Nintendo’s Soccer Jam Mario Strikers: Battle League is too fun to fall apart
Mario Strikers: Battle League brings Mario’s football-inspired spin-off series to life in a vibrant and energetic way. It doesn’t go above and beyond to offer a new or definitive take on video game football – let alone the football starring the plumber-turned-doctor-turned-everyone’s-favorite-athlete – but is proud of the series’ legacy in embracing everything that made the past great games.
Mario Sports spinoffs typically fall into the lows and lows of the Switch era, populating the months between the games most likely to sell 10 million copies – the Zeldas, Pokemons, and Mario Karts. It’s a clever strategy that relies on the simple fact that Mario sells no matter what form he takes, whether it’s a board game, a sports game, a kart racing or even a game of tactics. The insidious truth of this timing is that it allows Nintendo to release games that seem content-free at launch, only to add free downloadable content and updates to the game just in time for the holiday shopping season.
Saving character reveals and other free updates as post-launch treats is almost always a safe bet. It’s great Nintendo Direct filler and always generates buzz on social media. People buying the games for their kids might see the promise of free content and jump at the idea, especially those who are tired of whipping out a credit card to buy more V-Bucks every time a new Spider-Man costume is added. Fortnite. This strategy has served Nintendo well since the original Splatoon launched in 2015. Since then, they have embraced this games-as-a-service model with an overwhelming amount of their multiplayer release, producing launches with varying degrees of gameplay depth and breadth of content.
battle league keep the same pace. His list is small compared to the gargantuan likes of Super Smash Bros Ultimate Where Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and really only has one game mode with only minor structural tweaks. Of course, the Switch adds a new layer to the equation. As with just about any other Switch game, it’s incredibly easy to pop the kickstand off the Switch and set it on a bar, patio table, or AC unit during a climate panic-affirming heat wave, and to organize some matches with friends. While I wish it was better suited to how difficult it can be to follow what’s really happening on such a small screen, Strikers plays like a charm otherwise. Technical or visual glitches, jumps and pop-ins are reduced to rare, non-intrusive frame rate drops.
This technical polish also bleeds into Hermetic gameplay. Nailing the timing on a pass in a shot at your opponent’s goal is immensely satisfying and rewarding. Every aspect of the game is as fun as the last; Defensively diving at your opponents as they drive towards goal has a frantic, desperate tension that delivers punishing yet fair interactions between attack and defense. The defense does not steal the show, however. Playing offense competes with defense by hiding layers of risk and reward with moment-specific passing and shooting mechanics that incentivize players to keep the ball moving and a dodge mechanic that grants temporary speedup speed if done correctly.
The resulting standoff makes battle league the most involved Mario sports game in a long time. This can make it a little difficult to just pick up and play casually, especially for people used to the slower, more sim-intensive annual football offerings that highlight different elements of the sport. Unfortunately, that doesn’t absolve it of the same creative issues that plague a FIFA or Pro Evolution Soccer game. Nothing highlights this better than the game’s long, dense tutorial. Considering this is a game designed for eight-player local multiplayer, sitting down to play with friends isn’t quite as easy. than it might be in a game like Mario Party or Mario Kart.
The most relevant nit there is to choose Strikers is its relative lack of inspiration or uniqueness. Back in 2005, an arcade-style soccer game that injected a grittier edge into the previously squeaky clean Mushroom Kingdom was a welcome start. 17 years later, battle league offers more of the same. It’s still comically brutal, incredibly fun, and deeply rewarding to play. And naturally, Nintendo’s impeccable polish works there.
But visuals aside, almost nothing is fixed battle league other than the original Mario Strikers or its Wii sequel, Accused. Assuming there is graphical parity between the three games, you probably wouldn’t be able to spot a difference between battle league and one of the other Strikers games apart from the players populating the field. battle league feels more like a response to fan demand for a new entry in the series than an opportunity to put a fresh spin on the game.
Rather than the triumphant return of a fan-favorite franchise, battle league claims its slow season spot in Nintendo’s calendar as just another sports game. If Mario Strikers saw a new release every year there would be a problem, but it’s been well over a decade since the last entry in the series. Yes, it’s more or less the same, but when “the same” is so fun – and so hard to quit after just one game – more of the same is more than welcome, even if the game isn’t not as creative or ambitious as one would hope.
Mario Strikers: Battle League was developed by Next Level Games and published by Nintendo. It is available for the Switch.
Charlie Wacholz is a freelance writer and student. When he’s not playing the latest and greatest indie games, competing in Smash tournaments, or working on a new cocktail recipe, you can find him on Twitter at @chas_mke.