After 15 years away from the pitch, everyone’s favorite Italian plumber is finally back on the ball in Mario Strikers Battle League. Is it a relegation candidate, or has Mario won the league?
Mario Strikers: Battle League is a wickedly stylish game that’s destined to be more of a party favorite than a true football experience, which isn’t exactly a surprise – but despite its chaotic nature and easy pick-up and play factor, there’s a surprising amount of gameplay depth for those who want to hone their technique and skills.
While a lack of extra content and variety did leave me questioning the game’s value for money (as well as its potential for longevity), it’s definitely the most fun you’ll have with a Mario sports game on Switch, whether you’re a football fan or not.
Mario Strikers Battle League key details
- Price: $49.99/£49.99
- Developer: Nintendo
- Release date: June 10, 2022
- Platform: Nintendo Switch
Mario Strikers Battle League trailer
The most fun you’ll have playing virtual football
Mario games have always had the unique ability to make sports fun, even for people who would rather watch paint dry than kick a ball around or pick up a tennis racket. Mario Strikers: Battle League continues that tradition, perhaps more so than any other spin-off. This certainly isn’t FIFA – if you’re looking for a ‘real’ football game you’ll be better off elsewhere – but it does do an excellent job of taking all the basics of the sport and twisting it into a party game that all ages and skill levels can enjoy, in a way that only Nintendo can.
After making your way through the game’s tutorial – which we’d recommend, as there’s a surprising number of movements and techniques to remember here – you’ll find yourself looking at four options: Quick Battle, Cup Battles, Strikers Club, and Gear Settings. The first mode is pretty self-explanatory and can be played online, through local wireless, or on a single console with up to eight players. Mario Strikers Battle League is definitely one to enjoy with friends, but you can of course play solo if you wish.
Cup Battles let you play through five tournaments against opponents with different skills, like the Muscle Cup with teams that focus on strength. The third gameplay mode is the most interesting, though – in Strikers Club, you’ll join (or create) a club and compete in season matches to try and climb the division rankings. As you progress, you’ll be able to spend your winnings on new stadiums and decorations like goals, fence posts, and pitch patterns – all purely cosmetic.
There’s a lot of competitive potential in Strikers Club, and it does seem like a good way to try to add replay value to a game that’s otherwise quite minimal when it comes to content.
Full-scale chaos in the best way
As you’ve probably guessed by now, this isn’t a traditional game of football, but the basics are all there. You can dash or dodge, which uses up stamina, while a tap of the A button will perform a basic shot. Hold it to unleash a charged shot, and tilt the control stick to adjust your aim to try and beat the goalkeeper. So far, so football.
Tackles are a tad more ridiculous than your standard game of football – we don’t imagine a flying kick to the face from Mario would go down very well in FIFA – and they’re influenced by the size and strength of your character. Bowser can take on pretty much anyone with a simple tap of the B button, but Toad is going to need a fully charged tackle to knock out Donkey Kong, for example.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a Mario sports game without some kind of power-up items. Just like in Mario Kart, you can hold up to two items at a time, and if you’ve played the iconic racing game, you’ll probably recognize what most of these will do: Mushrooms give you a speed boost, Red Shells can be lobbed at the opposing team, while Bananas can be left around the pitch to trip people up. There are more powerful items, too, like the Bob-omb and the Star, the latter of which gives you temporary invincibility to the sound of that instantly-recognizable jingle. You can also turn these off if you prefer a purer footballing experience, but we found they added a layer of unpredictability akin to Smash Bros with items.
Finally, there are Hyper Strikes, which are sort of like finishing moves. Collect a Strike Orb on the pitch before your opponents and you’ll be able to perform a super-powered shot that’ll earn you two goals if you manage to hit the back of the net. A meter appears before you shoot, requiring you to tap A at the right point to get a guaranteed goal, but a swift tackle from a nearby opponent can easily interrupt this process, so you’ll need to choose your moment wisely.
Naturally, these Hyper Strikes are the most fun part of Mario Strikers Battle League. Each player has their own themed shot – Mario kicks a spiraling ball of fire, Yoshi turns the football into a giant egg, and Rosalina sends the ball into outer space before flying back down to the pitch. My personal favorite is Peach, who enchants the goalkeeper into rolling the ball into the back of their own net. All of these Hyper Strikes kick off with stylish, hand-drawn animations that add a sense of fun and a unique identity that the other Mario sports games are sometimes missing.
