Review: Mario Strikers Battle League is a multiplayer marvel, but solo play is shallow
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From a gameplay perspective, Mario Strikers: Battle League is so consistently fun that we just wish there was a bit more to do with it as a single player.
While the online offering is fun, and the 8-player couch co-op is going to make for some amazing nights in (as long as you’ve accumulated an army of joy-cons), if you’re picking the game up to play it alone you may be shocked at how quickly you’re finished with the game’s solo content.
The only single-player offerings, outside of playing one-off games against the AI, are the various tournaments in the game. In each of these tournaments, you’ll play against teams that specialise in a particular theme, be that teams that are fast, good at passing, or strong.
However, each of these tournaments is only three games long and can be completed in around 15 minutes, so we found ourselves finishing all of them in an afternoon, after which there’s very little replayability.
Mario Strikers: Battle League video review | VGC
The AI is incredibly simple, and there’s no way to increase the difficulty until later in the game. The AI is very easily tricked, and can’t keep up with any type of fast dribbling. The gear system feels irrelevant because every character feels like they can do just about everything as well as each other.
We managed to get through multiple tournaments by simply hitting perfectly timed shots from the halfway line. If they didn’t go in, our teammate would be right at the box for a tap-in.
The keepers are incredible at stopping the first shot, but they’re useless when it comes to actually holding the ball, so we ended up winning matches by 7 or 8 goals, most of which were our strikers sliding in to tidy up after Bowser’s howitzer of a shot was palmed away by the keeper.
There’s a problem in Mario Strikers: Battle League where every match feels exactly the same. The small roster size means that teams are so often made up of the same or similar combinations, that there’s disappointingly little variety.
“The small roster size means that teams are so often made up of the same or similar combinations, that there’s disappointingly little variety.”
Hyper Strikes are the big new addition to the series. At random points during the match, a glowing orb will land on the field, and the first team to grab it will be able to use their Hyper Strike.
By holding down the shoot button while carrying this orb, the player will be given a small mini-game which will determine the power of their Hyper Strike. Time it correctly and it’s unsaveable, awarding your team two goals instead of one.
Yes, the Hyper Strikes look cool, but there’s only one animation for each character, meaning once you’ve seen it once, it’s more of a time-waster than a compelling moment of a game.
It feels like it needs to take about half as long, or the animation needs to be skippable. The game needs more of plenty of things, but we think new Hyper Strike animations need to be at the top of that list.
The football itself has a lot of depth, with shooting, passing and tackling each having various states of power depending on how long you hold down the corresponding button.
A ‘perfect’ version of all of these moves can also be executed if you time it correctly. This is extremely effective, especially against the goalkeepers who seem to absolutely crumble at the sight of a perfect shot.
These are not difficult to pull off, meaning that local matches turn into an absolute goalfest. However, the defending can actually be fairly strategic. The AI defenders are often better than FIFA in the sense that they actually try to intercept passes rather than just watch the ball dance away from them. There’s an easy workaround, though – don’t pass.
We genuinely found that we were very rarely dispossessed if we just ran up and down the field. This may be due to the fact that tackles are rather slow to execute. The game makes up for this by making it so that a fully charged tackle crosses multiple fields, postcodes and continents, but if you’ve aimed it in the wrong direction, you’ll be out of action for a while.
Just as crucially as the game having depth in its gameplay, it’s also really fun to pick up and play for the first time.
Where most football games require you to learn an endless combination of buttons and manage 10 outfield players at once, the pick up and play element that’s key to the best Mario Sports titles is present here. It’s a lot of fun whether you’ve never touched a football game before or you’ve spent thousands of hours with one.
“The pick up and play element that’s key to the best Mario Sports titles is present here.”
The online offering, which is called Strikers Club, is a bit like Pro Clubs from the FIFA series in that you join a club and participate in season matches as part of that same club. There’s a fair amount of customisation here, but again you’re primarily using the same base characters, so the issue of seeing the same animations over and over persists.
We think that if you can find a good group of players that are willing to stick with the game for the long haul, this could be the most rewarding mode, but that relies on having friends that own the game and subscribe to Nintendo Switch Online. In our limited testing, we also found serious input delay on certain moves, but this may be due to us playing the game in a pre-release environment.
Ultimately, like many of the Mario Sports games on the Nintendo Switch, Mario Strikers: Battle League feels like it will be an excellent single-player offering in a year, once much more content is added. At the moment, it’s incredibly thin, and while the online modes are fun, those looking to play alone will be left wanting.
The gameplay itself feels great and there’s very little to complain about when it comes to the actual football, outside of the abundance of rebound goals, but it starts to feel somewhat stale when you’re playing as the same characters over and over.
The Mario canon is filled with characters that could work as part of the game, and we’re sure they’ll eventually be added, but for now, it’s a lot of Waluigi, which is either a terrible or amazing thing, depending on your view of the purple deviant.