Reviewed on Switch>Publisher and Developer Nintendo>ReleaseJune 10, 2020Rating All 10+>
Many consider soccer the most beautiful sport in the world. The way that players play, score and celebrate on the pitch is elegant. Mario Strikers Battle League shares some foundational DNA with real-world inspirations, but it is more focused on brutality than beauty.
Battle League's setup is very simple. Players select from Mario, Luigi and the rest the Mushroom Kingdom to form teams consisting of four characters each and an A.I. goalie. You then descend into customizable arenas before rowdy fans to battle it out for supremacy in soccer.
Battle League can sometimes feel more like a fighting game than soccer. There are no rules. You can pulverize your enemy whenever you want. Kick them into electric fencing. You can shoot banana peels and shells at them. Use whatever brutal tactics are necessary. I find chaotic gameplay fascinating as a competitive person. I also love learning about the characters and their strategies from match to match.
Mario Strikers is a bloodsport that can be brutal, but it rewards players who use these tactics with strategy and tact. Every move you make on the pitch will have consequences. Tackling can be a powerful way of disrupting the enemy team and securing the ball. It also gives your opponents a chance to grab an item from the crowd. If the opponent player misses a tackle, they will get a speed boost that increases their chances of scoring. Mario Strikers was a lot of strategy. It kept me interested and I learned how to score goals.
Hyper Strikes is the best example of a strategic dance. If you are able to time your shots correctly, these two-point shots can be scored through orbs on the field. The downside is that you could be blocked by opposing goalies or worse, open yourself up to tackles or breakaway opportunities from the enemy team. Although the scenes look great and are fun, I felt like I wanted to skip them and get back to the game. These moments can be exhilarating and lead to either pure joy or crushing defeat in a flash.
Although pitch strategy is important, pregame team composition is just as important. Each of Nintendo's most iconic characters has specific strengths. Bowser is slow but an expert at shooting. Donkey Kong excels at strength and knocking people off their feet. Toad is quick on the ground. When facing a team with greater difficulty, it is important to maintain a balanced team. I was burned many times for over-loading on shooters with poor passing skills, and paid the price when my opponents scored by intercepting the ball. This desire for balance led me to experiment with characters I would not normally choose and gave meaning my casual matches as it helped me find the best match for my play style.
It is important to use gear and boost the best attributes of your team comp once you have found it. You can spend coins earned during matches on equipment that affects how each character controls. However, these stat boosts come with a price. Each buff to one category brings down the next. Although I initially ignored the gear system, I found myself enjoying the boosts in shooting and passing as I explored more of Battle League's modes.
These modes are where Mario Strikers begins to lose some of its charm - with one exception. Cup Battles and Quick Battle solo sessions offer single-player experiences. The first is your regular match. The latter is where players compete for coins and trophies. Cup Battles were much more fun than the Quick Battle because I knew that I was working towards greater rewards. Cup Battles don't have much in common with standard matches, aside from the difficulty scaling and the teams being tailored around one attribute, however. They were fun, but they helped me learn more about the game than they did a challenge.
Strikers Club is the best mode. You can bring your own character to this new mode and create a soccer league with your friends and the community. You have many options as the club owner. These include the ability to name your league, create your jerseys and even design the field. These customization options can only be accessed by purchasing tokens from Strikers Club matches, which is a disappointment for those who only want to play single-player modes. I enjoyed the increased sense of competition that I experienced playing online. I am excited to build my club and enjoy a full season with a group of friends.
Quick Battle is a challenging mode for those who want more. It's not for the weak of heart. Computer players can be smothering. They will make you pay if you turn the ball over, or fail to tackle. I appreciated the added difficulty, as I was able to breeze through the previous Cup Battles. However, it exposed some of the more frustrating A.I.
My goalie was sometimes like Tim Howard, blocking everything without breaking a sweat. Sometimes they would allow the weakest shot to one corner and make me rage. Computer teammates are the same. They generally do a great job of getting in position to score and defend but then let a ball gently bounce off them, allowing another team to score easily. I make many mistakes during matches that can cost me dearly. But nothing was more frustrating than when I tried to do my best Messi impression only for one A.I. I have had teammates who have lost me games.
Mario Strikers Battle League is not the best version of the most beloved sport in the world, but it's a fun and engaging online experience with strategic matches, energetic animations, and fun online modes that make it a great game. Although single-players may not find it as enjoyable, Nintendo's return is certain to bring back the same highs and lows that its other party titles are known for.
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