Mario Strikers: Battle League feels aged in today's landscape, and it lacks the excitement that the Wii game Mario Strikers Charged had. The Wii predecessor energized us with exciting effects,a thrilling combo system between players, and overall, it felt faster. But Super Mario Strikers: Battle League feels like an old retired soccer player, trying to get into the game. It has the general foundations of what makes the Super Mario Strikers series fun but is lacking the flair that the last entry had.
Mario Strikers: Battle League Feels Almost Soulless
In Mario Strikers: Battle League, you play as a team of four against another team of four in a soccer game. Like a foosball table, you're on a small pitch that allows you to create fast passes and lobs to your fellow teammates. As there isn't a wide space like the FIFA games, shots at goal are consistent and the tackles can be pretty brutal for a Mario game as you tackle an opponent into an electrified fence. Overall, the foundation of the gameplay is exciting as you pass the ball from person to person and try to score a goal. It's overall fine to play and will keep you entertained for a few hours. Then, the tedium starts to set in.
The dressing over the standard soccer gameplay is bland rather than a tasty offering of items and abilities from each character. The items on offer are basic when compared to the game's Wii counterpart. You have simply throw bananas, use a mushroom to make you faster, or utilize green shells, red shells, and bob-ombs to decimate other players. Then there's a star that somewhat breaks the game as the opponent is invincible and can bounce off incoming tackles for a few seconds. That's it.
There's no way to make yourself bigger (and stomp the competition), electrify the other team, or shrink your opponents. There isn't an item that will blow your mind with its effectiveness on the pitch, unlike Mario Strikers Charged. Battle League ultimately feels safe in game design. The developer Next Level Games didn't get its creative juices running like David Beckham missing his shots for the English national football team back in the day. Now, with strong competition like Rocket League, there needs to be more nuance in soccer games that can stretch the imagination.
Passing between players also used to be entertaining as the ball zips from place to place. While that feature does remain in Mario Strikers: Battle League, it feels slow to operate and overall, brings down the hype of the experience. It should be like Lethal League: Blaze, in which the ball, when hit, gets faster and faster with each volley. After the third or fourth pass, the ball should move at an incredibly fast speed when shot towards the goal. In the game itself, it's not as exciting as it should be; the ball should move extremely fast, and instead, it just gets an electrification effect, which acts as set dressing. The electric passing of the ball does get blocked by the goalkeeper more often than not, leading to less excitement around the once astonishing passing feature in Mario Strikers Charged.
The stages, while drawing inspiration from past games in the series like Donkey Kong Country and Luigi's Mansion, also feel sterile. There's a neat gimmick that blends both environments together and has them meld into one stadium. However, the arenas themselves don't impact the gameplay. They all act the same, in which nothing occurs on the pitch. Mario Strikers Charged took in the lunacy of the Mario franchise and had fun with it. For example, in one of the arenas, it gets blustery and a tractor or even a cow is blown onto the pitch. There are even visual differences within each biome like rain or cracks within the pitch as the weather is scorching hot. That creative flair, once again, isn't present in Battle League. It's just... bland.
The single-player content doesn't hold up much better as there isn't a main story leading the events of the game. The cups mode is a simple tournament mode with CPUs with no context whatsoever. However, it does challenge you with certain aspects of the game like going against stronger or faster characters specifically within that cup. You can also gain a lot of coins from the cups mode so you shouldn't ignore that; more on that later in the article.
The positives of Mario Strikers: Battle League
Despite some of my major criticisms of Mario Strikers: Battle League, there are some positives. First, the Mario characters in this game are animated in such a charming manner. When the characters score their goals, they each have their own reaction that suits their personality. Toad is excitedly running around on the pitch alongside his fellow mushroom-kind, while Donkey Kong dances in place, clapping his hands in delight. Nintendo and Next Level Games have even added losing reactions as well; some are sad and others are hilarious as these beloved characters get spiteful.
While the overall gameplay has become blander with by-the-numbers items and a lacking interactive element of the stadiums, there is a new shift towards stats and equipment. Each character plays differently, according to their stats. Characters like Peach and Rosalina can move faster than the others due to their smaller size, while Bowser and Donkey Kong act more powerful during their tackles. Mario and Luigi act as all-around characters that can run at a decent speed and tackle in a decent manner; they aren't a jack of all trades but are still useful on the soccer pitch. Creating a perfect team is part of the fun of Mario Strikers: Battle League.
In addition, each character has a set of equipment they can wear that can change their stats. One may give more strength while another can give better speed, but each set of equipment can lower your stats alongside that. It's up to you to determine whether or not the positives outweigh the negatives. Unfortunately, you may feel like you're at a disadvantage as you'll need coins to buy equipment in the game. You can rake them up pretty quickly if you know where to look.
Lastly, there is a different hyper strike that each character can use while in a match. Balls of energy will appear on the pitch, and it's up to you to reach them first. If you do, someone from your team can start a hyper strike, but they'll have to hold down a button long enough to activate it. Once it's input, you'll have a Mario Golf-like meter that determines the effectiveness of the shot. The last entry on the Wii was slightly different as the assigned goalkeeper had to catch multiple balls at once when a hyper strike is shot their way. However, in this one instance, Mario Strikers: Battle League has an upper hand on the Wii entry as the process is faster and clearer to manage. You simply have to press buttons fast enough to repel the ball back.
Hyper strikes can have different effects, depending on the character performing them. Mario can scorch enemies in his path as he strikes a fiery ball towards the goal. Luigi, however, can form a tornado, scooping up defenders in its path, making a follow-up shot more likely. The animations attached to the hyper strikes are impressive as well. In one instance of the cutscene, the action stops to a halt and goes into an engaging comic book style just before the shot is made.
Mario Strikers: Battle League also has an online mode, and surprisingly for Nintendo, it's been playing without a hitch. From my experience, the precise movement is smooth and if you were to ever organize an online tournament, Mario Strikers: Battle League should suffice. You can also form your own squads in Mario Strikers: Battle League, which when played will offer up extra coins with each win.
Mario Strikers: Battle League Review | Final Thoughts
While there are some major positives in Mario Strikers: Battle League like the engaging gameplay foundation and the addition of the equipment system, there are a lot of downers in this long-awaited sequel. The items are bland when compared to Mario Strikers Charged, and there isn't a lot to do outside the online and generic cups mode. The arenas are also quite bland to look at when compared to past games as well. That hype that we had during the Wii era for Mario Strikers Charged has cooled off 15 years later, but hopefully with future updates, Mario Strikers: Battle League will make the game heat up.
TechRaptor reviewed Mario Strikers: Battle League on the Nintendo Switch with a copy purchased by the reviewer.
- Great Animation All Around
- The Fundamental Gameplay Is Still Engaging In Short Bursts
- The Online Modes Are Suprisingly Smooth
- The Items On Offer Are Generic Mario Fare Like Red Shells And Bananas
- Playing The Game Grows Tiresome After Just A Few Hours
- Passing Feels Slow Rather Than Energetic