Developed by: Next Level Games
Published by: Nintendo
Platforms: Nintendo Wii, Nintendo Wii U
Release Date: Out Now!
The first Mario football game – Mario Smash Football on the GameCube – was distinctive in how, well, un-Mario it was. Whilst sports spin-offs such as Mario Kart involve taking out your opposition and claiming victory through improvisational means, it has never been quite this, to put it bluntly, violent… For the Wii follow-up Mario Strikers Charged Football, Next Level Games have found improvements in several areas for a rewardingly tough single-player experience, hilariously enjoyable local multiplayer, and richly competitive online mode. Oh, and the chaos? As evident from the intro cutscene, it very much remains: yep, that was Dry Bones getting sucked off the pitch into a raging storm… There is a reason they are all wearing more protective outfits now!
The Beautiful Game
Easy to play, hard to master; Mario Strikers Charged Football has that inherent Nintendo quality in spades, with a base level of satisfying carnage that accelerates towards skill-dependent late-game matches. Controlled with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, the basics are straightforward; you shake the Wii Remote to tackle, press A to pass or change character, B to shoot, and C to use a power-up; from there, though, a plethora of increasingly complex tactics open up. As you play, you quickly realise that learning how to pass the ball frequently and accurately is key, as this builds up power in said ball that is signalled by the colour it emits – it starts at a dull purple and works its way to a bright white at max power, making it more likely to beat the goalkeeper Kritter (the one member of your team you can not change). In addition, techniques such as the chip are valuable for grabbing goals as you attempt to either get to the goal limit first, or be leading when the time runs out (if equal at that time, you go to Sudden Death). Limited motion control integration was a wise move, too – as aforementioned, you shake to tackle, and there is also brief motion for reacting to Mega Strikes (more on them later), and that is enough; it is quick and fun to perform, but does not overstep its bounds.
So far, it sounds like a football game, huh? Until now… There is a plethora of ways to slow down opponents that would very much not be accepted in the real-life game, haha! For starters, tackles are fearsome and not subject to any sort of refereeing – so get accustomed to, say, Birdo utterly smashing Peach off the ball. If a tackle is not going to cut it, then items are another way to halt other players. These will be familiar to those who have played other Mario sports games; Shells, Banana Peels, Bob-ombs, even a Chain Chomp… As well as this, the defensive Mushrooms and Stars can give you brief protection. The ratio of attacking items to defensive ones tells you the sort of game this is though, aha! Captains can charge up their individual Super Ability too, which ranges from Yoshi going into a crushing Egg Roll! to Bowser setting fire to surrounding players with Fire Storm!
At first glance, the solo offering seems very short, with the core Road to the Strikers Cup having only 3 Cups, played in tournament format, to enter. However, following the initial Fire Cup – which is not very difficult to get through – the game gets extremely challenging, and you discover that longevity is to be found within that. Indeed, the 2nd Cup is a step up, and if you manage to emerge victorious, brace yourself for the relentless AI of the 3rd Cup. Having such a high challenge level makes it oh-so-satisfying to finally complete each section, though admittedly it could turn off some players – enemies can feel overpowered at times. Oh yeah, and if you for some reason feel there is not enough challenge, there is an Extreme Mode too… As long as the immense challenge does not put you off in later Cups, there is plenty to do; there are Golden Foot and Brick Wall awards too, for scoring the most goals or conceding the least goals in a Cup respectively. Similar to a Super Smash Bros. or Mario Kart, unlockable pitches and characters keep you invested, though even more in this department would have been welcomed. If there is ever a sequel (Nintendo, please), expanding to include pitches and characters from other Nintendo series could be awesome too.
Eye Of The Storm
Outside the main campaign, there are side modes too. The tutorial does what you would expect, and is particularly helpful for getting players who did not play the GameCube original up to speed. Meanwhile, the Striker Challenges ask you to drop into specific scenarios and complete the set objectives. For example, you may have to win from a losing position, or with one of your players out of the game. Success in these challenges unlocks hilarious cheats (that I shall not spoil) for the arcade-esque Domination, which is tailored for local multiplayer and can be customised in several ways, from the amount of games in a series to the CPU level. Cheats are the source of some delightful over-the-top extras, such as powering up the electric fences to the point of an amusing stalemate where you can not even retrieve the ball without being zapped. Yes – electric fences. This is not the same friendly vibe as in other Mario sports games, rather, it is much more street-style. Characters literally step on each other in their ambitions of glory, and pitch hazards such as cows and tractors wiping out players as a storm crosses over are a frequent variable. Yeah, really… Add on the cheats, and it becomes a game of survival!
