Date: February 9, 2022. Location: My house. Status: Screaming. The reason: A new Mario Strikers game!
After 15 years, we have finally gotten a new entry in the Strikers series with Mario Strikers: Battle League for the Nintendo Switch. I was ready to sink dozens of hours into it, but being asked to review the newest game in my favorite sports franchise was even better! Would this be an outstanding GOOOOOAAAAAL and live up to everyone’s expectations, or just a Foul from Nintendo that we would rather forget? Let’s start the match and find out!
See, that’s where it all began, that style, that dank style.
Remember back in the day when you saw the art style of the original Mario Strikers in a Nintendo magazine? Seeing sweet, peppy Mario turn into his total opposite, surrounded by striking thick lines was quite weird, yet intriguing to the point where this energy is now an expected (and loved) part of the series. Longtime fans rejoiced in seeing Battle League continuing this trend by delivering an excellent presentation with its unique style, but now the aesthetic bled into the game itself. Battle League lets you appreciate that wicked style in-game as part of the new super move, the Hyper Strike, and it looks incredible. Wouldn’t it be nice to see a full game using this style?
That’s not the only thing that’s visually impressive, though. By now, many are familiar with Next Level Games and their incredible animation work in titles like Punch-Out!! and Luigi’s Mansion 3, and they always seem to take it to the Next Level with every new game they work on. All of the animations in Mario Strikers: Battle League are beautifully done and reflect the characters’ personalities perfectly. Just look at Luigi’s scoring animation and his silly dance, or Wario busting out classic poses for examples of how alive the game feels.
This strong sense of style is present in the game’s soundtrack as well. Music is always a huge part in what makes a game’s atmosphere feel right, and the soundtrack in Battle League more than does its job. You’ll find both original music and remixes of classic tracks from the ‘Marioverse,’ and they all do an excellent job of nailing that Strikers vibe. (Do yourself a favor and pause the game for some music that gets better the longer it goes on!)
Gameplay and Modes
Moving on to the meat and dry bones of the game, we have to talk about the gameplay. The Mario Strikers series has always been punchy and chaotic, and Battle League is no exception. You’ll find all kinds of moves, items and strategies that can change the tide in no time. That said, this game is definitely unique when compared to previous entries. Battle League hearkens back to a simpler style like in Super Mario Strikers (GCN), while incorporating new and deeper mechanics that, once learned, make the game insanely fun. Some of these, like the Team Tackle or Perfect Dodge, are quite difficult to pull off, but extremely satisfying when performed properly.
If you are familiar with the previous game, Mario Strikers Charged, you know characters had different roles. In that game, Captains could perform a super move, and Sidekicks could perform a special ability. Battle League changes things up by removing the Sidekicks and allowing everyone on the team to perform the Hyper Striker Super Move. While this may seem like a loss to some, the new moves and mechanics do make up for the characters not having unique abilities.
I’d say this is the most technical game of the bunch, but that doesn’t mean it’s not for everyone. Just like many other Nintendo games, Battle League also fits the description of “easy to pick up, hard to master.”
That’s why, despite your experience with the series, you’ll want to start with the Training mode. Personally, I do think it was a bit overwhelming at first, but after spending time with the full game and practicing all the new techniques, it becomes surprisingly easy to understand what to do and when to do it. Besides, it’s a good way to earn currency to get some of your starting gear! (More on that later.)
It’s not all practice, of course. Besides training, you’ll find two other offline modes: Quick Battles and Cup Battles. The former allows for up to 8 players on the same console, each person controlling one character. Here you can set the rules to your liking: play for ten minutes, turn off items, turn off Hyper Strikes, and more. The latter will allow you to compete in a tournament-like setting against CPUs by yourself or with the help of friends. While the first few cups are quite easy and you probably won’t lose, (minor spoiler ahead) rest assured, as there is a “hard mode” to be unlocked after beating the first round of cups. This makes all the difference, as CPUs start playing smarter and more strategically. Things are way more fun when there’s an actual challenge.
Unfortunately, that’s basically it for the offline. It is fun, but it’s simply not enough. I do wish there were more modes; something other than just regular soccer matches. What about an actual tournament mode to play with friends? Maybe a mission mode, a simple story, or even some collectibles? Mario Strikers: Battle League will have future updates, so here’s hoping for new modes as well.
Cast, items and gear
You’re laughing…my favorite character was left out and you’re laughing.
The starting roster is not bad by any means. Seeing Rosalina in the Strikers style is amazing by itself, but as we all know, there are some characters that were apparently too late to register for the tournament. More characters will be added in future updates, but leaving out someone like Daisy is a weird and confusing decision.
