The Italian plumber spends much of his time off from saving Princess Peach taking part in many different sports. ‘Mario Strikers: Battle League’ is fun for a while, but quickly grows stale from a lack of offerings.
The game is five-a-side football; you have four outfield players and an AI goalkeeper, and the aim is to score more goals than your opponent - classic stuff. The twist here is that there are no fouls or out-of-bounds. Play doesn’t stop until a goal is scored or time runs out.
In typical Mario fashion, there are item pickups that give either side an advantage. Mushrooms give a burst of speed, shells knock players down, and bananas make them slip on collision. These pickups can appear for either team to pick up, or specifically for one team if one of their players has been tackled off the ball.
Hyperstrikes are the main gimmick of the game. If you collect a Strike Orb that randomly appears on the pitch, your team are supercharged and ready to perform a Hyperstrike. If you manage to charge it without interruption and hit the indicators at the right time, you pull off the ostentatious, yet incredibly satisfying manoeuvre.
The opposing team’s goalie has a chance to try and block this, unless you time the indicators perfectly, in which case it’s an automatic goal. These are worth two goals a piece, so can be a perfect way to turn the tide of a match.
These Hyperstrikes can be a fun part of ‘Mario Strikers: Battle League’. Each character has their own unique animation. Wario does a giant butt-slam onto the ball, sending it bouncing chaotically around the pitch before making its way to the goal. Peach kicks the ball around in the shape of a love heart, charming the keeper to just let it in the goal. It’s fun to see them all across a few matches.
But after enough games, they become a hindrance to the flow of the game. You cannot skip them, and they come up often enough to occur several times in one match. Blocking any Hyperstrike that isn’t perfect is also incredibly easy; simply button-mash your way out of a hairy situation.
All-in-all, the gameplay of ‘Mario Strikers: Battle League’ is quite fun. It’s simple enough that you can jump in for some local multiplayer and get the hang of it quick enough. But there is still quite a lot of depth to the controls. Passing, shooting and dodging all have perfect versions that can be pulled off with precise timing. These give bonuses like being immune to interception, harder to save, or give a speed boost. The tutorial goes into these controls in-depth, and while they can be tough to master, they make the gameplay so much more rewarding.
The offline modes are very limited. There is Quick Play, which is just a short match against bots or up to 8 player local multiplayer. You can turn off items and Hyperstrikes in this mode if there’s too much madness going on (and it does get mad).
Playing 1v1 works well, but having even two players on one team introduces a whole new level of confusion. Trying to switch to the right character can be challenging solo, but with the addition of another player, it gets downright maddening.
There’s a Cup Battles mode, which is the closest thing to a campaign that Mario Strikers has to offer. It’s enjoyable at first, but as with everything in this game, it quickly becomes tiresome and repetitive. The first batch of Cups that you have unlocked are incredibly easy too, which makes it even more of a slog to wade through.
Once you finish all of these tournaments you get the credits and a Galactic Mode unlocks. These are the same Cups, but the AI has stepped its game up a notch. If you take time to master the mechanics, and create an even team, it never feels very challenging, and often feels too easy.
Online games are more of a test of one's abilities. Even 1v1’s are more fun with someone who can block your Hyperstrikes before you even get charged up. Players have mastered perfect one touch passes and shots to make it difficult to even gain possession and, even when winning, you’re constantly on your toes in case of a comeback from the opposition.
The games are subject to some lag, even with good internet speeds. It never felt unfair or detrimental to performance in-game, but it is jarring and can become annoying. This is especially the case when playing with more than two people in one match, four players being the maximum online.
Players can join clubs online with up to 20 people in each. You choose a character and can play as your club solo, or matched with another online member. While Season 1 hasn’t begun just yet, clubs can currently take part in friendly matches with others to test their mettle. When the first weekly Season kicks off, clubs will play for the top spot, earning its players in-game prizes. While these online features add more to the game’s value, they are more of the same, and become stale as quickly as the offline offerings.
The characters you can choose for your team have different stats across five different attributes: Strength, Speed, Shooting, Passing, and Technique. Distributing these across your four selectable team members is a good way to balance your team and be ready for any possible circumstances.
You can change a character's gear in exchange for coins earned for winning matches, which add points to a given stat, while taking points away from another. Doubling down on a character’s strong traits can make them the MVP of your team. It feels amazing when you’ve maxed out a stat and can tackle anyone with ease, or bend it like Beckham into the goal from the halfway line.
The roster of characters is incredibly sparse and disappointing. With only 10 to choose from, you quickly run out of variety, and often see two of the same character on-field at one time. Fan favourites like Daisy, Bowser Jr. and Diddy Kong are all absent, and it feels half-baked. More characters are to be added by free DLC, but it is no excuse for a lack of content at release. The five maps available are equally disappointing, providing little or no difference from each other during gameplay.
These omissions, paired with a single game mode, make the game lose its flavour very quickly. For the full-price ask at launch, €59.99 here in Ireland, it is an overpriced party game. Wait for one of the rare Nintendo first-party sales, or at least until more content is added to beef the game up.
‘Mario Strikers: Battle League’ is at its best when you have a few friends over and want to have a laugh for an hour. But don’t expect it to have the same longevity as ‘Mario Kart’, which you’ll probably boot up instead before long.