[Review] Mario Strikers: Battle League
Posted on June 24, 2022 by Dennis Gagliardotto(@LyonHart_) in Reviews, Switch
Release date: June 10, 2022
Developer: Next Level Games
With its previous outings on GameCube and Wii, Mario had his own take on soccer (or football) that felt exciting and fresh at the time. A cast of characters from the franchise made up a roster for players to choose from and jump into a field with the basic rules of the sport in place, but with a few more mechanics that would further excite the gameplay – elements like specials, tackles, and specialized stadiums that certainly made the entire experience feel very, well, Mario. With little to no fouls to worry about, Mario Strikers was always a frenetic perspective on the traditional sport. Mario Strikers: Battle League has increased that chaos tenfold mechanically but does little elsewhere to warrant any sort of prolonged investment that prior entries to the series had before. While the game has a lot going for it, there feels like untapped potential has been left on the table.
When the demo for Mario Strikers: Battle League – First Kick appeared briefly just before release, there were hints that the game wouldn’t have much content. Even with trailers that showcased a false spectacle of highlights from characters celebrating victories, seething resentment over losses, or being introduced into the field, it was a repeat of footage that would inevitably make up the entire game’s structure and content right there. As a demo, however, it felt tight and fun going up against AI during the tutorial, though the network tests had most less than enthusiastic with a very small roster to choose from and, to no one’s surprise, a poor network infrastructure that causes much frustration when playing forced 2v2 matches against others online. Still, as a demo, I was hoping for more once it was ready for its retail release.
To much dismay, upon boot-up, Mario Strikers: Battle League doesn’t have much available, and what was seen in the demo was effectively it as there is no story or campaign mode available, and other offerings are slim. There aren’t any challenge modes to test a player’s skill in certain scenarios, there aren’t special matchups to go against, say, a 4 v 1 with Giga Bowser as an opponent, or anything else inventive that would make it worthwhile for those that are playing alone. You’re forced to play the same matches over and over under two different labels: Quick Battle and Cup Battles. These two are as described, with Quick Battles being an immediate way to jump into a match either locally or online with some slight preset options – like time of day, duration of a match, AI difficulty, etc. – to play with. Cup Battles on the other hand have more or less the same experience had in Quick Battles but are done in a more structured tournament format where the winner predictably moves on to the next round of matches before making it to the finals and winning the championship should they continue to succeed.
The Cup Battles in particular are fairly forgiving, and though you’ll come across more difficult opponents as you get closer to taking home the gold, coming packed with the gear able to be acquired through gameplay, the tournament gives you quite a few chances to replay a match if you’ve lost to try your hand again at victory. The first time is essentially free, but after that, you’ll have to pay a set amount of coins per rematch until you end up winning the game. It’s a nice way to be forgiving as sometimes the matches can become rather challenging, but this again prolongs the stay as you’re not able to put the tournament on hold to go to another mode, so you’ll have to be dedicated to the tournament all the way through. There’s not much to it other than that within Cup Battles, and admittedly I found myself bored by the time I reached the end as the matches themselves either felt way too long despite the small four-minute default timer, or I was simply tired of the repetition near the end of a tournament.
Even playing with other players instead of solo, however, there isn’t exactly a lot to write home about. There are only a small handful of characters and gear to choose from, so even with a bit of customization you’ve already felt like you’ve seen everything the game has to offer at a quick glance because, well, you have. Gear can be obtained through coins that are accrued every match, and this number can rise or fall depending on what it is that’s being completed. You’ll gain a few coins through tutorials as well, but there’s little motivation to go and do them over again if you’ve done the First Kick demo, though they’re certainly worth looking into for those that haven’t. The tutorial overstays its welcome a bit too, walking players through all the mechanics of the game, and though there is quite a bit to remember, the game isn’t as deep as it leads itself to believe.
