Mario Strikers: Battle League (or Mario Strikers: Battle League Football in Europe) is a game I've waited 15 long years for. Who would have ever thought you would be able to shove Yoshi into an electric fence only to see Waluigi outrageously thrust towards the camera in celebration? This is Mario after all. Nintendo is the Disney of the game's world and likes to keep this image, so during the GameCube and Wii era, Strikers immediately stood out as something different.
What further helped Strikers shoot to the absolute pinnacle of the Mario sports series was its fun-filled competitive gameplay that essentially plays like FIFA Street with the madness of Mario Kart thrown in for good measure. This continues once again with the third entry in the series, now utilising the power and versatility of the Nintendo Switch.
It's the overall package of Mario Strikers: Battle League that lets it down, changing up several match elements, while also introducing attribute-changing gear and the new online-only mode, Strikers Club. All of this on the surface should have been a golden goal, instead, it misses wide of the high standards set by its predecessors.
Mario Strikers: Battle League review: Price and Release Date
- What is it? The first new Mario football game in more than 15 years and the third in the Strikers series
- Release date? June 10, 2022
- What platforms can I play it on? Nintendo Switch
- Price? $59.99 / £49.99 / AU$79.95
Mario Strikers: Battle League review: What is it?
Mario Strikers: Battle League is a five vs five football (or soccer for those in the US) video game that has the residents of the Mushroom Kingdom doing whatever it takes to win. With no referee, players can make heavy tackles or utilise items to take control of the ball. It's as frantic as it sounds, with the average four-minute match frequently ending in high goal scores.
Each character has their own stats – Strength, Speed, Shooting, Passing and Technique – all of which need to be considered when picking your squad. For instance, the likes of Bowser and Donkey Kong have high strength while Peach and Toad possess the best speed. Regardless, each character can be altered to your preference via new unlockable gear. This was great for getting my Rosalina to be as clinical in front of goal as Lionel Messi, though it didn't have quite the level of depth or eccentric nature you would expect from Mario, as it's essentially the same American football-style gear for everyone.
Players select four characters, a kit colour and half a stadium (the opposition picks the other half that then slams together in dramatic fashion at the beginning of each match) to make up their team. Nintendo has promised downloadable content is on the way but that's simply not good enough for a full-priced release, now becoming a repeating offence among Mario titles on Switch.
Battle League has 10 playable characters at launch (only two females, no unlockables) with sidekicks dropped altogether. Previously you would pick a Captain and then fill out your squad with either Koopa Troopas, Shy Guys or a choice of six more allies. This did wonders for variation, as now you play the same few characters over and over – also having two Marios on the pitch does take away from the magic.
The stadium choice is also very poor, offering five arenas with zero difference between any of them apart from the look. How come Boos don't invade the pitch on Spooky Mansion or why does lava not spill onto the field in Lava Castle? All style over substance. In comparison, the Nintendo Wii version back in 2007 featured 12 characters, eight sidekicks, 17 stadiums and an additional challenge mode that is completely absent in Battle League.
Aside from Quick Battle mode (offline or online), Cup Battles is the closest comparison to an actual campaign. This is a tournament where players enter three to four matches and can be knocked out if they lose twice... and that's it. Six cups based on different attributes becomes incredibly tedious with little challenge until another similar section that I am unable to talk about opens up.
Finally, we have Strikers Club, an online-only mode where you can create or join a club to compete in matches with others around the globe to be the best. Each week-long season teams play together or individually to accumulate points, move up a division and customise their home stadium. As online was limited during the review process, it's hard to gauge how big of a draw it will be but again it feels very minimal.
Mario Strikers: Battle League review: How does it play?
Now onto what is undoubtedly the best thing about Mario Strikers: Battle League – the gameplay. It's just as good as you remember, now tighter than ever with a few changes: some I like, some I loathe. The best thing about the gameplay experience is just being able to pick up and play reasonably quickly, especially on the go, with the basic controls being familiar to anyone that has ever tried FIFA or PES. A (lengthy) tutorial is available for those otherwise.
Hyper Strike has replaced the Mega Strike from the Wii, allowing players to perform a special shot that if pulled off correctly will score two goals. Any character can execute this by first collecting a Strike Orb item, which randomly drop onto the field, before then charging a shot until a meter appears on screen. It's here that timing is crucial to get the moving needle in between the blue segments. The reduction of only being able to score two goals instead of a maximum of six keeps the game alive until the very end, meaning winning is never that far out of reach.
