Mario and his rag-tag crew are back, and this time they're back to playing soccer (or football, depending on what part of the world you're in). Mario Strikers: Battle League is a return to a series we haven’t seen in over 15 years.
I’ll admit, I haven’t played a soccer game in quite a while, and the FIFA titles simply bore me. However, the arcade experience of Mario Strikers: Battle League has been a blast, as it doesn’t take itself seriously and has that Nintendo charm that we’ve all come to love.
But is that enough to make its way onto our best Nintendo Switch games page? Let’s find out.
Everyone needs to know the fundamentals
You’ll be asked if you want to jump into the game or check out the training as soon as you start the game. Seeing how it’s a new game, and I’d rather be ready for anything the game throws at me, I chose to get trained. In doing so, I had more information tossed at me than I would have preferred. That’s not to say the training mode is terrible, because it isn’t. It’s just the way it’s all presented. Do this, then this, and then do this, then repeat it a few times. It’s just dull. Yet, it’s worth going through the entire course if you want to be ready for everything on the field.
If you skip the training, the game is relatively easy to pick up. There’s the A button for shooting, B for passing, Y to tackle players, X for using items, ZL/L for switching characters, and ZR for dashing. A few more mechanics also use a combination of button presses.
Then there are the unique techniques you’ll need to know to win: Power Shots and Hyper Strikes. Perfect Shots can be performed by holding down the A button and aiming with the left stick. Once you let go of the button, your character will launch a powered-up kick. Keep in mind that you will be left open and susceptible to tackles while attempting to pull this off.
Hyper Strikes can be performed only when a special item known as a Strike Orb appears on the screen. It looks like a bright ball of electrical energy. Once this is acquired, you’ll have 20 seconds to perform a Hyper Strike by holding down the A button. After a few seconds, a meter with an arrow and blue, orange, and black areas will appear.
You’ll have to hit the A button when the arrow touches the blue areas. Doing so will allow you to perform a Hyper Strike. After which, you’ll be treated to an animated sequence with your character launching the ball. Of course, the goalie will try to stop this, so you’ll need to smash the A button repeatedly to get a goal. Should you score a goal with it, you’ll earn two points instead of one.
Hyper Strikes also possess debuffs that can cause havoc for the opposing team. Wario can stun opponents, Bowser distracts opponents, while Rosalina can slow and displace them. Of course, your opponents can utilize these against you as well.
The game is played in tournament-style bracket Battle Cups. Similar to how most sports are handled during the semi-finals and finals. Winning that Battle Cup will provide you with the satisfaction of becoming the champion, but you’ll also score some coins. Sadly, there are only a handful of Battle Cups available. Depending on how fast you make your way through the game, you’ll be wanting more, and there isn’t. The lack of single-player content frustrated me compared to Mario Kart 8. I suspect that Nintendo will eventually provide more Battle Cups in the form of DLC in the coming months.
Should you happen to lose a match, it’s not the end. Instead, you’ll be dumped into the losers bracket, where you’ll have another chance to become the champion. Failing that, you’ll have the option to spend your precious coins to get back into the tournament. I think that’s an excellent option for those who don’t want to start over again. However, it does get expensive, so you may want to think about if it’s worth your coins or not.
As you win matches, you’ll earn coins that can be used to purchase gear. The gear provides a different look to whoever the gear is equipped on, and it also upgrades the stats. Gear can be equipped on the legs, arms, chest, and head. Equipping gear will increase one stat while decreasing another in the process. Your character will play differently, and if you don’t pay attention, you’ll ruin that once impressive all-star you could always rely on.
Don’t be afraid of using gear, though, as it can have exceptional outcomes. For example, Toad is quick, but he’s weak. Equipping some strength gear will make him a better tackling player. Princess Peach, by default, has a high technique stat. By adding some technique boosting gear, I made her an unstoppable Hyper Striking beast.