A lot of the time most of these mechanics can’t even be used in a strategic or thoughtful manner because of the chaos out on the field, and with the ball seldom being held by the same character for more than two seconds at a time, taking advantage of the special tackles against your opponents and teammates to propel them into an opponent or utilizing perfect passes and charged shots can become problematic when playing against even intermediate skill levels. Mario Strikers: Battle League certainly has the skeletal structure to support a deep game that could arguably make it one of the best soccer/football games in a very long time, but it’s unfortunately not filled with enough elasticity or depth to make it worthwhile, leaving a game that’s meant to have 25¢ put into it at a time instead.
Both the gear and stadium selection is small, with just six different types of gear across head, arms, body, and legs each character can be customized with, and five stadiums to choose from. However, the most personality one will find in Mario Strikers: Battle League is actually within its Strikers Club where you can create a club, customize jerseys, team names, gear styles, and eventually create a themed stadium. The creative side of a player can be shown off to display their flair to others online by setting a team name and choosing between a few jersey types and two colors, and while the selection is unsurprisingly small, what is made available is stylish enough that most players should be happy with how they get their team set up, however it’s ultimately made useless once gear is involved as all the apparel is covered by it. The most inventive part of the package is its Stadium Theme design, however, where certain aspects to arenas can be customized, but even here there are still some restrictions in place as they still need to be within the theme of a stadium and can’t be mixed and matched, unfortunately. Extra designs for custom stadiums can be acquired through the use of tokens found in the open season and playoffs where those within a Striker’s Club can compete online to attain them. These differentiate from the regular coins seen throughout the rest of the games as tokens are the more “premium” currency within Mario Strikers: Battle League, but with the restrictions in place, creativity has its limitations in how cool you can design an arena. The sizes can differ as well, but again this is just a small add-on that inevitably isn’t enough to make the package feel fulfilling.
There’s no denying that the best part of Mario Strikers: Battle League is its animations. These are hands down some of the best animations we’ve seen in a Nintendo title since Luigi’s Mansion 3, and they really help amplify the intensity and polish of what the game does offer. It may be slim pickings, but thankfully out on the field there’s enough of a showcase on display between all the Hyper Strikes, introductions, and victory laps that exude finesse and panache that it can make it a fun spectating sport, but, as previously mentioned, the repetition, lack of notable progression, and lack of density the game has at the end of the day simply doesn’t justify the cost of entry, and everything about Mario Strikers: Battle League I can’t help but feel time and time again is just too reminiscent of how a free-to-play mobile game is typically designed – even with the promise of more characters on the way.
Mario Strikers has always been a frenetic take on soccer/football that’s been a blast to play because of a new side to the characters on top of unique artistic flair that we don’t typically see them in, and while Battle League isn’t substantially different on the field, there’s a constant sense of urgency while playing that rarely sees the ball being handled in your favor for more than two seconds at a time. This, tacked on with the very little content available just makes the game feel not even half-baked, but downright raw as at the moment there’s just simply not longevity or motivation to keep investing for more than a few matches at a time whether solo or playing multiplayer. Outside of coins which take no time at all to get, you can basically unlock everything the game is offering within a couple of hours depending on if tokens are a focus for the player as well. Even with the animation, creative direction, and graphical fidelity being on point, it’s a shame that behind all of that is a mediocre game that simply doesn’t hold up to its predecessors.
Mario Strikers: Battle League has its head and its heart in the right place with stunning animation, graphics, and an excellent creative direction. However, there’s just not enough content here to make it worth the cost of entry or even remain enjoyable for long periods of time. Truthfully, with the way it’s designed, Mario Strikers: Battle League feels like it could have easily been a free-to-play title with cosmetics and characters to be used as content bought with both in-game and premium currencies, yet the expectation to pay full price for a lack of content and only ten characters – eight of which at any time will show up on the battlefield thanks to the 4v4 format of the game – four modes (one of which is just applying gear), only six different gear types, and five stadiums to play around in is a pure foul.
Mario Strikers: Battle League copy provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.