Time Played: 13 hours
Platform: Nintendo Switch
It wouldn’t be a Nintendo console without Mario’s sporting holidays, and on the Switch we’ve already seen plenty. Golf, tennis, and the Olympics might be the famous plumber’s usual choices, but every so often, we find him on less familiar turf. It’s been 15 years since he last took to the football field but finally, Nintendo’s returned to the beautiful game once more with Mario Strikers: Battle League Football.
Bringing back the original developers, Next Level Games, Battle League is a familiar pleasure. It comes with a few changes, though. Some of those come down to numbers – there are fewer playable characters and you can’t score six goals at once anymore, a minor travesty. Crucially though, what we’ve got feels more refined and more skillful, and it’s a ton of fun with friends.
Mario Strikers: Battle League price and release date
- What is it? An interactive horror adventure from the minds behind Until Dawn
- Release date: June 10, 2022
- What can I play it on? PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC
- Price: $69.99 / £69.99 / AU$89.99
First up: forget about formation tactics. This is 5v5, so you’ll instead be taking note of each character’s unique stats. For example, Bowser packs powerful strikes and hard-hitting tackles, Toad is speedy and great for passing, and Luigi’s your classic ‘all-rounder’. It’s worth assessing your picks, and you can choose everyone in your team except the goalkeeper, Boom Boom. You try arguing about positions with a personified red shell.
Battle League comes with three different modes, starting with a ‘quick battle’ option. From here, you can go online or fight the CPU, though if you fancy some local multiplayer, the game supports a maximum of eight people. So, get ready to split up those Joy-Cons. Once you’re ready, each character can shoot, pass, lob the ball, tackle, and throw items at the opposing team – all the classic moves, plus the ones FIFA players wish they could get away with. If you’re dribbling and there’s no one to pass to, you’ve now got a quick dodge, accessed by flicking the right joystick – a handy addition.
All actions can be charged up with consecutive passes and though you can’t control the goalie, Boom Boom’s no slouch. Angling your shots is key – simply pressing A without direction rarely gets past him. There’s a real sense of skill when playing and for every match won, Battle League awards coins, used to unlock new gear like gloves and helmets. Each item buffs a particular stat by two points but for every advantage gained, it’ll deduct two points from another, so you can’t create a super player. Mario might be an icon, but he’s no god.
Keep it clean
Every character has a unique special shot, an ability that was previously limited to your team captain. And occasionally, a colourful ‘Strike Orb’ drops onto the field, which once collected charges up your whole team. This only lasts for 20 seconds but firing a charged shot in the opponent’s half activates a Hyper Strike, opening up the possibility of an unstoppable shot, and a goal so powerful it’s worth two points.
It’s these moments which really showcase Battle League’s impressive visuals. Hyper Strikes benefit from comic book-esque panels when characters take the shot, and while I didn’t necessarily need to see Wario slamming a ball with his rear, I certainly laughed at it. As for Waluigi, watching him place a rose in his mouth during his shot is the stuff of many Nintendo fans’ dreams. Next Level’s done a fine job animating these moments – Battle League is a game packed full of little flourishes.
It’s an easy game to casually pick up , despite its nuances and special rules – while more competitive players will be pleased to hear that play feels as balanced as a ball on a pro’s forehead. If a character’s not strong enough, you can’t tackle opponents quite so forcefully – but you might find that lightfoots like Toad keep catching you as you run, forcing you to continuously pass. Elsewhere, items can even things out if your opponent isn’t playing nice – they’re usually awarded to victims of a dirty tackle. Between homing red shells, bananas and bob-ombs, Battle League borrows plenty from Mario Kart, yet item use never feels excessive or threatens to destabilise the beautiful game at Strikers’ core.
Less Champions League, More Europa
Beyond quick play, Cup Battles let you take on one of six tournaments, either solo or in co-op. A cup can be won after three rounds – but should you lose the first match, you’ll end up in a losers bracket. Win this match and you’re back in the running, but losing again eliminates you. Unless you pay a rematch fee, at least. Despite their perilous structure, beating these cups is quick work and there’s no real incentive to come back once you’ve completed one. You won’t find a story mode like Mario Tennis Aces or Mario Golf: Super Rush either, leaving this corner of the game pretty bare.
Evidently, Next Level instead directed its energies towardStrikers Club, Battle League’s online mode. That starts by setting up a club (or joining someone else’s), choosing a name, a kit, and a stadium. Ranked seasons last for a week, followed by a week-long off-season, before repeating. Strikers Club also awards tokens to customise your stadium – changing the fence posts, goal-line decor, and stadium themes. It’s a lovely touch but bizarrely, none of this appears to be available in Battle League’s offline modes, where aesthetic upgrades would be just as welcome. Perhaps we can hope for a fuller feature set after a few updates; Nintendo has already promised more characters to come after launch.
Mario Strikers: Battle League is a great game that clearly took its shot too soon. Nonetheless, you’ll find an enjoyable take on 5v5 football here with the Super Mario squad. It feels more skill-based than its predecessors, multiplayer is frantic fun, and it’s packing a gorgeous art style. Solo content may be lacking, but if you can look past that, you’ll have a great time until the final whistle.