Wait, can you use your hands in this game? Why is everybody using their hands? Have I misunderstood soccer?
Let’s make a quick comparison, shall we? Real soccer: nobody gets hit with red shells, balls don’t catch fire, and players pretend to be hurt if the other team so much as breathes in their general direction, at which point they temporarily stop the game. Mario soccer: red shells all over the place, it’s actually weirder when the ball isn’t on fire, and Bowser can legally body check Rosalina into an electrified fence and the game continues on, cold and uncaring towards Rosalina’s astronomically expensive medical bills. These are the clear advantages to playing Super Mario Strikers Battle League over watching an actual game of soccer, making the choice between the two obvious. That being said, this long awaited sequel to the Wii’s Super Mario Strikers Charged does have some issues of its own, some of which drag down the otherwise very fun game of cartoon violence in ways that just feel like a bummer.
Much of Mario Strikers plays like one would expect soccer to play. Teams are made up of four players and one AI controlled goal-keeper, with a player always taking control of whichever team member currently has the ball. When the ball is in your possession you can pass to another teammate using either a regular pass or an airborne one, though be careful as the opposing team can absolutely intercept and steal the ball midway through that pass. You can also attempt to shoot for a goal, with the arc of your shot decided by which way you’re holding the analog stick when you press the button. These actions can also be charged by holding down their respective buttons, making the ball move faster and possibly making them harder to intercept. When on defense you have the ability to tackle an opponent, which can also be charged, though whether or not your tackle is successful depends on the tackler’s strength stat versus their target. If you’re about to become the unfortunate mark, you also have the ability to dodge out of the way which will successfully make your would-be tackler look like an idiot as they fall face first onto the pitch. All of these actions feel snappy and satisfying to use, especially when you pull off a perfect version of said actions with a perfectly timed input, adding a benefit such as a faster shot or a temporary speed boost.
Speaking of stats, one of the most interesting additions in Battle League is gear that can change a character’s stats. Gear can be applied to the head, arms, torso, and legs, with each one increasing a stat while decreasing another in exchange. This allows for some truly weird permutations of these characters. Want to make a Toad who can body check Donkey Kong into space? Battle League lets you do that and more. Gear must be bought using in game currency, which itself can be earned by simply playing the game. While I think the fact that I can create a Wario who could beat Sonic the Hedgehog in a race is very amusing, I do wish it was connected to something other than gear, as the mismatching you sometimes have to do to get the desired result can make the characters look a bit too dumb, though this is admittedly a minor issue. Other fun ways Strikers adds a Mario flair to the proceedings are the presence of items and super shots. Items work much the same way they function in Mario Kart, with the crowd tossing item boxes onto the field that can be broken for an item roulette. Some of these boxes will be usable by either team, but more commonly the box will be a specific team’s color and therefore only accessible to that team.
Every once in a while, a glowing orb will appear on field, and picking it up will cause a character’s entire team to start glowing. If they successfully perform a charge shot while this effect is in place, that character will use their unique super shot with a stylish animation and their own personal effect to the ball and field. If a super shot has been sent towards your goal, you must then mash buttons in order to help your goalie fend off the assault. Super shots are very cool, showing characters strike the ball with the power of love or throw it into space for an orbital assault, but I found these animations to wear quite thin after a while. They are unskippable and by the third time in a match I watched Yoshi put the ball in a giant egg, I can’t say I wasn’t at least a little bit sick of it. This is especially grating when taking into account the game’s small roster, which makes it fairly likely that after a couple hours of play you will have seen most if not all of the super shots there are at least two times each.
This unfortunately brings us to the parts of Battle League that are a bit of a disappointment. The roster is one such aspect, missing Mario sports mainstays like Daisy as well as previous Strikers participants like Diddy Kong or Petey Piranha. It is likely that some of these characters are planned to be added in updates later on down the line, but as it is right now their absence is hard to overlook. There are also disappointments with Battle League’s online, most notably the game’s ability to only connect up to four Switches in one match. This means that a full 4v4 game is possible, but only if there are two people playing on each Switch involved. While I’m sure the prospect of eight separate connections to Nintendo’s online would likely cause the whole thing to collapse under its own weight, the lack of even having the option is still overall a bummer.
In the end Mario Strikers Battle League is an incredibly fun Mario sports game to play, with a quick pace to games and flashy visual aesthetics that add to the hype. There are some issues that hold the game back from being as good as it could be, most notably the small roster and limited online options. The ability to create a Rosalina who is the boogeyman haunting the goal-keepers’ nightmares is surprisingly fun, and the game’s Club feature allows you to use your friends’ wacky stat goblins for yourself if you so choose. Strikers is at its core still as fun as it ever was, and still outshining regular soccer at every avenue. Hopefully once more additions have been made to the game’s content some of the overall issues will have been addressed and Battle League can truly shine as bright as it is meant to.