When Nintendo first announced Mario Strikers: Battle League, I was excited. The Switch has been the console to bring back several series from the dead, either returning them to their long-forgotten roots in the likes of Super Mario Odyssey and at times releasing sequels to series that hadn’t been touched in years, such as Metroid, Pokémon Snap, and Advance Wars. The last release in the Strikers series was back on the Wii in 2007 under the title Mario Strikers: Charged.
That means it’s been a good 15 years since Mario last stepped out on the soccer field, so expectations for a good sequel were high. Did Nintendo live up to those hopes? Let’s find out.
Opening up the game, you are immediately greeted by an epic cutscene showing two different sides of a soccer field combining together to form a huge dome in outer space. Portals open on either side, and teams consisting of Mario characters jump out prepared to face each other head-on in a gritty, anything-goes soccer match. This is obviously pretty cool. While there’s not really a story, a kind robot known as Fútbot makes an introduction and mentions that he works for the Galactic Strikers Federation, also known as GSF. That is the organization under which clubs of players battle together in leagues (the main selling point of this entry) to prove themselves as the best.
Seeing as there’s no plot whatsoever in this game, we then must move on to the core gameplay and different modes. Besides, not every game needs a story mode, and the online play is what Nintendo has focused on when advertising this game anyways.
The core gameplay is, of course, similar to the past Strikers games, with some small changes. As mentioned before, everything is a bit grittier here than usual soccer. With no referees on the field, Mario and his friends are free to knock the stuffing out of each other via tackles, hyper strikes, and an electric fence surrounding the field that is unkind to those who make contact. Items reminiscent of those found in the Mario Kart series make an appearance as well. Be careful – they can turn the tide of battle, and are given to the enemy team when you tackle someone without the ball. This means you can serve your friend a heaping plate of justice when they try to knock you over constantly!
Overall, I find this gameplay to be pretty decent. It’s not exactly my thing, but I can tell that it offers a lot of depth to those who want to take it a step further in the leagues. And a game ain’t complete without some graphics to feed them retinas, so I’m happy to say the game impresses in this regard! Every character has several special animations for winning, scoring a goal, entering the field etc. These are surprisingly rendered in real time and are so good that I rarely have the desire to skip them.
Now, it’s time for the modes. To begin, we have the Quick Battles. You can play with up to 8 people on a single console (provided you’ve got enough controllers) or… 2 people via local wireless? Why such a huge drop? This same restriction applies to ONLINE play as well. This, friends, is where we begin to see Mario Strikers: Battle League fall flat. Nintendo isn’t exactly known for great online play, and while most of their games suffer from similar limitations, the online experience is usually a much smaller portion of the overall package, with the game feeling complete even without such features.
The only other thing to do online at the moment are clubs. These first appear fine, although nothing spectacular. With rewards at the end of the season that let you customize your field, things are looking up until you realize that most of the bits you can change are difficult or impossible to notice on camera and that club battles are the exact same as online battles, all the way down to the 2-player limitation. This is baffling. The fact that it is simply impossible to have a 4v4 match on anything other than a single console, not even LOCAL play, is honestly unacceptable for a game like this.
It doesn’t end there, though. There’s little to do offline as well – all you can really do is play regular matches with friends (with a little more customization, at least) or against CPUs in six different “cups”, which, once again, are just regular battles but with the enemy team wearing a certain kind of gear. That’s it. None of the modes feel substantially different from one another at all. What happened to the stage hazards that were in the last game or unique characters with different abilities? Sure, they all have their own stats, but you can change those with gear.
Nintendo announced before Strikers came out that they would be updating the game and adding free content in the future. In fact, they just added Daisy and Shy Guy as playable characters a couple days ago! While updates are obviously appreciated, most would agree that they should serve as an addition to the base game in order to encourage extra sales and more playtime, not as a band-aid to finish a rushed game. And we of course don’t even know if these updates will bring the game to an acceptable value or not.
At the end of the day, I’m sorry to say that Mario Strikers: Battle League is overall a disappointment. While it features great core gameplay, the lack of modifiers, characters (there’s only 10), and other types of content that enhance replayability make it an expensive package that is greatly overshadowed by many cheaper games on the Switch. For the few that seriously enjoy the core gameplay, it may be worth waiting for the rare Nintendo sale or better yet picking up a used physical copy already going for $40 a month after release.
Scoring – 80%
Gameplay: 3/5 (Great core gameplay but there’s shockingly few ways to enjoy it)
Replayability: 3/5 (Needs more variety)
The game is more violent than most other Mario titles, but not by much as things are generally toned down from the previous Strikers entries. Still, characters can tackle each other, lob items including bombs, and get electrocuted by the fence that surrounds the arena. Some of them might also be wearing shorter clothing than usual but nothing that’s inappropriate for soccer.