Mario Strikers: Battle League is the long awaited third entry in the cult-beloved Mario Strikers football series. Super Mario Strikers started the spin-off series back in 2005 on the GameCube, with its sequel, Mario Strikers Charged, releasing for the Wii just two years later. It’s hard to believe it has been over 15 years since then, but Number Three is finally here, continuing the Nintendo Switch trend of reviving seemingly forgotten franchises. Next Level Games, the studio that became a Nintendo subsidiary in 2021, has returned to develop the threequel, but has their decade-and-a-half long absence caused them to strike outor are you guaranteed to have a ball with Battle League?
Booting into the game, you’re greeted with an admittedly small number of menu options. As with many of the other Mario sports titles, Mario Strikers: Battle League seemingly follows the same infamous content formula; bare bones at launch with periodic free updates promised to keep players coming back. Mechanically thrilling and polished gameplay, accompanied by superb animations, helps make it easier to overlook, but the lack of variety in modes, characters, and customization options is mildly disappointing. Game developers using DLC as a method to finish an incomplete-feeling game, rather than as a way to provide content that feels like a bonus, is a poor business practice, and it’s a shame to see Nintendo somewhat go that route with another one of their flagship series. That isn’t to say that Mario Strikers: Battle League isn’t a worthy revival. If anything, the core gameplay is so enjoyable that I just wish there was more of it.
Nintendo has been advertising Mario Strikers’ gameplay as being timed 5-on-5 matches, and while that’s technically true, it’s more easily explained as being 4-on-4 with a non-playable goalie on each team. Battle League can be played with up to 8 total players on a single console, through local wireless communication, or via the internet with an active Nintendo Switch Online subscription. If you’re unable to form a full team of real players, prepare to take control of multiple characters, as there are no 1v1, 2v2, or 3v3 options for any of the modes. You’d think that swapping between characters would feel convoluted, but after a bit of practice, the mechanic is actually quite intuitive. You’ll automatically take control of whichever character on your team is dribbling the ball. Character swapping is only possible when the other team is in control of the ball, and pressing L to swap will assign you the character closest to that opponent.
The goal of Mario Strikers (no pun intended) is pretty much exactly like soccer, but without any of the safety rules. You must do everything in your power to kick the ball into the opposing goal, even if it means brutally shoving your friends-turned-foes into the electric fence surrounding the playing field. There are even sporadically appearing item boxes to create even more chaos, featuring many of the iconic Mario power-ups such as: Bananas, Mushrooms, Green Shells, Red Shells, and Bob-ombs – all of which do exactly as you’d expect them to if you’ve ever played a Mario game (and if you haven’t at this point, you must be living under a twomp). Invincibility Stars are also thrown into the field by the spectators of Toads, Yoshis, Shy Guys, and Koopas as a pity reward for when the opposing team is expressing aggressive behavior. Tackling opponents just for kicks, when they don’t have the ball, is morbidly entertaining, but knowing the existence of the Star attempts to get everyone to show a bit of sportsmanship.
Every mechanic presented in Battle League feels incredibly smooth to use. Just simply controlling the characters on the field is a ton of fun, as you dash, pass, shoot, dodge, and tackle opponents, but the adrenaline rush you get when you finally strike a goal is unlike anything else. I found my entire body clenching up every time I went for the net, as I anticipated whether or not the goalie would block my shot or if I would score a sweetly rewarding point for my team. Holding down the shoot button allows you to perform a more powerful kick, and the angle you aim the control stick in the process changes the direction of the ball. It’s highly recommended that you and everyone that you play with for the first time go through the training lessons from the main menu, as there are also different combos, perfect moves, and expert skills that will require some practice in order to fully get the hang of. When playing Quick Battle mode; match length, CPU difficulty, and items can be turned on/off, as can the Hyper Strike.
The Super Strike from Super Mario Strikers, which was later referred to as the Mega Strike in Mario Strikers Charged, makes a return, this time being dubbed the “Hyper Strike.” An electrified Strike Orb will randomly appear on the field, and when activated by simply touching it, all of your teammates will be given 20 seconds for the chance to make a guaranteed goal that’s worth double the points. A Hyper Strike can only be used while standing on the opponent’s side of the field with the ball in hand… or foot, rather (unless you’re playing as Wario). Initiated by holding down the regular shoot button for a fully charged shot, the entire match will go slow-mo and a meter will pop up next to your character. Immediately following, a needle will quickly bounce back and forth across the meter, which must rapidly be stopped within the two small blue sections, both surrounded by a bit of orange. The closer you are to the blue, the more likely you are to strike a goal, but if you don’t stop the needle perfectly within the designated area, the other team will have the chance to counter the attack with a short button-mashing session. Hitting a successful Hyper Strike is all about timing, and as someone obsessed with rhythm games, it didn’t take long for me to nail it just about every time. Even so, it’s still just as satisfying as it is to use a Final Smash in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, which to say, is very.
