Mario Strikers: Battle League - Hands-On Preview
It may be hard to believe, but by the time that Mario Strikers: Battle League launches on Nintendo Switch on June 10th, 2022, it will have been just a shave over 15 years since the prior title, the Wii’s Mario Strikers: Charged hit the console. Fans had been pleading to Nintendo for more, but rumoured optics concerned around how aggressive Mario and friends were in Charged, supposed curtailed any new entries in the IP. Thankfully, no matter the reason for the absence, the Strikers licence is no longer in the wilderness thanks to the impending release of Mario Strikers: Battle League. Having kindly received and invite from Nintendo Australia, I’ve now spent an hour with the game, and I’m pleased to report, that time has not wearied this IP, in fact, it’s seemingly better for the time away, and the refinements that have come with that prolonged absence.
At it’s core, Battle League plays much like its predecessors, but it’s what the game does systemically that adds a level of depth well beyond what we’ve seen previously from the franchise. Prior Strikers titles have been fairly simple soccer affairs, with that Mario Bros flash of brilliance; while Battle League isn’t taking the franchise in the direction of simulation titles (and they’re certainly not making an attempt on the FIFA licence that EA is soon abandoning!), it adds a few layers of depth to make the game more compelling competitively both on the couch or in the online sphere.
In the passing realm you’ve got standard ground-ball passes, lobs, and the new “first-time pass” which is a timing based challenge that will see you instantly forward the ball onto a new target the moment it reaches you. Shots on goal also see additional variation, with aimed shots, charged shots, and “first-time shots”, sidling up to the very Smash Bros-esque Strike Orb which enables impressive “hyper shots” which, if successful result in two goals instead of the standard one. You can perfectly time passes and shots for even greater results, just as you can with tackles and dodges, so players who invest their time into their timing will be duly rewarded for their efforts. Mastering, and then mid-match execution of each perfect or advanced skill can be quite hard due to the close confines of the pitch, and the eight characters (plus goalies, items and god knows what else) all littering the screen which visual noise impairing your focus. It will be interesting to see how this all comes together in the final build where you’ve had more time to master the skills. Even with mastery I could see the small playing space severely limit the number of opportunities players have to take advantage of these mechanics.
For the preview I only had access to the standard quick battles, but at the full launch Strikers will include the Strikers Club, a 20-person online space that will support more tight knit competition, but also the opportunity to scope out how other players are speccing out their players gear (more on gear momentarily), as well as the more ambiguous Cup Battles mode.
Forever we’ve known Toad to be a light and speedy fighter/karter in Smash or Mario Kart, but what would happen if, despite his diminutive stature, Toad could actually dish out a hard hit? Well that’s where the Gear system comes in? Players will be able to spec out their team with certain items of gear to buff certain aspects of their “loadout”. Suddenly, your Bowser might catch everyone off guard because he can tear across the pitch as faster characters might, maybe less technical characters become dead-eyes in front of goal. It will be quite fascinating come the final launch to see how elite players choose to customise their team to favour certain strengths or even to just create some balance to characters with typical deficiencies to their game.
With a thorough tutorial for both starters and advanced players, Battle League on-boards you quite well, the moment-to-moment feels, at this stage incredibly satisfying but how that extends to prolonged sessions remains to be seen. The customisation is simple but a potential game-changer, while the assembly of each pitch from two distinct aesthetics is also quite cool to gaze upon. Mario Strikers: Battle League may have taken a long time to get to this point, but at least from this early impression, it seems the wait has been worth it.