System: To change
Release date: June 10, 2022
Developer: Next Level Games
With his previous GameCube and Wii releases, Mario had his own take on soccer (or soccer) that was exciting and fresh at the time. A cast of characters from the franchise put together a roster for players to choose from and jump into a realm with the basic rules of the sport in place, but with a few extra mechanics that would further excite the gameplay – things like specials, tackles, and specialized stadiums which certainly made the whole experience feel very good, Mario. With little to no fouls to worry about, Mario Strikers has always had a frenetic take on the traditional sport. Mario Strikers: Battle League mechanically increased that mayhem tenfold, but did little else to justify the kind of extended investment that previous entries in the series had. Although the game has a lot to offer, it seems that untapped potential has been left on the table.
When the Mario Strikers: Battle League – First Kick demo briefly appeared just before release, there were hints that the game wouldn’t have much content. Even with trailers that presented a faux highlight show of characters celebrating wins, seething with resentment over losses, or being introduced to the field, it was a repetition of footage that would inevitably form the structure and content for the entire game. As a demo, however, it was tight and fun to take on the AI during the tutorial, although network testing was less than enthusiastic with a very small roster to choose and, unsurprisingly, poor network infrastructure which causes much frustration in forced 2v2 matches against others online. Still, as a demo, I expected more once it was ready for commercial release.
Much to the dismay, on startup Mario Strikers: Battle League doesn’t have much available, and what was seen in the demo indeed was as there is no story or campaign mode available, and the other offers are slim. There are no challenge modes to test a player’s skills in certain scenarios, there are no special matchups to face, say, a 4v1 with Giga Bowser as an opponent, or anything else inventive that would be worth it for those who play alone. You’re forced to play the same matches over and over under two different tags: Quick Battle and Cup Battles. Both of these are as described, with Quick Battles being an immediate way to jump into a match locally or online with a few slight preset options – like time of day, match length, game difficulty. ‘AI, etc. – with which to play. Cup Battles, on the other hand, have more or less the same experience as Quick Battles, but take place in a more structured tournament format where the winner predictably advances to the next round of matches before reaching the final and win the championship if he continues to succeed.
The cup battles in particular are pretty forgiving, and while you’ll encounter tougher opponents the closer you get to gold, with the gear that can be acquired through play, the tournament does give you some chances to replay a match if you have lost to try your luck again. The first time is basically free, but after that you will have to pay a fixed amount of coins per rematch until you eventually win the game. It’s a good way to be lenient as sometimes the matches can get quite tough, but it again prolongs the stay as you are not able to put the tournament on hold to switch to another mode, you will have to so dedicate yourself to the tournament throughout. There isn’t much else to Cup Battles than that, and admittedly I was bored by the time I reached the end as the matches themselves seemed too long despite the small default timer of four minutes, or I was just tired of repetition towards the end of a tournament.
Even when playing with other players instead of playing solo, however, there’s not really much to talk about. There’s only a small handful of characters and gear to choose from, so even with a little customization, you already feel like you’ve seen everything the game has to offer at a glance. eye because, well, you did. Equipment can be obtained through coins that are accumulated with each match, and this number can increase or decrease depending on what is being achieved. You’ll also earn some coins from tutorials, but there’s little motivation to start over if you’ve done the First Kick demo, though they’re certainly worth looking into for those who haven’t. The tutorial is also a little over its welcoming, guiding players through all of the game’s mechanics, and while there’s quite a bit to take in, the game isn’t quite as deep as it makes out to be.
Most of the time, most of these mechanics can’t even be used strategically or thoughtfully due to the chaos on the pitch, and with the ball rarely being held by the same character for more than two seconds at a time, taking advantage special tackles against your opponents and teammates to propel them towards an opponent or using perfect passes and charged shots can become problematic when playing against even intermediate skill levels. Mario Strikers: Battle League certainly has the skeletal structure to support deep gameplay that could arguably make it one of the best football/soccer games in a very long time, but unfortunately it’s not filled with enough elasticity or depth to make it interesting, leaving a game that’s supposed to have 25¢ put in at a time instead.
The gear and stage selection is small, with only six different types of head, arm, body, and leg gear each character can be customized with, and five stages to choose from. However, the most personality to be found in Mario Strikers: Battle League is actually in its Strikers Club where you can create a club, customize jerseys, team names, gear styles, and eventually create a themed stadium. A player’s creative side can be shown off to show off their flair to others online by setting a team name and choosing between a few kit types and two colors, and while the selection is unsurprisingly small, which is provided is sleek enough that most players should be happy with the way they organize their squad, but it eventually becomes pointless once gear is involved as all clothing is covered in it. The most inventive part of the package is its stadium theme design, however, where certain aspects of the arenas can be customized, but even here there are still restrictions in place as they still have to be in a stadium theme. and cannot be mixed and matched, unfortunately. Additional designs for custom stadiums can be acquired through the use of tokens found during the open season and playoffs where members of a Striker’s Club can compete online to achieve them. These are differentiated from the regular coins seen in the rest of the games as tokens are the most “premium” currency in Mario Strikers: Battle League, but with the restrictions in place there are limits to creativity as to how cool you can design an arena. Sizes may also differ, but again, this is just a small addition that inevitably isn’t enough to make the packaging satisfactory.
There’s no denying that the best part of Mario Strikers: Battle League is its animations. These are hands down some of the best animations we’ve seen in a Nintendo title since Luigi’s Mansion 3, and they really help to amp up the intensity and polish what the game offers. They may be slim picks, but luckily on the pitch there’s enough showcase between all the Hyper Strikes, Intros and Victory Laps that exude finesse and panache to make this a fun spectator sport. , but, as mentioned before, the repetition, lack of noticeable progression, and lack of game density at the end of the day simply doesn’t justify the cost of entry, and all things Mario Strikers: Battle League, I can’t help but feel the time, and the time is too reminiscent of how a free-to-play mobile game is usually made – even with the promise of more characters on the way.
Mario Strikers has always been a frenzied take on soccer/soccer that has been a blast to play due to a new side to the characters in addition to a unique artistic flair that we don’t usually see them in, and although Battle League isn’t substantially different on the pitch, there’s a constant sense of urgency while playing that rarely sees the ball being handled in your favor for more than two seconds at a time. This, added to the very little content available, makes the game not even half-baked, but downright raw because right now there’s just no longevity or motivation to keep investing for more than a few matches at at the same time, whether solo or playing multiplayer. Apart from the coins which don’t take long to obtain, you can basically unlock everything the game offers within a few hours depending on whether tokens are a priority for the player as well. Even with the animation, creative direction, and graphical fidelity on point, it’s a shame that behind it all is a mediocre game that just doesn’t stand up to its predecessors.
Mario Strikers: Battle League has its head and heart in the right place with animation, stunning graphics, and great creative direction. However, there just isn’t enough content here to be worth the cost of entry or even to stay enjoyable for long periods of time. Honestly, with the way it’s designed, Mario Strikers: Battle League feels like it could have easily been a free-to-play title with cosmetics and characters to use as purchased content with in-game and premium currencies, but the expecting to pay top dollar for a lack of content and only ten characters – eight of which at any given time will appear on the battlefield thanks to the game’s 4v4 format – four modes (one of which is simply applying gear ), only six different types of equipment, and five stadiums to play in is pure fault.
Copy of Mario Strikers: Battle League provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.