Single-Player modes are slim-pickins, as there is no real story mode outside of tournament-style Cup Battles (which can be played with up to 4 players). There are only five cups available, with a bonus sixth one to be unlocked after completing the others. The difficulty level of each of them is a bit on the easier side, as I was able to breeze through them all in just a few hours without losing a single match. Maybe I’m just a Mario Strikers expert, but that’s neither here nor there. Stadium variety is extremely limited as well, as there are only five different ones to choose from, with the green field itself largely staying the same no matter what. While I love the concept of each team getting to choose their own half of the background environment, it doesn’t make too much of an impact when you have to be so laser-focused on the actual field during gameplay.
Of course, enjoyment of a party/sports game such as this largely comes from multiplayer anyways. Playing locally with others in the same room is an absolute treat, but obviously that’s not always feasible. That’s where Strikers Club comes in, Battle League’s dedicated online mode and Nintendo’s primary focus for providing replayability. The way the online mode works is quite interesting, because it’s much more than just one-off matchmaking. As the name “Strikers Club” suggests, you create your very own club, which can be joined by up to a total of 20 players. The decided owner of the club can change its name, designated uni form color, and stadium selection. A new season, each with its own set of unique rules, will be available biweekly, where you’ll compete against up to five other clubs within the same division. Whether or not you are promoted or demoted to a new division at the end of the season is dependent on how well your club ranks, with points earned by winning (6 points), drawing (2 points), and even losing (1 point) every match the members of your club play. From my experience, playing online was mostly lag-free, running at a consistent 60 frames-per-second. Strikers Club is without a doubt the mode that will keep me coming back to Mario Strikers: Battle League, and that’s definitely the intention for times when you’re unable to play with friends or family locally.
Two types of in-game currency, Tokens and Coins, are rewarded when playing online. These are earned by playing matches, ranking within your division, scoring goals, etc. Tokens allow for you to purchase customization options for your Stadium, including: themes, fence posts, goal-line decorations, goals, and field designs, whereas coins (which can also be earned from playing offline modes) allow you to purchase gear items for each of the playable characters. Equipping gear, which comes in the form of helmets, gloves, chest plates/pads, and boots, adjusts your character’s base stats: strength, speed, shooting, passing, and technique. It’s fun to play around with different gear combinations to see what best suits your playstyle. Gear can be used on and offline, and you can choose whether or not to wear it at the start of every match.
One of the reasons the Strikers series is looked back on so fondly, apart from its addicting fast-paced and competitive nature, is that it’s one of the few Mario spin-off series that really allows for the character’s unique personalities to shine through. Despite some expressed and exaggerated worry on social media, Battle League didn’t lose any of the charm featured in its predecessors. Each of the victory, losing, and Hyper Strike animations radiate the energy of simultaneous class and edginess, complete with the gorgeous hand-painted looking Strikers art style that we’ve come to know and love. It’s unfortunate that there are only 10 playable characters this time around, but at least we have the DLC to look forward to.
Rosalina is the only brand new addition to the roster. Seeing as Mario Strikers: Battle League mysteriously takes place in the vast emptiness of space, it’s likely that our Mushroom Kingdom heroes and heroines had to adjust their travel plans to accommodate for her. Sadly, fan-favorite Princess Daisy was seemingly unable to make the intergalactic trip for whatever reason, as she isn’t playable this time around. Bowser Jr, Petey Piranha, and Diddy Kong, who were unlockable characters in Mario Strikers Charged, are also nowhere to be found. Toad has been graciously upgraded from a sidekick in the previous games to now being a fully fledged character though. As for sidekicks in general, that mechanic is absent from Battle League altogether, making for the first time in the series that every character is given equal opportunity to participate in the action; aside from Boom Boom, who is forever stuck as the CPU goalie. In case you were wondering, funnily enough, the same character can be selected twice, once for each team. Confusion is prevented by selecting a unique color for your team’s uniform. As for Toad and Yoshi, since they are more of a species rather than an individual character, you can have as many of them on your team as your heart desires. Having eight Toads running around a field smacking the heck out of each other and kicking a ball around is truly a sight to behold.
Mario Strikers: Battle League pulls all the punches in providing an intense soccer-like gameplay experience that can only be achieved within something as special and whimsical as the world of Super Mario. Battle League is clearly a worthy successor to its GameCube and Wii counterparts, and is easily one of the best Mario sports titles in recent memory. Although it has a severe lack of single-player offerings, you’re sure to get a kick out of this undeniably excellent franchise revival, as long as you have friends and/or family that are willing to play with or against you either locally or online. Let’s just hope that the promised free DLC is worthwhile, and that we don’t have to wait another 15 years for the next game in the series. #JusticeforDaisy
A copy of Mario Strikers: Battle League was provided to iGamesNews by Nintendo UK for the purpose of this review.