- Release Date (NA): June 10, 2022
- Release Date (EU): June 10, 2022
- Publisher: Nintendo
- Developer: Next Level Games
- Genres: Sports
Football. The sport where you kick a spherical ball across a field and try to get it into a rectangular metal cage. It’s one of the most recognisable in the world with fans in the tens, hundreds, maybe even thousands. Football! Frankly I’ve never got on with it. There’s just not enough there in its raw form for me to sit and watch 20 or so people for 90 minutes at a time. Though your FIFAs and Pro Evolution Soccers never hit home, there have been a few series that take the basic premise of football and twist it so magnificently that I couldn’t help but be intrigued. You have Inazuma Eleven that has flashy moves and intense strategy. You have Behold the Kickmen that takes the basic rules and just makes up the rest. And then you have Mario. You have Mario and friends brutally slamming each other into an electric fence. You have your favourite colourful cohort taunting, scowling, and scoring. You have Mario Strikers, and after more than ten years it is back and kicking.
I may not be in love with the sport it bases itself on, but my oh my have I missed Mario Strikers. It’s a beautiful meld of chaos that blends so well into an easy to pick up control scheme. It never felt so much like a game to master as it did a game to just play in short bursts and have a good time, and I think it did brilliantly in that regard in both of its previous iterations. It’s not to say there was no skill involved, more that the chaos often overtook it in a way where you were either on board with it or just not having fun. I was always in the former group. Battle League is different, and I still don’t know if I can say it’s a positive step for the series.
Going straight into the game will probably feel alien for series veterans. It sure looks like Mario Strikers, but it really doesn’t feel like it. The chaos is dulled and the game gives you far more control than it ever has to manoeuvre the field and get the ball where it needs to be. It just feels odd, and I think it’s because I just haven’t put enough time into the game to come to terms with it. You have individual buttons for using items, shooting, ground passes, and air passes. Then with the ball you can also use dodges, and without the ball you can tackle. You can even charge and aim your shots to specific parts of the goal to slice through the defence. It’s neat. Everything has an optimal timing that provides you with satisfying feedback and increased power when you nail it, but even doing everything right it just doesn’t have the same impact as previous titles. It feels toned down to the realm of somewhat realism and it can really feel dull at times, especially in your first few hours when you’re learning the basics. It does get better as you start to land those weird and technical shots, but even after two weeks of somewhat regular play it still hasn’t gelled with me the way the other games did. I don’t think the gameplay is inherently bad. It’s just different. It feels like it’s designed to keep you engaged by a drive to improve, where the others were better framed as games to pick up and play, and then put them back down. In my mind this would be fine if the game did more to actually engage you; there’s just not enough content to come back to for you to meaningfully improve the way the game wants you to.
There are six cups that all follow the same structure. Match after match, and your reward for completion? A new character maybe? Coins. Coins to buy gear to augment the stats of the ten available characters. It’s not as though the previous Strikers games had all that much in the way of unique content themselves, but both of them had larger rosters and meaningful unlockables. Everything just feels lacking here though. You have no sidekicks, with your team being wholly the captains of previous games... With the exception of Toad and Yoshi. I guess they're seen as a species more than actual characters? The biggest sin of all here is the replacement of Kritter as a goal keeper. Boom Boom just suck sucks, and lacks all the flair and personality of his crocky counterpart. I can only hope more goalies get patched in with the regular updates, but I'm not holding out much hope. The stadiums also seem somewhat lacklustre, even if there is an interesting idea on show. At the start of the game, you can select a stadium. Your opponent also selects a stadium, with the two being smashed together for a visually impressive spectacle. But that's all it is: a spectacle. These stadiums have no impact on the actual gameplay, which feels like a missed opportunity. Even if it were relegated to its own game mode, I'd have liked to have seen some kind of stage hazard put in place to up the ante. It's just a step away from realising its potential.
Much like with Switch Sports, if you’re buying this game, you need to be buying it to play online. That’s where your real replayability is going to be for a good while until something more is patched in down the line. To the game’s credit, the online feels really great. You get the odd blip which can be frustrating when a lot of the gameplay is reliant on timing, but as a whole it works well.
While the connection was fine, I do have complaints when it comes to matchmaking. When playing online you can play alone or with a friend, with each person able to bring two people per console. What this means is that you have the potential for some brilliantly chaotic 4v4 matches, which sound like fantastic fun. Where I find fault is in the game matching single players with same-system multiplayers. This is a game where the AI does you no favours, so having a teammate who can cover you while you charge a strike or even just gang up on the opponent as they’re moving really is priceless. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not fantastic at this game, but this takes what could be an interesting learning experience and warps it into a dissatisfying curb stomp. If you have a friend or two to play with, or if you’re happy to reject matches until you find your 1v1, there is still a good time to be had though. I do think this is the highlight of the game at the moment if you can work through the difficulties.
Mario Strikers: Battle League Football is a fun game that at the very least keeps the great spirit of its predecessors alive. It is fun. And though I say it almost as if reassuring myself of this, I do come back to it for a game or two when I’m traveling or have a spare moment. It’s fun, but it’s nowhere close to what the series was before this, at least not to me. If you’re wanting a game to play and to master that’s flashy and genuinely satisfying when you’re doing it right, this is going to be a series high for you. Strikers was just never that for me, and with the scaled back content at launch I would not be able to justify paying the £50 asking price. At something closer to £30 and when they’ve patched the rest of the game in I’ll be far more comfortable recommending it.
- Surprisingly skill-based gameplay
- Online gameplay seems solid
- More content coming to the game via free updates
- No Kritter
- Not as easy to pick up as its predecessors
- Smaller roster than its predecessors
- Online matchmaking is flawed and often frustrating
- Just not enough content as it stands