Mario Strikers: Battle League on Switch
The beautiful game returns to the Mushroom Kingdom for the first time in 15 years with Mario Strikers: Battle League. The fast-paced and high-scoring affair is markedly different from the reality of the sport featured in the game, but that’s what makes Battle League so enjoyable. However, the overall package at launch is a bit lacking for the return of the beloved franchise.
This lack of options is evident from the moment you reach the main menu in Mario Strikers: Battle League. Quick Battle, Cup Battles, Strikers Club, and Gear Settings are the four featured menus on the main screen. We’ll take a closer look at each one of these, but for now, it’s important to note that three of those four menu options feature the exact same gameplay essentially.
Quick Battle, Cup Battle, and Strikers Club all focus on the game’s standard four-on-four (excluding keepers) arcade soccer gameplay. Cup Battle changes things up a little bit by pitting the player against three other teams in a double-elimination tournament bracket. Otherwise, the main gameplay components are the same. Say what you will about annualized sports sims, but at least they offer a diverse assortment of different gameplay modes.
At least the gear in Mario Strikers: Battle League adds a bit of depth to the team-building side of the game. There’s always the option to match gear pieces to get a cohesive look, and using gear to min-max a character’s stats is on the table as well. Stat adjustment also leads to an intriguing part of online mind games.
Toad is one of the smallest and weakest characters in the game, but with the right gear, this diminutive mushroom man can turn into the strongest one in the game. Toad can match the heavy characters like Bowser, DK, and Wario, all while maintaining a higher speed stat. Bringing a character like this into an online match can take opponents by surprise and make defending or attacking an arduous task.
Sadly, there are few characters that can be customized this way because the game only launches with 10 playable characters. That is exactly half of what the previous title — Mario Strikers Charged — had at launch. We know post-launch updates are coming, but there’s currently no schedule or list of characters that will release down the road.
On top of that, there are only five different stadiums to play matches in. Each one looks great, but they don’t offer much in the way of making any notable difference in the matches. Everything is simply a different aesthetic that doesn’t even impact goal celebrations or team entrances.
Despite all that, it is pretty cool to see two different stadiums combined into one. If the opposing teams select different stadiums, then it’ll take half of each one and mash them together. It’s visually appealing while being practical since this makes it very clear which end of the field you should attack and which to defend.
Fortunately, for all that feels barren in Mario Strikers: Battle League, the gameplay absolutely redeems this game. While it’s nowhere close to a realistic soccer simulation, the fundamental ideas of the game still ring true, like passing the ball to the center of the field is a good idea while attacking and a bad idea while the other team is on the offensive.
But then, layering absolutely ridiculous illegal tackles, Hyper Strikes, and items into the mix, it makes for one ridiculously fun soccer video game. For starters, the tackles feature Mario performing a wrestling dropkick into opponents, Bowser charging into them shell-first, and Yoshi knocking people out with its tongue.
If that’s not enough, then there’s always the option to toss a Red Shell at an opponent who is on a breakaway or throw a Bob-Omb at a defender to clear a path for a Hyper Strike.
What’s more, each character has their own signature Hyper Strike which is a super powerful shot worth two goals that comes with an absolutely ridiculous and stunning animation. For example, Rosalina fires the ball into space which turns the ball into an ice crystal that freezes anyone in its way. Ever the cheater, Bowser disregards one of the fundamental laws of the game when he picks up the ball with his hand, covers it in his fire breath, and throws it at the goal.
You get the ability to use these shots by picking up an energy orb that randomly drops on the field during matches. It’s essentially like the Smash Ball from Smash Bros., but it can be picked up simply by running into the orb. The only drawback is that the orbs can sometimes appear too often, and each shot animation is fairly time-consuming with no option to turn off Hyper Strike animations. But in the end, it usually feels worth it when the ball goes in the net for a total of two goals instead of just one.
So far, the gameplay hasn’t begun to stale. It’s certainly conceivable that the lack of different gameplay modes could become boring over time. But that is merely speculation.
The one thing that is more evident right now is the game’s reliance on an online connection. As of right now, players who don’t have a Nintendo Switch Online subscription will only be able to do local matches against friends — on the same console or via a local wireless connection between consoles — and the Cup Battle modes.
Strikers Club is arguably the biggest mode in Mario Strikers: Battle League, and it’s only accessible online. In this mode, players can create or join a club and play online matches to raise their rank. Friends can also join in to help climb up the ranks.
Normally, an online-only mode wouldn’t be a problem. But when you combine that with a lack of offline content, then it starts to hurt the overall product.
There is no doubt that Mario Strikers: Battle League is one of the best arcade soccer games on the market today. The gameplay allows for a high skill ceiling, the gear is an enjoyable way to customize or min-max characters, and the over-the-top presentation looks fantastic even on small and big screens alike. However, there’s just not enough there at launch to make this game a must-have.
On the other hand, there’s no doubt that fans of the franchise will enjoy jumping back in. The promise of a gradual release of new content will likely keep diehards of the series drawn in with each new announcement. Overall, Mario: Strikers Battle League is a good game that needs more to do. It may be a much better game a year from now, but right now, it is noticeably lacking content.
Stadium differences are merely aesthetic.
Not enough offline modes.