Mario is something of a goodie-two-shoes in most of his video games, whether it’s rescuing kidnapped friends and princesses or staying true to the spirit and rules of the many sports he takes on. However, not football. While tens of millions sit down for 90 minutes most days of the week to watch football – or football if need be – Mario Strikers: Battle League Football knows best how to improve the sport without a hint of VAR.
Soccer in Mario Strikers is boundless action; There’s no referee to spoil the fun so there’s no point in rolling your shins on the ground, players go into a match decked out in powerful American armored personnel carriers, and there’s not even an offside rule, um to confuse newcomers. It’s basically a five-a-side where you try to deal as much physical damage to the opponent as possible.
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Well, I’ve never played Mario Strikers on Wii or GameCube, but it’s immediately clear that Battle League Football draws on the rich gameplay and ideas of Mario Strikers Charged. You’re playing on a smaller pitch than this game, but it still has rounded corners like a hockey ring, and it’s bordered by an electric fence that will wriggle anyone who is shoved in harshly.
The controls are easy to learn, as you’d expect from a Nintendo sports game, but there’s real depth here thanks to team play. Passing the ball back and forth and taking a quick shot is easy enough, but the AI-controlled Boom Boom in each goal is more than good enough to stop those relatively weak shots. No, the trick is to time the button presses for passing to the moment the ball touches your feet for a tiki-taka one-touch pass, and the same for shooting. Alternatively, you can charge your shot by holding down the shot button and (as long as you’re not being attacked before releasing it) send a much more powerful shot on goal.
Ah yes. Defense. This is where we really get to see how the residents of the Mushroom Kingdom relate to one another, kicks in the face and such. Again, a bit of timing is required to get the timing right as you’ll want to smash into the opponent and nod the ball, but you can charge a charged tackle that lunges forward and hits them that much harder. Artful dodging is even more difficult to master in my experience, but a must if you intend to play this online competitively.
Then we get to the stupid stuff. Item boxes are occasionally thrown onto the field, sometimes color-coded for a specific team, and grant an array of Mario Kart-style pickups to grab and use. Bob-ombs, seashells, giant banana peels (which I’m not sure Nintendo thought through the connotations of) and more can be grabbed and used.
There’s also the Hyper Strike Orbs, which energize your team for around 20 seconds and let you unleash a character-specific ultimate shot on target. You’ll have to load it up with golf-style multi-tap input to dial in power and accuracy, but as you wind up to shoot, the enemy may try to interrupt you. It’s tense as you try to save the shot, but you’re rewarded with a bombastic cinematic and then some goofy nonsense, like Peach shooting a heart shape at the goalie, who then has to angrily tap “A” to try and save the shot.
Oh, and Hyper Strike targets are worth two because not even that rule is sacred. On the other hand, a bunch of players will just happily pick up the ball and hit it with their hands…
While I’m not particularly good at the game, I can say it’s a lot of chaotic fun. Trying to string passes together and lead to goal attempts is really rewarding, and when you’re playing against another person instead of the AI, there’s all the kinds of soccer game chat and banter you can expect.
There’s a small selection of Mario game characters to choose from – it’s basically just the core characters – but there’s a good range of their various attributes, in addition to the very different animations. Peach trying to attack Bowser will pretty much bounce off him without charging her punch.
That’s before looking at the different armor pieces you can unlock and custom outfits you can wear. It’s not the widest range of gear with just a few common sets shared by all, but they do tweak these attributes and can cater to slightly different playstyles.
Finally, a little thank you to Boom-Boom, who simply does his best. He’ll deliver miracle save after miracle save, but then let himself down with an exuberant pup’s decision-making when he takes out an attacker and charges foot first.
Mario Strikers: Battle League Football is a lot of fun. It rips apart the rulebook of football and invents a bombastic pseudo-sport that wouldn’t look out of place in a 1970s sci-fi dystopia. Seems to fit perfectly with the soon to be vacant FIFA license, right?
Try out Mario Strikers: Battle League Football for yourself with the First Kick online demo event on June 4-5. Go here for more details.
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