There’s also the matter of items, and they are as fun as always. While lacking in numbers in comparison to other entries, items do feel more balanced, and using them seems to add to the strategy rather than the chaos. This comes from the fact that you don’t directly get items anymore, as instead, the crowd dishes them out whenever you do a great play or someone attacks you. As these hit pitch, you have to race to snag them. You’ll have to strategize your movement options to get these items, as you can’t rely on CPUs rushing to pick them up, and sometimes they even run in the opposite direction!
While I do like the items that are included, I hope they add at least a few more to the list. Who knows, maybe they can even add a list to toggle on and off specific items, especially if they end up adding overpowered ones like the Chain Chomp. How about a shells-only match for the masochists out there?!
Besides items, there’s a new strategic element to consider: Gear. New to Battle League, Gear includes different pieces of equipment you can purchase to protect your character with. Each character has different stats that you can alter by equipping them with gear, and this certainly matters in the grand scheme of things. Do you want your character to be heavier and harder to be knocked down, or do you want them to be faster, making them tougher to tackle? The choices are completely up to you, but if you don’t care about any of this, take solace in knowing gear doesn’t affect things too heavily. If you’d rather focus on fashion over function, you can go that route as well.
Let’s talk performance and online.
Ping, what’s wrong?
The overall performance of Mario Strikers: Battle League is near flawless. When playing offline, the game will run at a very stable 60 FPS (30 for cut-scenes) with no slowdown in my personal experience, even during more hectic situations. Online is a little different, however.
While playing 1 versus 1 online, the game runs mostly fine, with an occasional frame lost here and there. This can certainly be overlooked, but the major problems appear when more players are involved. This leads to noticeable delay or slowdown to the point of some players disconnecting due to frustration.
I tested the online with people from my region (South America) and overseas. With people closer to me, the game ran almost perfectly, even with three players involved. When trying the game with friends in the US, 1v1 worked just fine, but the connection did struggle when one more friend tried joining the fun.
Performance aside, I think the major drawback when it comes to the online is that there’s no dedicated 1v1 mode. Quick Battles do give you the option to go online by yourself or with a friend on the same console, but whether you get matched up with one person or more is up to luck. There’s no individual ranked mode, so this may not be that big of an issue for some, but if you are looking to play the most stable competitive matches against one opponent, your best bet will be playing with friends or finding a community where you can challenge others. Maybe “For Glory” can make a return here?
While we wait for that, there is one more online mode, and it seems to be the major focus of this game: Strikers Club. Here you can make or join a club where you’ll play for points to see what club comes out on top at the end of each season. There are quite a few options, from choosing the club’s name to customizing your half of the stadium. As you and other members play, you’ll earn a special currency that allows you to purchase different items to change up your stadium’s style. There’s a lot of potential for fun within the clubs, but as of now, they feel a little bit bare. Things should eventually get better as people improve and we get more seasons. We’ll have to wait and see if Nintendo decides to do anything else with this area in the future.
Finally, I would like to touch on the main options of the game. I believe the more the better, but sadly, Mario Strikers: Battle League is rather lacking. For example, for a game with so many buttons, button mapping would be ideal. At the very least we can use the button mapping feature available within the console itself, but it would be much easier to have the option in-game.
Another small complaint is that there’s no way to turn off music during matches. Don’t get me wrong, the music is fantastic, but as a fan of the other titles, silent matches gave a more realistic feeling, and were closer to the actual sport. Why am I looking for realism in a game where you can slam others into electric fences, blow them up with giant bombs, or light them on fire? Your guess is as good as mine, but it’s just my personal preference, and having the option in the future would be appreciated.
Finally, as for other options, the only accessibility comes in the form of a visual aid that adds a special symbol above each player for easier tracking. I highly recommend turning this on, as the chaotic nature of the game can make it kind of difficult to follow each player at times. This is especially true when you have the same character on separate teams.
Game is good, but it can be better
Mario Strikers: Battle League has been divisive in the community, with some calling it the worst in the series, while others have praised the art style and depth of gameplay. Personally, while the game has issues like lighter content and a lack of dedicated 1v1 lobbies, I still had a lot of fun playing. I appreciate getting to learn all the possible strategies, unlocking new stuff, and even playing with my friends. With everything offered, I can see myself enjoying this game for a long time.
I do have very high hopes for updates to come, as maybe they’ll fix all of the issues I’ve mentioned. Am I setting myself up for disappointment? It’s possible, but all things considered, Battle League still gives me the Strikers fun I’m looking for.