In fact, it’s been more than 15 years since I had a blast playing Mario Smash Football from the last days of the GameCube and Mario Strikers Charged Football on the Wii as a chaos kicker. Actually, I was always in the mood for super shots and lawn bumps without annoying referees, but as it is, it was somehow never the time to fetch GameCube or Wii from the memory. So it’s great that after Wii Sports, which I so sorely missed, Mario Strikers is finally getting a fresh offshoot on the Switch as Mario Strikers: Battle League Football.
A good two weeks before the release date on June 10th, I had the opportunity to extensively try out the single game mode against human and computer-controlled opponents. Impressions of other modes, such as cup tournaments and the Strikers Club, have to wait until the test. Spoiler: I was not disappointed and the wonderfully rule-free kicking in the third series spin-off puts you in a really good mood, even if the selection of team members is still a bit meager. But first things first.
If you have played one of the predecessors, you will immediately notice a change in the team composition: Each team has four field players, which you can choose from the ten characters Mario, Wario, Luigi, Waluigi, Bowser, Rosalina, Yoshi, Toad, Donkey Kong and Peach to create your very own All-Star Strikers. Yoshi and Toad can be included in the team more than once, all other figures can only be represented once in a team. The role of the goalkeeper is always taken over by a computer-controlled boom boom, which keeps its net surprisingly clean and which I despaired of more than once in the auditions. But that also applies to your own goalkeeper, who regularly thwarts the opponent’s chances that you thought were safe.
A closer look at the desired player is worthwhile, because the individual values for power, speed, shot, passing and technique differ significantly. There’s more than a dash of tactics to the wild game when you field a team of fast players and tough defenders like Bowser. With additional equipment for the head, arms, torso and legs, which you buy with the coins you have earned, you not only change the appearance of the characters, but also significantly increase their abilities. If you want the all-rounder Mario in your team, but he has below-average values for passing, then buy a corresponding piece of equipment or a complete outfit and thus increase the skill points in this area. However, another value is always reduced, so take a close look before you equip combo, turbo or muscle equipment. Incidentally, my favorites after a dozen test matches are Rosalina, who glides elegantly over the lawn, leaves all opponents behind in attack and places the most dangerous shots on goal, as well as the powerhouse Donkey Kong. He masters merciless tackling and surprises with real dream passes.
In order to make the chaos on the playing field perfect, you should pay attention to special events: From time to time, blocks of question marks from the audience, containing valuable power-ups, land on the virtual lawn. There are other blocks for dangerous tackles and special game actions. Grab the block in front of the opposing team and you’ll get a mushroom that temporarily increases speed. Then a Bob-omb that explodes on impact leaving a crater, a banana, a red or green shell, and the star that makes you invincible for a while. As in Mario Kart, the items can be used to gain significant advantages and, under certain circumstances, win a game at the last moment. I can already imagine the glee in matches against friends and family when a player slips on a banana peel or a forward gets knocked out by a red tank just before a shot on goal. If a glowing ball, the Hyperball, lands on the field, you should rush off immediately and grab the special. Now you only have 20 seconds to unleash a hypershot, which earns you two points. To do this, you perform a charged shot on the goal, in which the A button is pressed longer and you should hit two markings on a semicircle as exactly as possible. If you manage the feat without being disturbed by an opponent, you shoot the leather into the net with a visually opulent and funny animated special attack.
Each character has an individual hypershot, for example Mario unleashes a fire cyclone, Luigi calls out a vortex tornado, Peach performs a beguiling heart dance or Donkey Kong unleashes a banana smasher. But that’s not a guarantee for a hit, because you can fill a bar by quickly pressing the buttons and thus prevent a goal. If the shooter has timed the hyper shot perfectly, the ball is unstoppable in most cases. It all plays just as fun and fluently as I was used to from the predecessors and I thankfully refrained from going through a tutorial. It’s Mario Strikers, what could go wrong? After a devastating 0:7 against a team at Com level “Normal” – it can be done much more challenging – I then changed my mind. So I had the galactic mentor Fussbot explain to me what the perfect techniques are, which my AI opponents seem to have mastered inside out.
This is, for example, the perfect shot, where the exact timing is important and the shot button not only has to be pressed for a while to charge, but also released at a very specific moment. The time window is so small that I needed more than ten attempts in a practice game to apply the advanced techniques. You quickly miss the right moment or are prevented from executing it by an opposing player. This also applies to the perfect tackle, the perfect direct pass and direct shot as well as the perfect feint, in which a player with the ball elegantly dodges to the side by pressing the R button during a tackle and lets the attacker run into space. There are also other expert techniques, such as a charged through ball or team tackling.
If you master all ball arts, an inexperienced opponent will no longer see cuts. However, this requires a lot of practice, in my played games I simply lost track of the key combinations and necessary timing after a few minutes and then preferred to stick with the standards. But that will change for me from June 10th, when I will really dig into the gameplay depths and show my upcoming Mario Strikers victims how to play action soccer properly.