Mario Sports Titles Should Go Beyond Mario Strikers' Energetic Art Direction

Published: July 5, 2022 12:00 PM /


Mario Strikers Battle League has flashy animations

I think it’s fair to say that Mario Strikers: Battle League wasn’t exactly an expected title at the time of its announcement. In terms of the array of Mario sports spin offs that could have been chosen for a 2022 sequel, the Strikers series didn’t seem like a likely candidate, with only two fairly well-liked titles in the form of Mario Strikers in 2005 and Mario Strikers Charged in 2007 respectively. Fifteen years later, and the new game Mario Strikers: Battle League has quickly come and gone from the discourse, leaving behind mixed, perhaps even forgettable, impressions. I’m glad that it has, because it’s reminded me of a thought I’ve had about Mario sports titles for a long time: Visually, they’re usually fairly uninspired.

Mario Strikers Battle League's Character Menu


The term ‘usually’ is a key word here, because of course, there are glimpses of visual brilliance in these titles. To say they’re all bland would be doing a disservice to the series. What I can say with confidence, however, is that it’s clear they could be doing a lot more, and Mario Strikers: Battle League demonstrates this better than any of them.

Mario Strikers' 2D Art

The Mario Strikers series, and especially its latest outing Battle League, shows us a small but tangible example of this quality that’s lacking from the multitude of Mario sports titles we’ve seen over the last decade: streaks of a distinctive visual style. This can be seen in various aspects of the game, within its cover art, character designs, and animations, emulating a visual direction that was loosely set out by the first game in the series back in 2005.

Super Mario Strikers for GameCube launched with a particularly energetic piece of cover art which spoke volumes about the game’s aesthetic intentions, even if it doesn’t pay off in the game itself. The cover depicts Mario on a football field, launching the ball towards the opposing goal, but what it shows us is a lot less impressive compared to how it shows it. The somewhat aggressive style uses scratchy, messy, overlapping lines as a form of shading to give an edgy definition to these iconic characters. In 2005, it was surprising to see the iconic lineup of Mario characters rendered in this way.


Mario Strikers Charged Mario's Special Attack

Unfortunately, the 3D models of Super Mario Strikers don’t attempt to render these characters in a way that’s analogous to this exciting 2D artwork, opting for a more generic look. The Wii sequel, Mario Strikers Charged, vaguely attempted to bridge the game between the series’ 2D look and 3D assets, adding elements of the visceral look of the original art style to the game’s special moves, but ultimately settles for something that doesn’t reach its full potential. In 2014, Unseen64 uncovered details about cut content from Mario Strikers Charged, and it’s interesting to note the variety of idea that were left out from the final game, particularly the stadium designs, which seemed like they were trying to match the energy of the ‘edgy’ 2D artwork.

Mario Strikers: Battle League Shows Hints of Visual Brilliance

Which brings us many years later to Mario Strikers: Battle League, a game that has an understanding of what makes the series’ 2D artwork compelling and figures out how to incorporate some of its magic into the game itself, even if once again it doesn’t go all the way in reaching its true potential. For all of Battle League’s missteps, the way in which the characters seamlessly morph into their special attacks by becoming cel-shaded, messily shaded avatars upon a background of sheer bright color is truly something to behold.


In the first time in the series history, something within a Mario Strikers game fully captures the look and feel of its cover artwork. When Donkey Kong wolfs down a banana and launches into his volley of strikes, I believe in the raw determination being depicted, which is to say, I think Battle League nails this particular element.

Mario Strikers Battle League Peach Special Attack


But despite how good Battle League often looks, and how it occasionally conjures a vision of what a more visually entertaining Mario sports title might look like, I can’t help but yearn for more. Not just for Battle League, but for whatever Mario sports spin-off shuffles our way next. There are plenty of Mario sports concepts laying dormant (Mario Hoops 3x3-2, anyone?) alongside many still unexplored, so there’s plenty of possibilities for these games to approach new and enticing visual styles as means of drawing people in.

The Next Mario Sports Games Could Do Much More

We’ve seen plenty of interesting visual interpretations of Mario outside of his mainline platformers. All of the Mario RPGs, from Paper Mario to Superstar Saga, give us a taste of the iconic plumber shown to us from a different artistic perspective. So would it be so difficult for the next Mario Super Sluggers to do a Kirby’s Epic Yarn and give us the arts-and-craft inspired Mario baseball experience we all deserve? That’s an odd example, of course, but it’s one that myself and many others might be interested in if it were manifested into reality.

Because Mario sports titles are now a regular occurrence, it’s safe to say that they would have a lot more of an impact if they each came with unique aesthetics. Now that we’ve just recently had new entries for Mario Golf and Mario Strikers, we know that’s only a matter of time before the next Mario Tennis arrives, and I have few doubts that in terms of design and art direction, it will look functionally similar to the previous game in the series, based on what the history of these titles has shown us.

Mario Strikers Battle League's Energised Mario

The designs of Mario characters are iconic, of course, and in many ways the default method of representing them in the Mario sports titles is usually adequate. But the iconic nature of their designs, alongside the blank slate nature of a Mario sports game, is exactly what makes them perfect for adapting into a range of creative visual styles. Why can’t the next Mario Tennis game be 2D, or clay-mation, or emulate the Nintendo 64’s graphical style? You know, just for fun. 


Considering the Nintendo Switch isn’t capable of the highest fidelity graphics, it seems to make sense to lean into a more ambitious or zany art direction to compensate for underwhelming visuals elsewhere. If a particularly bold style was chosen, this kind of approach could enliven what many might consider to be a stale part of Nintendo’s yearly releases.

With Mario Strikers: Battle League, there arrives a hope that the developers behind the next Mario sports title will see the splashes of color and energy present in the game’s visuals and be inspired to take it even further beyond just incremental steps. It’s a game-winning goal waiting to be scored; someone just needs to take the shot.

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Nintendo Switch
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June 10, 2022 (Calendar)
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