Oozing with charm
Remember when I said that this game had the Nintendo charm that we’ve come to love? This game is full of it. Characters will display their mannerisms on the field, which can be seen in action or idling by their animations. For example, Waluigi, before the start of a match, can be seen laying on the ground in his best “draw me like one of your french girls” pose.
Hyper Strikes are also fun, as each character has a personalized animation of them kicking the soccer ball towards the goal and what happens after the kick.
The best, however, is when you or your opponent scores a goal, as you’re treated to a celebratory victory dance. Every character will strut their stuff whenever they make a goal, and it’s just funny watching them. Should you embarrass the opposing team too much, they won’t take kindly to your insulting dance and will make it known.
It looks pretty and performs like a champ
When it comes to Nintendo Switch games, the performance is always a crapshoot. It either looks good but performs terribly or vice versa. I’m happy to report that this isn’t the case here. Unlike Mario Golf: Super Rush, Mario Strikers: Battle League provides a great visual experience while maintaining 60 frames per second, which is vital for a fast-paced game like this.
A lack of accessibility
I'm going to be blunt: there are no accessibility options besides visual assist mode. Not sure how companies aren't getting the message that all gamers want to play games. Do better, Nintendo.
That said, I recommend enabling visual assist mode, even if you don’t feel you need it. This will provide handy markers that will make it easier for you to see your characters while playing. Trust me, you’ll want this, as the game tends to get fast-paced, and locating your character is a hassle at times.
How’s the multiplayer?
Having played through the short Battle Cup series, I decided to try my luck and play Mario Strikers: Battle League online, and for the most part, it was solid. I didn’t have any issues with the netcode, and the matches were just short enough that I could play through several of them in between doing other things. However, there’s a nasty downside to playing online: tackling.
Oh boy, sometimes you come up against a player who abuses the tactic. While tackling is an essential aspect of the game, you only need to tackle the person with the ball. That makes sense, right? Except that there are players who’ll tackle your other players just to get them out of a potential play and that does get both frustrating and sucks the fun out of the session.
Thankfully, Next Level Games thought about that and devised a way to even the odds. Every time someone flattens a player without the ball, you’ll receive a free power-up that you can use and return the favor. If they continue to play dirty, the game will keep giving you valuable items. Kudos on that, NLG!
Should you not want to play online, you’re still covered. Up to eight players can play on a single Switch, and the game doesn’t skip a beat. What’s more is you’re also able to change the options, such as how long a match lasts, disabling Strike Orbs, and more.
There’s still room for improvement
For everything Mario Strikers: Battle League does right, it’s far from perfect, and a few oddities have left me scratching my head.
For starters, as I alluded to earlier, there’s only a handful of Battle Cups. All of which can be completed in about 2 to 3 hours —leaving you to decide if paying $60 is worth it due to the lack of single-player content. You’ll also need Nintendo’s Switch Online service to play online, which is another cost added in, especially if you don’t normally subscribe to it.
Then there’s the lack of available characters, with just ten in the roster. I’m upset that Nintendo decided to add Princess Peach and Rosalina but left out Daisy. I mean, how could they have left out the best princess? I’m sure this is Nintendo just being itself and will eventually add more characters via free updates, just as they did with Mario Tennis Aces and Mario Golf: Super Rush. (At the time of editing this, Nintendo just announced free updates including Daisy, Shy Guy, Knight gear, and the Desert Ruin stadium).
Lastly, I feel that Nintendo and Next Level Games dropped the ball (pun intended) by not adding a story mode. A story mode that featured how the tournament was playing out would have been a great addition to a sports game.
Mario Strikers: Battle League is a fun entry into the Mario sports lineup, but it may not justify the $60 it costs to pick it up. There's not a lot to Mario Strikers: Battle League's progression besides a handful of Battle Cups and earning coins to purchase gear, which can hurt the game’s longevity. Despite that, the game is a lot of fun, and the multiplayer experience is great.
As long as the price tag doesn’t concern you, and you’re more than happy waiting for free updates, Mario Strikers: Battle League could be worth it for you. The game is now available exclusively for the Nintendo Switch.