This isn't your father's Mario game.
Mario Strikers Charged is the sequel to the GameCube soccer title Super Mario Strikers. While the game may seem very similar to its predecessor at a surface level, a bevy of improvements, including the Wii’s first dedicated online multiplayer, result in a much better game than its forerunner.
With players decked out in armor and playing on desolate fields with a metal soccer ball, it wouldn’t be too far off to describe Mario Strikers Charged as Mario Strikers: Act Zero, except that this game is actually good. The post-apocalyptic setting of the game is easily the most un-Mario-like style ever for the series. Not only is Mario Strikers Charged the most atypical Mario game in terms of graphics and sound design, but also in its darker personality. It is certainly different seeing the mean-spirited side of the normally-happy-go-lucky Mario characters, and though the differences are a little jarring at times, the unique style is a breath of fresh air for the franchise, which still maintains enough of its character to feel like a true Mario Sports title.
Though based on soccer, besides the goal of getting the ball into the opposing team’s net, Mario Strikers Charged throws out the entire rulebook. Often, the basic rule of only contacting the ball with your feet is completely ignored with players throwing and punching the ball; heck, Boo doesn’t even have feet and can travel through players while in possession of the ball. There are no fouls, and players will spend at least as much time knocking down players as actually trying to handle the ball. The no-mercy style of game play goes well beyond NBA Jam as well as the most brutal of hockey games.
There aren’t any out of bounds because most fields are surrounded by an electric force field. Players near the edge can be thrown into this field, resulting in electrocution and thus a temporary inability to play. Certain stadiums don’t have these fields, so players instead can be thrown right off of the side into a bottomless pit, which knocks them out of the game for much longer than electrocution.
Carefully choosing the members of your team makes a huge difference in comparison with Super Mario Strikers. Depending on the opponent, team imbalances can become very apparent, and choosing the wrong members can make the game more difficult. Each character has his own special abilities, and the strategy employed when perfecting these abilities makes the game much deeper than is first apparent. Identical strategies simply will not work against every team. Despite the diversity of normal players, Kritter is always the goalie for all teams, and like the first game, he cannot be directly controlled except when he has possession of the ball.
While the sidekicks have their own unique abilities, captains have more powerful special abilities that are activated whenever they use a special item. For instance, Mario and Luigi have their classic super-size power-ups, which allow them to run around the field like Godzilla. Waluigi has the amusingly-titled “Wall-luigi" power, which allows him to lay down trails of briar wherever he runs.
Two major game additions significantly change the tactics employed on the playfield. First, the addition of weather and other on-field obstacles can make getting from one side of the field to the other a challenge in itself. Players will be hard-pressed to even keep possession of the ball. Besides the numerous standard items, such as shells and chain chomps, many of the fields have a plethora of their own hazards. From Thwomps to lightning that is attracted to the metallic soccer ball, the standard field can seem drab in comparison. One field really changes up play by making several of the characters disappear completely. A well-balanced team is essential in this case.
On some occasions, bad luck with the environment can make the game feel cheap. Certainly, it is infuriating to have played through an entire cup, only to lose to what seems like a cheap shot involving a stray tractor rolling over your player. However, there aren’t any totally random incidents because impending collisions are made known, though there might not be a lot of time to react. Players must simply adapt their playing style to the particular field, which gives the game a lot of challenge and novelty absent from the original.
The second major gameplay change is the inclusion of Mega Strikes. If the captain of a team is in possession of a ball and charges his or her shot, a charge meter appears. The meter counts from three up to six, representing the number of shots that will be taken. If the captain manages to pull off the Mega Strike without being tackled, a cut scene is shown of the captain flying high into the air and undergoing an ominous alteration even more extreme than the Final Smashes found in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. While some, like Wario’s air-sucking maneuver, are more humorous, most are downright scary, such as Peach’s Sephiroth-like transformation. After the short cut-scene, three to six balls come flying at the goalie. The game switches to pointer control, and the defender must target each ball as it comes in and quickly press A to destroy them. While it is easy to block all of the balls at lower difficulties, later in the game speedy reflexes are needed in order to shut out the Mega Strike.
The light that emanates from the metallic ball in Mario Strikers Charged changes color the more it is passed around. The closer to white the ball becomes, the more likely a shot taken on the goal will be successful. This leads to more passing strategy on the field.
While the first game’s one-player mode could get old quickly, Mario Strikers Charged improves single player in several ways. First, the gameplay is simply much more engaging, staving off boredom. Second, the game includes Striker Challenges, which put players in increasingly hard mid-game situations. Completion of the challenges unlocks cheat options, including the option to turn off Mega Strikes, for those who want a slightly more traditional game of Strikers.
The main single-player mode of the game, The Road to the Striker Cup, puts a single team up against a long succession of opponents. Each cup involves several qualifying rounds and then single-elimination championship games. Thankfully, the game can be saved, and players restart at the beginning of a cup if they fail to become champion. Though the game only includes three cups, the difficulty ramps up quickly, and players probably won’t be able to breeze right through, winning all of the championships.
The only serious problem with single player is a horrible AI for your teammates. The game essentially directs players towards the ball, but does little else, waiting for you to take control of the situation. The AI won’t engage the opposing team or even take possession of an easy ball. Unfortunately, the CPU team plays exquisitely well with each other, particularly in the harder stages, while you’re left with managing a brain-dead soccer team. Usually, I like taking control of players in sports games, but it would be nice to have a little balance between computer-controlled teammates and rivals.
Multiplayer also benefits from the improved gameplay but adds the long-awaited online play. Although online conditions are never perfect, most of the time, Mario Strikers Charged’s online gameplay is fast and smooth. Overall, it’s a pretty decent online experience, though there are several shortcomings. The game keeps leaderboards and other stats, and players can see which friends are online and whether they are playing or not. Disappointingly, Mario Strikers Charged again uses Friend Codes, though this time they are tied to players’ Miis rather than the console. This means that multiple people can keep individuals statistics on the same Wii console as Miis are selected when logging into Nintendo’s network, though it does nothing to simplify the Friend Code process.
Unfortunately, due to lag concerns, players are limited in their international play options. American players cannot add friends from other regions at all, even though the manual implies that it should be possible. Additionally, only two Wiis can be connected to each other at a time, meaning two systems with two players each are required for a four-player game and even then, the person in charge of second remote is considered a team guest rather than allowing for selection of another Mii.
Mario Strikers Charged is much more wild and frantic than its predecessor and is perhaps the zaniest Mario sports game in existence. The game never allows a dull moment, and it will keep players engaged with its fast-paced antics. The game’s unique portrayal of the Mario universe is an appreciated, albeit raucous change, and the depth of its gameplay is somewhat of a surprise. Mario Strikers Charged completes the package by gracefully ushering in the long-awaited Wii online multiplayer.