When I heard Mario Strikers Battle League would be making a return after a lengthy 15-year absence, I have to admit I was excited.
The original games came out during my time at university, where Pro Evolution Soccer was the go-to football game for my group of friends.
Every so often though, we’d break out the collection of dodgy third-party controllers, or Wii-motes, and mix it up with some chaotic Mario action.
Does Mario Strikers Battle League live up to the legacy of the original games? I’ve spent a week getting to grips with it to find out.
As I mentioned in the preview, the game does look stunning. Fire this up on an OLED Switch and the arenas and players pop beautifully on the screen.
The gameplay is solid too. Players react to button presses with split-second accuracy, which is vital in such a fast-paced sports game.
The A.I opponents are no slouches either, and won’t go easy on you in the various tournaments that make up the single player mode. Each tournament focuses on a different primary attribute, pitting you against teams that specialise in Shooting, Passing, Speed or Technique.
With just 10 characters to choose from, the playable roster is a bit thin on the ground. Aside from the variation in each player’s Hyper Strike, they all play in the same way. Sure, they have different base stats, but all their ‘moves’ are exactly the same. This means selecting a team usually boils down to whether you want to be fast, strong or a mixture of the two.
Compare that to the Wii game, where even the ‘minions’ on your team had special abilities (Monty Mole could dig underground to avoid a tackle for example) and it can feel like a bit of a backstep.
The size of the pitch feels like it’s been crunched down too in comparison to the old games. This means you have less time on the ball before someone is bearing down on you, which makes games more frantic.
A Lot On The Line
As expected, online multiplayer is a huge feature of Strikers this time around. So much so that the titular ‘Battle Leagues’ are tied to the ‘Strikers Club’ mode which is exclusively online. If you’re a fan of online gameplay, you’re probably going to love this mode.
Players can start their own club, or join an existing one, then play matches to contribute points to the team over the course of a ‘Season’. Seasons run every other week, and during the ‘off-season’ teams can brush up their skills to earn in-game currency.
It almost feels like the model has been lifted from a mobile game. The emphasis on joining a dedicated group who grind points to move up leagues has already worked in games like Angry Birds, for example.
It doesn’t take long to realise THIS is where Nintendo focused most of its efforts when creating Mario Strikers Battle Leagues.
It’s a neat idea too, but it does pose one big problem.
If you’re someone who has no interest in purchasing a Nintendo Online subscription, a big old chunk of the game is automatically locked out for you.
So, for those who aren’t online-focused, is Mario Strikers Battle League worth buying?
The single-player tournaments can become a bit repetitive, but I’d say if you have someone else to play it with, absolutely. Teaming up, or going head-to-head, with friends is a joy. It took me straight back to those chaotic Uni battles that made me love Mario Strikers in the first place.
I can imagine it would make a good game to play with the family too. The control scheme is simple enough for any age to grasp, but also has some nuance to it for those who want to improve their skills.
The only real criticism I have of Mario Strikers Battle Leagues is that it doesn’t feel like a finished product.
The same was said about Mario Tennis Aces and Mario Golf Super Rush upon release though. Both of those games got substantial post-release updates, and Strikers will probably get the same treatment. Expect more players, gear, and arenas to be added at the very least.
While Mario Strikers Battle League might not be on quite the same level as Manchester United in 1999 or Liverpool’s 2005 heroics in Istanbul... it’s still a very welcome return.
Battle Leagues is definitely geared more toward those who like competitive online gameplay. But groups of friends or gaming families will also have a blast, with Battle League being easy to pick up and play at the drop of a hat.