Enter Mario Strikers: Battle League, the just-about-as-unrealistic-as-possible take on football-errr, “soccer” as it’s called in ‘Murica. Now, I only ever played the first Mario Strikers, so it’s been a while since I tried Nintendo’s take on kicking a ball around. Is this how cartoon soccer is meant to be played?
…mouth-breathing, smile-inducing joy…
I can start you off with a really important primer: the game is easy to pick up; hard to master. This is a good thing, as it demonstrates a mix of enjoyable experiences but also a slightly deeper ability to put your skills to the test. And the game makes sure you understand it with a proper training suite and descriptions of the stats. Once you know the buttons, the rest is just learning by doing, and in that is absolutely mouth-breathing, smile-inducing joy and fun to be had. In fact, the steepest learning curve is keeping track of the chaos. Unfortunately, and there is an unfortunately, as you work your way into the Galactic cups, things change around a bit: the AI starts controlling all four of their players which turns the match into a 4v1 if you’re playing solo like I am. And since the gear is designed for checks-and-balances and not proper stat customization, you’re better off bringing friends to earn those gold trophies (though I’ll give you credit for pushing through it solo). Speaking of more players, the online suite takes an even further turn for the worse. Not only is limited to 2v2 that somehow commonly matches up in 2v1 even if it’s in your favor, but the terrible net code is a consistent issue where there is often “lag” in which the framerate slows because it’s tied to the net code. This sadly means the most fun you’ll have is either solo, or with people locally. Since I have no friends who live nearby, I found not much to do after I enjoyed all the game has to offer. That perfectly segues into the next section.
…EXTREMELY difficult to justify this as a full-priced game…
The sound of Toad’s pain screams are pretty indicative of the misstep, here. When you first see the credits from the standard cup, you’ll have played maybe a few hours. During these few hours, you’ll see this game’s absolutely abysmal stadium and roster lineup: just five stadiums and 10 characters. Yea, it’s bad, and all you have to look forward to is the aforementioned Galactic cups with stacked AI. You’ll have experienced all the game has to offer in very short order. It is extremely, and I say EXTREMELY difficult to justify this as a full-priced game in its current state and demonstrates a bit of Nintendo’s confidence in taking its fan’s wallets for granted.
…watching hyper strikes is still fun the 100th time…
Fortunately, and yes there is a fortunately, the game absolutely excels beyond your wildest expectations in the art style arena. They even push the Switch as hard as it can possibly go, though close inspection still shows low poly models. That’s a minor gripe amidst what is likely using every ounce of power the Switch could possibly muster, and though alpha effects clearly can cause hiccups and frame drops, this serves to remind me why Nintendo remains at the top of the food-chain when it comes to art style. The fact that watching hyper strikes is still fun the 100th time I’ve seen it is really all you need to know. So while it may not be pushing anything close to current gen graphics tech, it pushes as much graphics tech as it can behind an immutable and eye-popping art style that will age very well. Any flaws in its presentation are easily overlooked.
…the overall package is lacking in many areas.
This really is how cartoon soccer is meant to be played. It’s fun, chaotic, and a good mix of pick-up-and-play with deeper skill levels that develop simply by continuing to play. It’s sad, then, that its intense and addictive fun is marred by Galactic cups that stack AI (practically requiring local multiplayer), and an online experience that demonstrates Nintendo still does NOT understand the assignment. Then, you’ll barely need a couple of hours to see everything the game has to offer with its abysmal helping of stadiums and characters. So while there is some solace in the peak art style that will undoubtedly stand the test of time, the overall package is lacking in many areas.