This is one area that Mario Strikers Battle League really shines: The characters. They all look great – arguably better than they ever have done – and they’re absolutely brimming with personality. Whether it’s the joyful celebration animations after scoring a goal, or even just the way they react to you equipping new gear, there’s clearly been a lot of care dedicated to bringing them to life. It’s a shame there aren’t more of them (but we’ll get to that later).
All of these features come together to make Mario Strikers Battle League incredibly chaotic, in a way that’s almost reminiscent of the Super Smash Bros. games. Wacky items? Check. Over-the-top special moves? Check. Easy to pick up and play with a steep learning curve for those who want to master it? Check. The frustration you’ll feel when an opponent tackles you mid-Hyper Strike will make you want to throw your controller, but the elation when you score seconds before the timer runs out is huge.
An issue that I had among all this chaos, though, was the size of the pitch: It’s just too small. This might have been done to keep the game viable in handheld mode, but it does feel restrictive. On some occasions, I found myself forgoing strategy in favor of button-mashing and hoping for the best, as having eight players so close together at all times makes it hard to keep track of what’s going on, let alone set up a proper attempt to score a goal or launch a Hyper Strike. For some players, this is going to be part of the fun, but I imagine it could get quite frustrating for anyone who wants to play seriously – especially with FIFA’s poor Switch ports.
In terms of collectibles or customization, the main reason to keep playing Mario Strikers Battle League is to unlock more gear for your team. Using coins earned from match wins, you’ll be able to purchase items to alter each player’s attributes. Donkey Kong a little slow for your liking? Give him a Turbo Helmet and he’ll go faster. Toad too weak? Give him some Muscle Boots. Each stat buff comes with a nerf to another to keep things fair. It’s a nice feature that makes each character more fluid and less predictable on the pitch, and lets you build players into specific archetypes.
A lack of content may be disappointing for some
One major criticism that’s been leveled at other Mario sports games on the Nintendo Switch is the lack of content. Sadly, the same problem exists with Mario Strikers Battle League. Your options feel limited in most areas, with the three gameplay modes we mentioned before – Quick Play, Cup Battles, and Strikers Club – all ultimately boiling down to playing the same old football matches, so there’s really not much variation going on here. Pitches with themed obstacles or even some kind of twist like Mario Kart’s excellent Battle mode definitely wouldn’t have gone amiss.
The list of playable characters also feels a little stingy, with only 10 to choose from and some classic fan favorites like Toadette and Bowser Jr. absent. This is especially noticeable when you have 4 vs 4 matches (not including the CPU-controlled goalkeepers), as almost the entire roster can be out on the pitch. Nintendo has confirmed that DLC characters will be available in the future, but a little more choice at launch would’ve been appreciated. For reference, when Mario Golf: Super Rush launched, it had 16 playable characters as well as the option to use a custom Mii, which felt far more generous. There are also only five stadiums to choose from, which are purely visual in their differences.
It might not be a totally fair thing to do, but honestly, it’s hard not to compare any Mario spin-off to the holy grail of Switch multiplayer games, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – a game that features 41 characters and 48 race courses. As we said, it’s not a totally fair comparison (especially as that game is a re-release with extra content), but when both titles clock in at the same price point, it does amplify how minimal Mario Strikers Battle League feels in comparison.
But you know what? I’m willing to look past most of those things because Mario Strikes Battle League is, above all else, a whole lot of fun. If you’re buying it with the sole expectation that it’s a brilliant multiplayer experience – whether that’s for in-person parties with friends or online tournaments – then it’s hard to be disappointed, especially with the promise of DLC coming in the future.
If you’re looking for a football game that doesn’t take itself too seriously, with more than enough of that zany Nintendo charm to delight, you really can’t go wrong with Mario Strikers Battle League.
It’s an excellent multiplayer game if you can forgive the lack of content to keep you invested, but it’s sure to be a summer hit for footie fans.
Where to buy Mario Strikers Battle League
You can purchase Mario Strikers Battle League by following these links to Amazon or Best Buy, but please note that if you click on a product link on this page, we may earn a small affiliate commission.
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