Fifteen years we had to wait for a new football game starring Mario and his friends. They are less friends this time than we are used to from Mario Strikers, but that is somewhat made up for with improved and deeper game mechanics. Somewhat…
Since eFootball and Fifa aren’t doing very well this year, many football fanatics are looking for another game to fill the void. One look at Mario Strikers: Battle League Football is enough to learn that this game clearly doesn’t want to simulate football. However, anyone who expects an enormously chaotic party game that everyone can play, just like on the GameCube in 2005, will also be disappointed. After all, players have more options to manipulate the ball and the game, with the result that non-gaming friends are quickly blown off the field.
If you have played a lot of Mario Football on the GameCube, like the undersigned, you will be faced with some surprises when starting Battle League. For example, teams no longer consist of one captain and three sidekicks, but all characters have been aligned and the player can choose from ten iconic Mario characters, including Peach, Yoshi, Wario and Bowser. As far as football is concerned, at first glance the game seems like an enormously coarse and chaotic affair, but after completing the training you understand that there is much more depth in it than the packaging betrays.
Battle League resembles Fifa’s Volta Football and Fifa Street even more than its predecessors. Not that Mario and Yoshi suddenly make Mbappé jealous with the tricks they can perform, but good positioning and combination is more important than ever. This is mainly due to the perfect moves: that is when the player performs an action ‘perfectly’ by pressing or releasing a button at the right time. For example, if a character releases a charged shot at the right time, there is a much greater chance that the ball will disappear into the net.
On a perfect first time pass, the player presses pass at the right time without taking the ball, and on a perfect first time shot, the player holds the shoot button and releases it as soon as the ball lands at him. Then there are also perfect tackles; a fully charged tackle that will steal the ball from anyone – no matter how strong they are; unless the opponent does a perfect dodge – but makes the character momentarily useless if he misses. Teammates can even tackle each other, shooting the tackled teammate extremely far ahead and covering a great distance. In addition, the player with deep balls (whether charged or not) can give even better passes to teammates.
The above description sounds like a lot of work, and it certainly is. The tutorial of the game is also quite extensive, but those who practice all these new game mechanics quickly get the feeling that they are getting better and that they are less dependent on the Hyper Strikes, the all-destroying special shots that always end up in the net when the timing is right. This depth is certainly welcome and gives Battle League more potential for competitive gameplay, something the game is clearly aiming for, judging by the arrival of the online Strikers Club mode. That depth is a double-edged sword, however, because it diminishes the party potential. If one of my less-gaming friends comes over and wants to play a game of Strikers, there’s a very good chance I’ll blow him off the field 10-0. The fact that as usual there are only items such as red and green shields, the mushroom and of course the star, has little influence on this.
As fun and challenging as I find the gameplay of Battle League, everything around it is disappointing. For anyone who wants to play it solo, I can immediately advise against the game, because the handful of cups that are in it are finished within a day. The first batch of cups is also very easy, while the Galactic Mode that is unlocked with it is sometimes unapproachably difficult; for example, the AI anticipates items and tackles at lightning speed. After that there is literally nothing to do (offline) except replay the cups.
More variety in characters, playing fields and modes would keep those cups fun for longer, but those are exactly the points where Battle League falls short. In comparison, the first Strikers game had twelve characters (eight captains and four sidekicks), the second had twenty characters (twelve captains and eight sidekicks), and Battle League has ten. Every field is exactly the same; only the design of the stands can be adjusted, but there are also only a handful of options for this.
Then there is the possibility to dress up characters with gear, which sounds very nice on paper, but in practice has far too little depth. Each character has access to the same five or six pieces of clothing (per body part), and the player must purchase them separately for each character. In practice, the different clothing options, as well as the characters’ five stats – strength, speed, shooting, passing and technique – don’t seem to change how the characters feel when playing, so this part is negligible.
Online and against experienced friends, Battle League is more fun than its predecessors, because the matches are usually more exciting and there are fewer huge results such as 10-0. But here too, the lack of characters, game modes and playing fields starts to wreak havoc after a few hours. Not to mention the fact that you can’t play online with four people on one console, while that would be fun and increase the party potential again.
It’s incomprehensible that Next Level Games and Nintendo should improve Strikers gameplay and then pack it into such a scant package. Unfortunately, the current game isn’t worth the $60 price tag, and the promise of free DLC with new characters doesn’t change that.
Mario Strikers: Battle League Football is now available on Nintendo Switch.