Contrastingly, editing rules in Domination can have the opposite effect if you select classic and turn off the multi-goal Mega Strike and Super Ability that each Captain has. This leaves you relying on the skill of your build-up play to get past Kritter and score in games that are not as fast-paced, but not necessarily less fun, especially if you play against a friend of similar skill. On the balance of it, multiplayer is where Mario Strikers comes into its own. Getting two or more people around a TV, either teamed up or on different teams, has the potential for an intensely enjoyable experience for all; being nine-all in a first-to-ten game in the last game of a series is breathtaking, edge-of-the-seat stuff. Personally, I revelled in creating a team of quick-nimble Toads (shock) and then rejoicing as the playmakers won despite low shooting stats, to the despair of my friend!
Other than Kritter in goal, you can select the four outfield members: one Captain from a choice of twelve, and three supporting sidekicks from a roster of eight; though, you can choose more than one of a sidekick, hence my three Toads mentioned above! The stat differences are keenly felt in-game, and every character has separate abilities. The skillshots are the most visually prominent examples of this, activated by finding enough time to fully charge a shot (easier said than done with everything going on!) – for Toad, their “Fire Meteor” ignites the ball once struck, which can set the opposing goalkeeper on fire and make it harder for them to stop shots. For Captains, fully-charged shots instead cause a Mega Strike that has the capacity to score several goals at once. Overall, it is valuable to test each of the twenty players and find your optimum team. You like to approach games defensively? Perhaps go for Daisy as Captain, with Dry Bones supporting. Or maybe you like the bombastic approach? The field-clearing moves of Donkey Kong, with Monty Mole as back-up, could suit.
Taking It To The World
Of course, a much-anticipated addition in this game is the addition of online multiplayer on the Wii. It is fun, but unlike local multiplayer, lacks the key aspect of voice chat. Not being able to share your thoughts in the same way removes a lot of the appeal of multiplayer, and the people playing online are often veterans who gladly demolish any newcomers. Lag is there to be encountered, but is not so prevalent as to be game-breaking. Features such as Mii integration, Striker of the Day, and a points level tied to your performance showed that there was an effort to add substance to the online offering, but the local multiplayer remains a superior choice (as long as it is an option for you). As an early example of the online functionality of the Wii, Mario Strikers stands up well – or at least it did, as the online capabilities of the Wii have long been turned off. In terms of going back to the game now, it is not a deal-breaker, as local multiplayer is the mode to target when playing with others.
If you have not realised by now, Mario Strikers has a very different vibe to other Mario games. The grungy styling, combined with the more serious (but knowingly tongue-in-cheek) tone is very distinctive, and there is a certain catharsis with witnessing these characters go at it no-holds-barred. An attention to detail goes a long way, and amusing gems such as the differing crowd capacities of the vividly varied stadiums, or the unlockable alternate art for each character, are two instances of that. There are even different musical themes (across multiple genres) depending on which characters are selected, though outside of this the audio is just okay – upbeat and energetic, but generic. Being on the Wii, Mario Strikers was limited in visual fidelity, but as with lots of the best Wii games, it makes up for it with creative, colourful art direction. It does not entirely mask the rough edges, but does make them palatable.
Simply put, Mario Strikers Charged Football is up there near the top of the list for best multiplayer Wii games. The unique blending of competition and chaos draws you in to pursuing the Cups whilst simultaneously leaving you aching from laughter. Vast customisation options open the game to many skill levels in Domination mode, but that is not the case in the core campaign and that leaves the game vulnerable to the player deciding if they are up for the steep learning curve. However, multiplayer is where the game really shines; grab a friend or three and you have a recipe for comical conflicts that might test friendships at times in that positive, Mario Kart-style way! An extra drawback in 2021, when I am updating this review, is that the game is visually getting more and more dated. So, Nintendo, maybe it is time for a remake, or even a sequel? The game mechanics and vibe are already there; polishing the presentation and being more accommodating to skill level are the areas to focus on. It would be a nice release for that currently-sparse Spring/Summer 2021 period, eh? There is a Direct tomorrow, actually…