Mario Strikers Battle League
This Time, The Gloves Come Off (Stay On?)
When it comes to spinoff titles, the Mario franchise has seemingly done it all from having a party to go-karting. One of the major genres Mario seems to enjoy in his spare time are sports titles. Mario Tennis and Mario Golf both saw new entries on the Nintendo Switch and it was a matter of time for Strikers to return. The amusing thing about Mario Strikers Battle League is that it is the first in the series for over 15 years. The last Strikers game was Mario Strikers Charged, released on the Nintendo Wii in 2007 two years after the first game on the Gamecube.
For fans of the series, Battle League has been a long time coming for Next Level Games which Nintendo recently purchased in 2021. While it may strike itself as a coincidence, the first project as a Nintendo developer would be the one series that caught its interest 15 years ago. While there are fan favorites that are missing from the game, Battle League aims to bring familiar gameplay with a new twist. Is a decade and a half too little too late? Or does this game succeed in bringing back the beautiful violence?
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Before the player begins, they are greeted to a prompt asking if they wish to play the game's tutorial. As this is always the logical choice to make, the tutorial is one of the most expansive in a sports title. Not a Mario sports title, but the genre itself. With advanced tech, Mario Strikers Battle League teaches players how to move, dribble, pass, shoot, tackle, and get creative. Strikers is a 4 vs 4 soccer game where players choose between a team captain and three other members. The best-balanced team includes a scorer, a passer, a defender, and an attacker.
Passing and shooting is a rhythmic deal as pressing the buttons during the right time leads to a "perfect" release. The timing is lenient depending on a player's technical stat, but it's easy to get a grasp on it. As with most Mario sports titles, items are included in-game, dropping from the crowd at random intervals. If there's any penalty play, such as a player attacking another without the ball, a team item box drops instead. The defending team will receive an item that the attacking team cannot contest, offering a bit of fairness towards rough play.
Mario Strikers Is The Most Expressive Game In The Franchise
The personalities of each character is what Next Level Games always excelled in capturing. Mario is fierce, competitive, and a good sport while Peach is graceful, elegant, and uses her charm to pacify enemies. Bowser plays to win no matter the cost, Donkey Kong is here for a good time, and Wario is, well, disgusting. The graphics and art style capture well on the Switch, giving characters range in their emotions. Even newcomers including Rosalina carry themselves with poise as expected for the queen of the Cosmos.
Much like previous entries and even Smash Bros to an extent, players gain access to a hyper shot when they collect a power core. This power-up lasts for 20 seconds but it's not an instant "I Win" button. In order to use the shot, players will have to fully charge a power shot. If they are tackled out of the shot, not only are they knocked away, but they lose their one and only chance. Attackers can play around with this by faking the shot, dodging out of the way, and continuing, adding some strategy. Once the shot is charged, players will need to line the shot as close to the "blue" as possible.
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The Hyper Shot animations further improve on the aesthetic featured in Super Mario Battle League with each shot unique to a specific character. Mario leaps in the air and does a Pele-style kick while Peach enchants a ball before slamming her calf into it. Rosalina throws the ball in orbit while using the power of the stars to propel the ball. Toad enlists his toadstool friends to headbutt the ball. Victory animations after a goal and during a win are just as dynamic as loss animations.
Games like Super Mario Battle League are important for the franchise canon as it allows Mario and his friends to express themselves in ways that aren't possible. Maybe down the line fan favorites will return for DLC, but with a league on the way, Nintendo has long-term plans for this experience. There's still a demo for players to try for themselves before they buy. Of the many sports titles including the plumber in overalls, Battle League may be its strongest.
Super Mario Battle League is now available on the Nintendo Switch.