Mario Strikers Battle League Football - A Hyper Shot
You’ve been waiting for this. After a long, 15 year wait, fans of Nintendo’s Mario Strikers franchise are finally about to get their fill. After a surprise reveal in February and a wonderfully short turn-around from debut to distribution, fans have been in whipped into a frenzy of anticipation as they long for the launch on June 10th. Now that the final product is finally here however, can it live up to the legacy of the two prior titles?
Despite some changes big and small, the core playing experience of Mario Strikers: Battle League Football is still alive and very, very well. There have been tweaks for sure, but they’re all in service of a final a product that is more challenging for players both offline, and when the battle is taken to the online streets.
Upon booting up the game and watching through the game’s gorgeous opening cutscene, players will have a few fairly simple options before them. Quick-Play, Cup Battles, Strikers Club, Gear Settings, and then two lesser choices, Training and Options. Players will want to make a beeline to the quite robust Training mode early on, because there is a great deal more finess involved in the core gameplay experience than ever before. In Training, players will learn about the basics of passing, dashing, and charged or lobbed passes/shots, while the depth and greater demand on player skill begins to emerge with the inclusion of First-Time passes/shots, a reflex based pass or shot that will allow lightning fast plays if executed properly. Then there are the Advanced Skills which are the “Perfect” moves, where timing plays a central rolling from tackles to combo passes and shots. The demand placed upon the player to improve their game on a technical and timing based level is fantastic, and does contribute to ensuring the game doesn’t feel dominated by the rubber-band fuelled, and yet very Mario universe, antics that stem from the inclusion of (in the case of Battle League) Hyper Shots, and the myriad of menaces that stem from randomised item drops.
Mechanically there’s a bit going on with Battle League, but beyond that the options for players are quite slim. You can opt into Quick Play matches online, local, single console play with up to 8 players or local wireless. The online pairs you up with players fairly quickly, and regardless of whether you’re playing online or offline, it doesn’t take long from there to get the match started, just choose your captain and three teammates (rinse and repeat for the CPU as well if that’s your opponent), your team’s uniform, and your home ground, which will collide with your opponents preference to create an epic kaleidoscope of colour and movement. Do the cosmetic choices of uniform and arena have any impact on the result of a match? Not in the slightest, but it’s a nice effect regardless. The teammate AI can be a little dumb however, ignoring obvious offensive thrusts or nearby items to do whatever they see fit.
The most attractive mode outside of launching into multiplayer with friends and family are the Cup Battles, a series of 4-minute, plus overtime do-or-die styled matches. Three successive victories will take you to the summit, the trophy, as well as some coins to buy some new gear, a loss anywhere along the way however results in a singular second chance and no wiggle-room as you make a final bold attempt at the title. The various cups hint at the focus of the teams you’ll face: In the Cannon Cup the opponents are powerful shots on goal, the Turbo Cup pits you again speed, the Muscle Cup against sheer strength, and so on. Each present their own challenges as you tweak your team to offset the advantages the teams in any given cup will have. Achieve success in the five core Cups, and the Championship Cup will become available where the opponents will throw the kitchen sink at you, but if you’re victorious, an even greater challenge unlocks – Galactic Mode. It’s possible to complete the Normal Mode of Cup Battles without gear, but you’re doomed to failure in Galactic mode without investing some of those hard earned coins in the Gear Settings screen.
Gear as the name would suggest are layers of cosmetics for you players that also possess buffs and debuffs to your players default statistics. The choices you make to your gear will raise or lower your player’s strength, speed, shooting, passing, or technique (necessary for the Hyper Shots), and will determine the overall balance of your team. Knowing that you’re coming against a team of Toads and other small characters who have speed on their side? Maybe you try to match them, or perhaps you go heavy, taking a risk, but being able to bully them around the pitch. Of course, savvy players may fool others by pumping Toad’s strength stat right up, lulling the opponent into a false sense, until suddenly Toad is putting a typical like Bowser on his rear-end. For many players who simply identify an area in their game that is a strength, the Gear options gives you an opportunity to tailor your team to that style of play in interesting ways.
Finally there is the Strikers Club, a space for squads of friends (up to 20) to come together as a formal team and climb the ranks to attain a seasonal ranking. Just like any other mode you can play, coins are earned for your time, whie tokens are earned on top of this for participating in seasonal matches. Each match earns points for your club, win, lose or draw so you’re never losing out for participating, though squadding up with mates to have a serious attempt at a victory streak will pay additional dividends. Seasons last a week, and in the off-week before a new one begins there will be opportunities to practise and hone your craft with your teammates in a way that is more efficient than planning out an online match in quick-play.
While the number of modes are limited, the longevity of them is anything but. The challenge of Galactic Mode is immense out the gate, the newest season in Strikers Club, or the lure of an upcoming new season will always be there, while match-making via quick-play is largely stress free. The game isn’t asking an extreme amount from players in the Gear store either, so if you know what you want, you won’t need to sink hundreds, even dozens of extra hours into Battle League just to get the coins you need to buy the Gear you want, it’s extremely well balanced in this respect.
While it would have been nice to see a campaign mode of some sort, to justify some of why these worlds from the Mushroom Kingdom are being slammed together for a soccer match, the suite of modes available encourages extensive play, exhilarating highs, and heartbreaking lows following last-second losses. You’ll experience all the highs and lows of Mario Strikers: Battle League and will forever be desperate for one more match
Mario Strikers: Battle League was reviewed on Nintendo Switch with a code provided by Nintendo Australia