Mario is no stranger to taking up sports on the side when he’s not saving the Mushroom Kingdom from Bowser and other baddies. On the Nintendo Switch alone, we have already seen our fair share of sports games including golf, tennis, Olympics and more. The latest entry in the series, Mario Strikers: Battle League isn’t necessarily a new game by any means but it is the best football experience you can have with Mario and the gang.
Mario Strikers: Battle League acts as a sort of sequel to the 2007 entry Mario Strikers Charged and if you never got around to playing it, the game was a Wii release that focused on Super Mario characters running around kicking a ball, performing cool moves and ultimately winning matches. While the game was fun, it was criticised for its lack of single-player features as Nintendo was trying to push the world of online gaming. Nothing has really changed here. Mario Strikers: Battle League is also not a single-player game. In fact, you’ll probably run out of things to do due to its limited offline play.
Nintendo has also brought back the original developers for this project. This means Mario Strikers: Battle League feels very familiar thanks to Next Level Games’ involvement in the development. There have been a few cuts here and there. There’s even less of a single-player campaign this time around and fewer characters to play as. However, I suspect Nintendo will most likely release new characters as DLC somewhere down the line.
In short, Mario Strikers: Battle League is a 5v5 arcade football game that is less about formation and tactics and more about stylish shots, timing your kicks and breathing fire on balls. Each character in the game has been plucked from the Super Mario roster and comes with its own unique stats. These stats play a crucial role in the game’s flow and determine how they are controlled. For example, Bowser is a slower character but has more power meaning he can’t run fast but can kick a ball like a maniac and punch a Yoshi like no other.
Toad is a speedy character that is great for running around the field and passing the ball to other teammates around him. Luigi is basic all around which is also great for those who don’t like to live in a box. In a match, you generally get to choose all these characters except for the goalkeeper who is always the same Boom Boom character.
Heading into the game, Mario Strikers: Battle League includes three modes. However, there is a fantastic tutorial at the start that I highly recommend you attempt. I didn’t expect the gameplay mechanics to be so incredibly detailed and the tutorial helped ease me into them. Once I sorta knew the game, I could do a quick battle either online against another player or play some offline matches. Offline means either against a team of AI or I could set up a 4v4 match with friends and family. This is thanks to the Switch’s ability to connect eight individual Joy-Cons to the console.
Every character can generally run, dodge, lob, kick and tackle their way around a match. Using these skills is the best way to win. However, the more refined my actions were, the better these skills were. For example, if you pass the ball to a teammate and that player kicks it at “just” the right time, it will result in a charged kick and fly further. The same goes for dodging. If I dodged right before Bowser was about to clap me, I would then dodge and boost forward.
These abilities definitely set the rookies apart from the professionals. A perfectly-timed kick could be the difference between scoring a goal and fumbling it towards the net. The same goes for the game’s Special Shots. Each character has one of these but they can only be performed after picking up a glowing orb that randomly falls somewhere on the field at random times. After getting the orb, I then had to charge my shot and time a perfect button press twice before performing this shot. The better my timing, the better the chance of the ball flying right past Boom Boom into the goal.
All of this combined makes Mario Strikers: Battle League so incredibly fun to play. Every great shot lit up my screen with flames and lightning and every special shot was an opportunity to gaze at these awesome characters performing something cool. There’s also a lot of personality on offer here as these characters look great and the animations are on point.
What makes Mario Strikers: Battle League even more fun is how easy it can be to pick up and play. Sure, you’ll be better at knowing the smaller details of timed shots and dodges but when the friends and family are together messing around on the field, no one takes those intricate mechanics seriously anyway.
The game also comes with some of the series’ iconic items that help in matches too. Things like tossing a banana peel on the field to cause a slip-up or the infamous and annoying red shell that tracks you down. They don’t feel overused either. When I had them it was great but the game seemed to hold them back when the matches were evenly played.
Sadly, Mario Strikers: Battle League is short on content. Outside of the quick play mode, Cup Battles is another solo or co-op mode. However, these six tournaments don’t really offer any incentives for winning and once done, there’s no reason to go back. The game has no story mode at all. You’re just a bunch of Super Mario characters playing football. There’s nothing behind the Cup Battles either but just playing football.
Of course, Mario Strikers: Battle League is aimed at online gaming, namely the Strikers Club. Here I could set up a club or join another player’s one. I got a kit and a stadium to call my own. Players in the club would participate in matches and at the end of the week, are rewarded with tokens. These tokens can then be used to unlock stadium cosmetics, character outfits and more. These cosmetic upgrades are also locked to online matches so your alterations won’t appear when you’re with your family. A baffling move.
If you’re going to play this online then you’ll love this. However, I could not help but feel that Nintendo dropped the ball here on the single-player offerings. Why no story mode? Why lock stuff behind online mode only? It just doesn’t make sense. The general gameplay on offer is fun but I do hope things get better.
This Mario Strikers: Battle League review is based on a code sent to us by Nintendo. The game is only available on Nintendo Switch starting at R1199.
Mario Strikers: Battle League
Story - 6.5/10
Gameplay - 8.5/10
Presentation - 8.5/10
Value - 6.5/10
Mario Strikers: Battle League is short on content and will hopefully improve as the months go by. The general gameplay is great fun to have but I don’t see this lasting very long.
Easy to play
Great fun with friends and family
Very little content
No story campaign
Online progression locked