online-only Strikers Club mode. Please consider this review an offline verdict only.
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