Time played: 13 hours
Platform: Nintendo Switch
It wouldn’t be a Nintendo console without Mario’s sports vacations, and we’ve seen enough of them on Switch. Golf, tennis and the Olympics may be the famous plumber’s usual picks, but occasionally we find him in lesser-known territory. It’s been 15 years since he last took to the football field, but finally Nintendo returned to the beautiful game with Mario Strikers: Battle League Football.
Bringing back the original developers, Next Level Games, Battle League is a familiar pleasure. However, it comes with a few changes. Some of that comes down to numbers – there are fewer playable characters and you can’t score six goals at once, which is a bit of a joke. Crucially, though, what we have feels more refined and skilled, and it’s a ton of fun with friends.
Mario Strikers: Battle League Price and Release Date
- What is it? A 5v5 arcade soccer game with Mario and friends.
- Publication date? June 10, 2022
- What can I play it on? Nintendo Switch
First, forget about formation tactics. This is 5v5, so you’ll be learning about each character’s unique stats instead. For example, Bowser has powerful attacks and hard tackles, Toad is quick and great to pass, and Luigi is your classic ‘all-rounder’. It’s worth reviewing your picks, and you can pick anyone on your team except the goalkeeper, Boom Boom. You are trying to argue about positions with a personified red scale.
Battle League comes with three different modes, starting with a ‘quick battle’ option. From here you can go online or battle the CPU, but if you fancy some local multiplayer, the game supports up to eight people. So get ready to split those Joy-Cons. When you’re done, each character can shoot, pass, lob the ball, tackle and throw items at the opposing team – all the classic moves, plus the moves FIFA players would want to get away with. If you’re dribbling and there’s no one to pass to, you now have a quick dodge, accessed by tapping the right joystick – a handy addition.
All actions can be charged with consecutive passes and while you can’t control the keeper, Boom Boom is no slouch. It’s key to tilting your shots – simply pressing A with no direction rarely gets past it. There is a real sense of skill to the game and for every match won, Battle League awards coins, which are used to unlock new gear such as gloves and helmets. Each item improves a particular stat by two points, but for each advantage gained, it subtracts two points from another, so you can’t make a super player. Mario may be an icon, but he is not a god.
keep it clean
Each character has a unique special shot, an ability previously limited to your team captain. And every now and then a colorful ‘Bow Orb’ will drop onto the field, once collected, charging your entire team. This only lasts 20 seconds, but a charged shot to the opponent’s half activates a Hyper Strike, opening the possibility of an unstoppable shot and a goal so powerful it’s worth two points.
It’s these moments that really show Battle League’s impressive visuals. Hyper Strikes take advantage of comic book-like panels when characters take the picture, and while I didn’t necessarily see Wario hitting a ball with his behind, it certainly had me laughing. As for Waluigi, it is the dream of many Nintendo fans to see him put a rose in his mouth during his shot. Next Level did a good job of animating these moments – Battle League is a game packed with small details.
It’s an easy game to pick up casually, despite the nuances and special rules – while more competitive players will be pleased to hear that the game feels as balanced as a ball on a pro’s forehead. If a character isn’t strong enough, you won’t be able to attack opponents as powerfully, but you may find that light feet like Toad keep catching you as you run, forcing you to constantly pass. Elsewhere, items can even turn things around if your opponent isn’t playing nicely – they’re usually awarded to victims of a dirty tackle. Between searching for red shells, bananas, and bob-ombs, Battle League borrows a lot from Mario Kart, but using items never feels overdone or threatens to destabilize the beautiful game at the core of Strikers.
Less Champions League, more Europe
In addition to playing fast, Cup Battles lets you take on one of six tournaments, either solo or in co-op. After three rounds, a cup can be won, but if you lose the first match, you will end up in a losing round. Win this match and you’re back in the running, but if you lose again, you’re out. Unless you pay a rematch fee, that is. Despite their dangerous structure, beating these cups is quick work and there’s no real reason to come back once you’ve completed one. You also won’t find a story mode like Mario Tennis Aces or Mario Golf: Super Rush, leaving this corner of the game pretty bare.
Apparently, Next Level focused its energies on Strikers Club, Battle League’s online mode, instead. That starts with setting up a club (or joining someone else’s), choosing a name, a kit and a stadium. Ranked seasons last for a week, followed by a week-long off-season, before repeating. Strikers Club also awards tokens to customize your stadium – by changing the fence posts, goal line decor and stadium themes. It’s a nice touch, but bizarrely none of this seems to be available in Battle League’s offline modes, where aesthetic upgrades would be just as welcome. Perhaps after a few updates we can hope for a more complete feature set; Nintendo has already promised that there will be more characters after launch.
Mario Strikers: Battle League is a great game that clearly reached its goal too soon. Nevertheless, you will find an enjoyable take on 5v5 football with the Super Mario team here. It feels more skill-based than its predecessors, multiplayer is insanely fun and it has a beautiful art style. Solo content may be lacking, but if you can see past that, you’ll have a blast until the final whistle.