Nintendo has fallen into a bad habit with their sports games. Super Mario Strikers: Battle League is no exception to this. On the surface, it’s a wonderful game with engaging gameplay and plenty of style and personality. Once you dig deeper, however, the substance is severely lacking.
To its credit, Battle League may be the most stylish sports title yet. While its menus and presentation are lacking (nothing will ever beat the Mario Kart 8 theme song, to be fair), it makes up for it with lively and animated soccer matches. Pure chaos dominates the pitch, and that’s before you even consider items and power-ups. Playing a game of soccer in Mario Strikers is a lot of fun. I wish there were more there.
Super Mario Strikers: Battle League is filled with humor and style
I will say this: I’ve never laughed or smiled as much before diving into Battle League playing a Nintendo sports game. I don’t mean to fall into that review trope; this feels like a Mario soccer game.
God, I hate myself for saying that.
The soccer experience in Super Mario Strikers: Battle League is truly impressive. Is it on par with Fifa? No, this isn’t a simulation game, so that’s like comparing apples and oranges. However, what Battle League does accomplish is delivering an action-packed yet still strategic version of the beautiful game. Player skill is handsomely rewarded, with various items and power-ups allowing losing teams to keep up the pace without carrying them to victory.
It’s an approach that differs from Mario Kart; people in last place often get the most powerful items available. You can race perfectly but still get demolished by projectiles, dropping you to sixth or seventh place. No, I’m not speaking from experience here. What are you talking about?
In Strikers, one item that allows the losing team to easily catch up: an invincibility star. Other than that, you’re essentially on an even playing field. If you get scored on, you’ll get some pity items. You get an item if the opposing team tackles you with so much authority that the highlight will go on SportsCenter. This balanced approach lets the game focus more on soccer and less on randomness. It helps, too, that the actual soccer gameplay is super fun and enjoyable.
Battle League offers a great way to play the beautiful game
Does it sound odd that I’m raving about the soccer experience in a game where I can cross-check opponents into a force field? Sure, but hey, it’s Nintendo sports, baby!
Super Mario Strikers: Battle League absolutely nails the correct balance of realistic and arcade. At times, it almost feels like a hockey game instead of soccer. You’ll jump-kick opponents to steal the ball but still have to set up one-timers, perfect passes, or artfully curve your shot to score. I’m not eating a mushroom and becoming twice the size of everyone before shoving the ball directly into the net. Well, actually, about that…
One selling point of Mario Strikers is the hyper strike. You’ll become eligible to perform a hyper strike shot if your team acquires the power-up. Essentially, you’ll charge up your shot and, if you can get the timing right, score two goals for your team. It’s perfectly illustrated in the video below.
It takes approximately three seconds to fully charge up the shot, but it can feel like an eternity doing so. Charging shots leaves you wide open to attack and, you guessed it, being tackled into oblivion. Trying to do these hyper strikes against human opponents is almost always a recipe for disaster. If you can successfully get a shot off, then you deserve that extra goal.
This is the balance that Super Mario Strikers: Battle League constantly maintains. It knows when you tap into the Mario side of things and when to tap into being a sports title.
The one downside to Super Mario Strikers: Battle League is a lack of gameplay options
A common refrain for modern Mario sports titles is a severe lack of substance. As great of a game Battle League is, it suffers greatly when it comes to content. There’s no story mode; single-player is just competing in tournaments where the AI doesn’t always put up much of a fight. Online play is great, but it’s currently lacking the league mode, which wasn’t live at the time of review.
There’s no story mode, only ten playable characters, and the stadium variety is severely lacking. A touted feature in Battle League is being able to merge two halves of a stadium into a unique look. In reality, it’s just the same thing with a different skin; there’s nothing gained here.
I’m shocked there’s no story mode in a game with such robust training and tutorials. Normally I dismiss going through the tutorial lessons, but with Battle League, they’re low-key mandatory. The amount of tact and precision in playing the game is astounding. I felt lost diving straight into a match. A talking robot gives me lessons instead of an actual story or campaign. I know it’s a meme to harp on the lack of content in a Mario sports title recently, but other games such as Tennis or Golf had stories and missions. Their exclusion from Strikers is disappointing.
It feels like Nintendo is putting a lot of stock into their online league play, but again, we don’t know what that’s like since it wasn’t live at review time. It seems like a great idea in theory, but without actually experiencing it, things are up in the air.
Super Mario Strikers: Battle League has a lot going for it. This is the most fun I’ve had with any of the sports titles on Nintendo Switch. There is so much going for this game; character animations are fluid and vibrant. I can feel the personality oozing from the screen. I still laugh every time Wario makes it rain after he scores.
Dead serious, by the way; he runs in slow-motion through raining dollar bills.
Yet, for everything good it has going for it, Strikers is held back by a lack of content. A story mode, or at least skill missions, would be a very welcome addition. More characters lead to more options in building your team.
I hope the online league play can carry the game, but I still have my doubts.