Mario Strikers: Battle League Football Switch Review
I can’t believe the previous game in the Mario Strikers franchise came out fifteen years ago. It was a staple of my high-school friend group for a time – no matter whose house we were at we’d be blasting out a few matches, and they could get real tense as we honed our skills against each other. Sadly, as the Wii’s time passed it became harder and harder to support. We swapped our TVs for bigger HD screens that made the console look like a stretched out mess and the now-outdated cables were a nuisance to deal with, so we packed up our sensor bars and moved on. Of course as we grew up we continually pledged to get back together and pull another all nighter tournament but it would never happen. I’ve been desperately waiting for a new entry ever since. Eager to pull new friends into the fray, test my skills online, and perhaps even manage to get that all-nighter with the old gang. Well, twelve years later and here it is! Nothing can quite electrify a living room full of your mates like these titles – there’s something so perfectly tight and competitive, yet somehow still arcadey and easygoing about them. The perfect blend of sports and silliness. So how does the new one hold up? It’s bloody great and I love it. Kind of.
It’s an excellent local multiplayer game, but it’s not all Mario Sunshine and fire flowers. I think it’s well understood now that, outside of big entries like Mario Odyssey and Breath of the Wild, Nintendo’s titles have less meat on them than Dry Bones, which drives me totally mad as I’m sure it does many others. Sparse single-player content, terrible online experiences, and a disheartening lack of characters and maps. It is with great pain that I confirm Strikers: Battle League is no exception, not unlike the other Strikers games. Besides the challenge cups, which are short 2-4 game tournaments, there’s nothing to do offline for a solo player. And the whole ‘build your own club and work your way up through the divisions together’ effort is a complete joke that requires a frustrating amount of coordination to build viable teams for. How it works is that each club member selects their favourite character and gear load-out that is then added to the clubs roster for those going online. These are the only ones you can choose, meaning you don’t have access to the entire already-limited cast in order to work from your personal play-style. For example, being in the DarkZero club doesn’t even give you any room to decide, forcing your team to be two Waluigis, Rosalina, and Mario. What were they thinking?
Fortunately for me this is just the type of cutthroat head-to-head action my girlfriend and I love to scuffle it out over, or come together as the co-op dream team when we have guests to crush (and this baby goes all the way up to eight players just like the good old days! Even though I don’t believe I’ve ever managed to play a local game of anything with more than five or six…). It has only been just over a week but we’ve already played so much it’s crazy. Oftentimes pushing for rematches well into the morning and then taunting the loser the next day until they snap and demand another chance when we absolutely should be working. The core gameplay is undeniably fantastic and scarily addicting. Just as you‘d expect the basic actions are passing, shooting, tackling, and dodging. On top of that, they each have their own enhanced versions for expertly timing their execution or charge-up. After developing those, it’s time to learn positioning and aggression, which comes from switching between characters around the field to better take down the opposition before they can receive the ball or make a shot. The trick is to make sure you’re not accidently pulling your entire team up the arena in case your opponents break out behind you; to hell with the offside rule. And remember – there’s also no fouling, so feel free to drop-kick Yoshi in the face as much as you’d like!
One of the main-stands of the series is the hyper-strike, which returns here in similar form – a mini-game of landing your pointer in the best zones of a pressure-gauge-type thing. However, where Charged allowed for the defender to block all of the shots with a mini-game of their own that utilised motion controls, here there’s not really anything like that. Instead they can only tap a button in the hopes that the shot will be repelled but, depending on the power levels the attacker manages to hit, that can range from unstoppable at the peak, to a percentile change around the mid range, and easily deflected if done very poorly. It’s important to note that a goal scored like this counts for two, making the hyper-strike ability worth scrapping over (though still not as insane as Charged, which allowed for a potential six goals). They’re a lot of fun to try to pull off and require great coordination in order to find an opening and remove any threats via well-placed slides or clever use of items, which are also back.
This simple set of manoeuvres is full of nuance, allowing for incredible plays and some serious mind-games, making it more like a fighting game than anything else. Plus, the fact you control four full characters instead of a special captain and then a few standard teammates like in Charged means your whole party is a threat. And it is within this wonderful core gameplay that magic is found. Still, it’s important to know what you’re getting, and outside of that beautiful essence there is very little to engage with. So if you’re not able to enjoy that local play, I’d find it terribly hard to recommend. It’s just not quite the same online and the inclusion of new unlockable gear that can be used to alter each character’s stats in a non-sum fashion can also make it really confusing, like fighting Ryu with E. Honda’s moveset. I’m not a fan of the system at all. But, if you can round-up a few amigos, order in some food and drinks, and pop this sucker in, I can guarantee you’ll be jumping up out of your seats in excitement and screaming with laughter more than any other game you can think of. This doesn’t mean I forgive it for being so shallow mode-wise, but what is there is damn good.