Mario is no stranger to the wide world of sports, from golf to tennis through to going head-to-head against Sonic at the Olympic games. And simplicity and accessibility has often sat alongside that Nintendo dose of fun. Mario Strikers, as expected, takes the beloved game of soccer (or football) and gives it a Mushroom Kingdom spin. The result is something that is more than a little over the top, with Mario Strikers: Battle League Football being to The World’s Game what Mario Kart is to Formula One racing.
With a pass, shoot, and dash mechanic the setup - at least initially - has some of that accessible quality, but it doesn’t take long before Mario Strikers: Battle League Football begins to show its depth and complexity. With the 4v4 matches taking only a handful of minutes (four minutes with no half-time break as the default) things can quickly become chaotic when charge shots, charge tackles, items, Hyper Strikes, dodges, and even shot placement are added into the mix. A strange addition because straight-up shooting without directional placement means you’ll miss.
To put it bluntly, Mario Strikers pretty much uses the entirety of both Joy-Con controllers, with added “shake to dodge” thrown in. Weirdly, there’s no option to customise and remap the buttons, but that's more of a warning than straight-up Yellow Card.
With a pass, shoot, and dash mechanic the setup - at least initially - has some of that accessible quality, but it doesn’t take long before Mario Strikers: Battle League Football begins to show its depth and complexity.
There is of course an extensive training mode that runs through the basic setup and the advanced moves, but for those looking to jump in and kind of learn the ropes the best way to do so is against real-world opponents instead of the CPU. Whether it's competitive or playing on the same side, Mario Strikers, much like previous titles in the series, comes alive in multiplayer. And with an online mode that is about forming clubs and playing as a team for the duration of a season (this wasn’t up and running during the review period) it’s great to see Nintendo expand the online multiplayer side of Mario Strikers beyond simple match-ups.
Describing the game as chaotic in action is definitely apt, and for sheer speed this is one of the fastest ‘Mario Sports’ games to date. In a way, that goes against what you kind of expect to see from Nintendo, but in execution Mario Strikers goes all in on the fast and dirty game of Mushroom Kingdom soccer. In fact it almost seems designed to be played cooperatively as well as competitively as adding an additional team member into the mix does make it easier to keep up with the pace.
Each of the playable characters (which includes a who’s who of the Super Mario world) comes with stats similar to picking a racer in Mario Kart. You’ve got speed for movement across the field, strength for being able to tackle and send others flying, shooting ability, passing, and overall technique.
What’s great is that there’s a deep gear system that not only opens the door to fun cosmetic changes for all of the characters, but alters stats without ever exceeding the overall pool of points. Meaning if you add some speed to Bowser via a nice new helmet, that gain will lower another stat. All of the cosmetics play into the sci-fi art direction too, which presents a sort of “in the distant future, the citizens of the Mushroom Kingdom battle for supremacy in space… by playing soccer” feel.
There’s no real story or anything resembling in-depth commentary, so it’s aesthetic only. Which makes the above take a fun “why” Mario and gang have taken to the field to kick a ball around, and each other.
That said it’s not style for the sake of style, the animation and match presentation is exceptional for a Mario Sports jam. Instant replays are chock-full of little details, Hyper Strikes add a very cool cel-shaded overlay to what are essentially ‘ultimate super powerful kicks of power’ shots at goal, and character celebrations and animations are always great to watch. Even the stadiums are wonderfully detailed, as they're seemingly warped into space with stands full of Shy Guys ready to watch the action. In a very cool move, you can set your home stadium and your half of the pitch will always be that. This 50-50 split is a great touch and adds to the sense of team identity.
Instant replays are chock-full of little details, Hyper Strikes add a very cool cel-shaded overlay to what are essentially ‘ultimate super powerful kicks of power’ shots at goal, and character celebrations and animations are always great to watch.
Strangely, the Cups you get to progress through lack any sort of thematic grounding. They’re cups where you get to play a few games to hopefully take home the trophy. They can be completed in a handful of hours at most too, which really leaves a lot of the heavy lifting to the multiplayer side of this new Mario Strikers. Which is a shame because due to the complexity of the controls and the number of moves there are to discover (the training mode is quite bland and lacks the momentum of actual play) the more you play Mario Strikers: Battle League Football the more you begin to admire its nuance and very intense take on soccer.
It remains to be seen how exactly the online create-a-club stuff pans out in terms of competition, but as a same-room couch jam Mario Strikers: Battle League Football gets better and better the more you play. A surprisingly deep, chaotic bit of Mario Sports action.