On the other hand, the decision to have the A button for shoot and the B button to pass is quite baffling. More so because there is no way to change the default control scheme. This takes some getting used to, costing me a few last-second winning opportunities. Another control issue, or lack of, is the goalkeepers with Kritters (crocodiles) being replaced by Bowser's henchmen, Boom Boom. The big bald brute can only pass or kick the ball upfield, doing very little to shift the odds in your favour when faced with opposition.
Similarly, the reduction in items and removal of a specific Super Ability per character feels like a step backwards. What we have in terms of items is fine, whether that be a banana skin or Bomb-omb, but no Chain Chomp to bulldoze all that stand in its way or Blue Shell to cause sweet revenge is unforgivable.
Up to eight people can take part at once in multiplayer (offline, local wireless or online), only further fuelling the madness. It's no surprise then that this offers up the most fun, ideal for couch competitive play. Some better identifiers apart from numbers above characters' heads would be useful too, as it's easy to lose yourself in the mayhem.
From the handful of games I played online, the server varied from adequate to agonising. My Switch was positioned next to my router and I never have any issues with my PlayStation 5 or Xbox One S. It's not that surprising for anyone that has tried Nintendo's online at any point over the last decade. Couple this with the lack of incentives for anything interesting to do in Strikers Club, alongside the fact that this service now requires payment, and it's a substandard state of affairs.
Mario Strikers: Battle League review: How does it look and sound?
Now in HD for the first time ever, Mario Strikers: Battle League looks great on the seven-inch Switch OLED screen. I spent the majority of my time playing on the go, amazed at how well it transitions and kind of surprised Nintendo never made a dedicated Strikers for one of its handheld devices. Once blown up on a big screen, the colours don't really pop as much as I would have liked while the gameplay runs at 60fps and cutscenes drop to 30fps.
What does light up the screen are the stunning anime-like Hyper Strikes that transition its art style between docked and handheld mode seamlessly. Rosalina's killer kick that circles a football-shaped moon only to be rebounded by the princess into the back of the net, or Wario's ballooned backside butt-stomping the ball into the goal are two wonderful examples of what developer Next Level Games are capable of. Remember, this is the team that gave us Luigi's Mansion 3.
It's just a shame that celebrations don't receive the same treatment. As a result, I would often skip these rather than savouring the glory. Another missed opportunity is not having team celebrations, say if you had Mario and Luigi on the same side. It feels like there's a lot of fun that could be had.
Musically, Battle League is a bit all over the place. It's not terrible but it's subpar from expectation, repeating the guitar-heavy track in every menu. During matches, the ears are treated to rock remixes of classic Nintendo tunes such as Peach's Castle and Donkey Kong Country. These are thrilling if not overshadowed by the audio balancing that needs some fine-tuning to truly be appreciated.
Mario Strikers: Battle League review: How long to beat?
Following an optional tutorial that takes approximately 30 minutes to run through, I completed Mario Strikers: Battle League in about eight hours. This consists of Cup Battles (Normal) and a further mode that I am unable to discuss, which make up the only aspect that can be considered a campaign. There is no story element, however. By this time, I had earned all 10 characters a single gear set and unlocked the full set for a couple of my favourites.
You then have general multiplayer that, in theory, offers endless replayability. Strikers Club is an unusual one as progression depends on the squad you choose and how they perform online. Either way, the in-game currency needed to unlock further stadiums or pitch add-ons appears extremely high. This could take some considerable time, something only the most devoted will access.
Mario Strikers: Battle League is the latest lacklustre addition to the Mario sports titles lineup on Nintendo Switch that offers very little for its full retail price. The frantic football gameplay remains solid – if not tighter than ever – but with very little else going for it and a frustrating control scheme, it's hard to recommend something that has been done better twice over 15 years ago. I'm not mad, I'm just disappointed.
If you're looking for chaotic football action, I'd rather recommend the brilliantly addictive Rocket League. Originally starting life as Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars, aka the best title ever given to a video game, Rocket League then followed in 2015, accumulating a sizable audience. Taking control of rocket-powered vehicles, drivers must hit a giant football into the goal before the opponent. It's fun, fast and now free-to-play. Otherwise, it might be worth considering Nintendo Switch Sports, which T3's Yasmine Crossland awarded a positive review.