Mario Strikers: Battle League is a must-own for gamers seeking an intense, chaotic and exhilarating over-the-top soccer game good for both single and multiplayer experiences.
The Strikers series has been long overdue for a return after skipping the Wii U and last releasing in 2007 for the Wii with Mario Strikers Charged. Although soccer appeared in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, the Strikers series is unlike any other soccer game available because of the combination of intense, arcade-like action and Mario charm.
With the Switch's ability to play in handheld mode, Strikers is a great choice for single-player gamers being able to play with them anywhere, but more importantly because of the access to play against others online. Aside from playing quick battles online, players can enter Strikers Club, which allows gamers to create or join a club to compete against other clubs during a one-week season. There's coin and tokens to be won, customization options and the opportunity to advance to higher rankings, so it will be a great way for gamers to keep playing and feeling like they're advancing toward a goal.
The CPU is no slouch on "normal" mode, so playing on "hard" mode will provide a great challenge for players looking to continuously hone their skills.
Multiplayer is where Strikers will shine brightest and why it will be a necessary addition to any Switch collection. With the option to game with up to eight players in a Quick Battle on a single console, Mario Strikers is an epic multiplayer game that should become essential for parties, friendly tournaments and especially esports events.
Although Strikers will be highly entertaining at parties and for casual gaming, it does not offer the same pick-up-and-play potential as the other Mario-based sports titles Mario Tennis Aces and Mario Golf: Super Rush because the control scheme is more involved and the player has to switch between four characters during matches.
Battle League feels more difficult than Aces or Super Rush, as it is far more fast-paced with more characters to control and track. There's a lot of precision movements and timing in such a fast setting that it might become overwhelming for younger or inexperienced gamers
The tutorial will be essential for new players, but it is also wise for fans of the series to check because of the advanced moves. The controls may take several matches to nail down as they are very involved if trying to master the skills and techniques for the Perfect Moves, but they are responsive and ultimately feel intuitive.
The timing is essential for the most effective form of shooting and tackling. The most difficult to time correctly is the Perfect Combo, a mix of passing and shooting, to achieve the ideal charged shot. The systems are reminiscent of a fighting game with how precise the timing is for the passing, shooting, tackling and dodge mechanics.
As with other Mario-based sports releases, there's an extravagant maneuver that can be unleashed during a match: Hyper Strikes. These are special moves that have awesome, flashy scenes and are similar to power shots from Mario Tennis.
The system to use Hyper Strikes is reminiscent of getting a smash ball in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and then executing the move is similar to kicking/punting in the Madden franchise with stopping a meter in the perfect spot at the perfect time. The timing can be tricky, which will help keep matches more balanced. However, characters with higher technique have a bigger section on the meter for the player to nail the timing.
It's cool that each character has their own Hyper Strike scene, so it'll be fun for gamers to check out each character when they first get the game. It's exhilarating to be behind two goals and then score with a Hyper Strike with zero seconds left to win a match.
When playing with Hyper Strikes active, there is no option to skip the Hyper Strike animations, players will have to watch them unfold. However, each character also has a celebration cutscene, which thankfully can be skipped.
Aside from the Hyper Strikes, there are items similar to those from Mario Kart, such as the invincibility star, red shell and mushroom to provide a speed burst. Items are fun, but not as essential as in Mario Kart, and they don't have nearly the same impact on a match as Hyper Strikes. At times, they can be difficult to keep track of because of how fast-paced the matches are and because CPU teammates are also picking up items to stash.
As with many games now, there are RPG-like customization options by equipping gear that can be purchased using gold coins acquired from playing matches. Hundreds of coins are awarded for winning each Cup Battle tournament, but players are also awarded a small number of coins after losing matches to keep progression advancing.
Different gear allows gamers to try to make characters more evenly balanced or lean into their inherent attributes to make them even more specialized in certain categories while sacrificing other attributes, such as speed. A smart feature is that before beginning a match, players can choose to use a character without any gear enhancements to stick to their original base attributes.
Nintendo confirmed there will be free post-launch updates with additional characters, but there will surely be speculation about potential gear and stadiums too to provide more customization options.
For match settings, players can adjust the match length and CPU skill, while also being able to turn off items and Hyper Strikes. The option to turn off items and Hyper Strikes is essential, as that is something many gamers often do in the Smash Bros. games so that matches are more based on the gamer's skills instead of using items and Hyper Strikes to gain advantages.
Per the usual, Nintendo's exceptional polish, optimization and charm is on full display. In handheld mode with the Switch OLED, Battle League feels just as great to play as it does using a Pro Controller. The loading times are quick, and there are no glitches or hiccups. There isn't much in terms of accessibility features, but the option to turn on visual-assist mode to better highlight the user's character will likely be a must-use for all gamers.
The graphics are smooth and vibrant, highlighted by the fantastic Hyper Strike and celebration cutscenes. The stadium intros are eye-popping and give an awesome broadcast feel similar to something like the movie Space Jam as all-star members of the Mario universe team together for the match.
Nintendo also leans into funny characteristics and personality traits with the characters, like how Rosalina, Wario and Donkey Kong interact with the ball when dribbling or shooting.
Mario Strikers: Battle League was well worth the wait after such a lengthy absence between releases. Strikers was a staple for multiplayer gamers during the Gamecube era and will surely scratch that nostalgic itch. The addition of online play, plus Strikers Club, means Battle League has long-lasting appeal for solo players.
Strikers may initially be a bit more challenging than its Mario Tennis Aces and Mario Golf: Super Rush counterparts, but players of similar skill set will have a blast competing because the gameplay is tight, precise and frenetic. It will be a joy to watch skilled players compete to see their tactics, which should also lead to exciting esports tournaments and "let's play" streams.
Party hosts should look at Battle League as an ideal option for quick battles and tournaments at their events because there's plenty of fun to be had because of the chaotic nature. Battle League is unlike any other soccer game and provides the perfect arcade-like experience to further appreciate the sport that only Nintendo can do with its gameplay and cast of characters from the Mario universe.