Despite his portly appearance, Mario’s family doctor probably isn’t too worried about him suffering from heart failure any time soon. Alongside his mushroom and flower-based diet, this fellow is constantly playing sports! Whether it’s golf, tennis, baseball or entering every possible event at the Olympics, the moustachioed plumber is constantly on the go. Now, with Mario Strikers: Battle League Football, he’s putting on his studded boots once more.
Note: This is now our final and scored review.
While there’s a sizeable fan base for all the sports Mario partakes in, none of them is as popular as the global behemoth that is football (or soccer for US readers). Not only is the sport itself huge but the previous Mario Strikers games have also been massively successful. The first was released on the GameCube in 2005, with the Wii follow-up quickly arriving just 2 years later. With no entry on the poor old WiiU it has been a full 15 years wait for a new one. The length of this gap means that many gamers will be coming to Battle League entirely fresh. As a series veteran who has spent countless hours on the earlier titles, I’ll be your guide through both the returning and new features.
Battle League begins with a trademark opening video, but unlike other Mario sports titles this doesn’t provide any backstory or reason for the residents of the Mushroom Kingdom to be duking it out on the football pitch. Instead you have a brief highlights package for a match set to rocking guitars. It’s pretty high octane stuff, but it also sums up the stripped back nature of the game. It’s worth stating up front that Battle League isn’t really aimed at single players. There are limited modes, and only really a series of cup tournaments to play through on your lonesome. The focus is clearly on multiplayer, both local and online.
The character roster here is solid, but not as wide as you might expected. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by the likes of Smash Bros but ten characters is a little limited, even if there’s promise of further characters being added after launch. Series stalwarts such as Mario, Luigi, Yoshi, and Peach are opposed by Bowser, Donkey Kong, Wario, and Waluigi, with Toad and Rosalina making up the numbers. This means that Daisy has been dropped – a step that will enrage some, I’m sure. Unlike previous games, the whole team is made up of these characters rather than just one as captain. This decision offers a pretty radical change to the whole flow of the game.
The original GameCube title established the surprisingly violent approach that all the games feature, as well as the special shots that can count as multiple goals. Battle League returns to the original in that these shots counting as two rather than the possible six of Charged on the Wii. This is welcome, as the Wii version relied on motion controls for the defending player to try and block some of these extra goals. There was a clear imbalance in this system as defending was much easier than pulling off the exact timing so the moves were nullified in practice.
Hyper Strikes still require precise timing here, but they are more likely to be rewarded with a brace of goals. Every character is capable of pulling off a Hyper Strike, but only when the appropriate power up has spawned and been grabbed from the field. Even then there is a limited time before this runs out, so good defending can still be effective.
Defending itself continues in the ultra-violent vein of previous games, with shoulder barges, flying kicks, and punches being the order of the day. The pitch is still surrounded by an electric fence so pushing opponents into it will stun them. This leads to some hilariously savage moments which take on a darker turn when they involve Mario kicking Peach in the head, for example. All’s fair in love and football though, right? Tackles can be charged to knock your opponents to the floor for a bit longer, and you can choose either automatic or manual player switching to help you close in on the ball.
With the ball at your feet, Battle League plays a solid game of 5-a-side football, and the controls are easy to pick up, but with a depth that will reward dedicated practice. It is a shame, therefore, that there isn’t much of a practice mode aside from a pedantic tutorial. The lack of mini-games to hone particular skills is a big loss, although it has to be said that these were largely absent from earlier entries in the series too.
The main focus here is clearly multiplayer action and it is here that Battle League really shines. Up to eight players can take part either locally or online – the goalkeeping Boom-Booms are AI controlled – and it is here that the decision to make every character a Striker becomes clear. Nobody wants to be a nameless squad member, do they?
The net code is fine (as far as Nintendo goes) and it’s easy enough to matchmake. There isn’t a great deal of depth there yet but online ranking matches start next week. The real meat of the game is in local multiplayer where it really shines but the package as a whole is somewhat barebones.
Every character has particular stats, so Bowser and Wario have higher Strength stats, while Peach is more nimble and has a higher Speed. Further customisation is available through equipping various outfits that can be bought with the in-game currency you receive as you play. Equipping specific gear will alter the individual stats of players to suit particular playstyles, which promises to be useful when entering the online Strikers Club mode.