Play time: 13 hours
Platform: Nintendo Switch
It wouldn’t be a Nintendo console without Mario’s sports vacation, and on Switch we’ve already seen a lot. Golf, tennis and the Olympics may be the famous plumber’s usual choices, but every now and then we find him on less familiar terrain. It’s been 15 years since he last entered the football field, but finally, Nintendo has returned to the beautiful game once again with Mario Strikers: Battle League Football.
Bringing back the original developers, Next Level Games, Battle League is a family pleasure. It does come with a few changes, though. Some of them come down to numbers – there are fewer playable characters and you can no longer score six goals at once, a little farce. Crucially though, what we have looks more refined and more dexterous, and it’s a lot of fun with friends.
Mario Strikers: Battle League price and release date
- What is it? A 5v5 arcade football game with Mario and friends.
- Release date of? June 10, 2022
- What can I play on? Nintendo Switch
First: forget about formation tactics. That’s 5v5, so you’ll be writing down each character’s unique stats. For example, Bowser has powerful punches and hard-hitting tackles, Toad is fast and great for passing, and Luigi is your classic ‘all-rounder’. It’s worth evaluating your picks, and you can pick everyone on your team except the goalie, Boom Boom. You try to argue over 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, but if you like local multiplayer, the game supports a maximum of eight people. So, get ready to share those Joy-Cons. When ready, each character can kick, pass, throw the ball, disarm and throw items at the opposing team – all classic moves, plus the ones FIFA players wish they could get away with. If you’re dribbling and there’s no one to pass, you now have a quick dodge, accessed by pressing the right joystick – a useful addition.
All actions can be loaded with consecutive passes, and while you can’t control the goalie, Boom Boom isn’t sloppy. 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 such as gloves and helmets. Each item increases a specific stat by two points, but for every perk gained it will deduct two points from another one, so you cannot create a super player. Mario may be an icon, but he’s not a god.
keep it clean
Each character has a unique special shot, an ability that was previously limited to the captain of your team. And occasionally, a colorful ‘Strike Orb’ drops onto the field, which once collected carries your entire team. This only lasts 20 seconds, but firing a charged kick into the middle of your opponent triggers a Hyper Strike, opening up the possibility of an unstoppable kick, and a goal so powerful it’s worth two points.
It’s these moments that really showcase Battle League’s stunning visuals. Hyper Strikes benefit from comic book panels when characters take the picture, and while I don’t necessarily need to see Wario hitting a ball with his ass, I certainly laugh at it. As for Waluigi, seeing him put a rose in his mouth during filming is the dream of many Nintendo fans. Next Level did a good job of livening up those moments – Battle League is a game full of little flourishes.
It’s an easy game to pick up casually, despite its nuances and special rules – while more competitive players will be pleased to know that the game feels as balanced as a ball on a pro’s forehead. If a character isn’t strong enough, you can’t take on opponents that hard – but you may find that light feet like Toad keep catching you as you run, forcing you to continually pass. Elsewhere, items can even things out if your opponent isn’t playing well – they’re often awarded to victims of a dirty tackle. Between red shells, bananas and bob-ombs, Battle League borrows heavily from Mario Kart, but item usage never feels excessive or threatens to destabilize the beautiful game at the Strikers core.
Less Champions League, more Europe
In addition to quick play, Cup Battles allow you to participate in one of six tournaments, solo or co-op. A cup can be won after three rounds – but if you lose the first match, you’ll end up in a losers bracket. Win this match and you’re back in contention, but losing again will eliminate you. Unless you pay a rematch fee, at least. Despite their dangerous structure, winning 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 empty.
Evidently, Next Level has directed its energies towards Strikers Club, the Battle League’s online mode. This starts with creating a club (or joining someone else’s), choosing a name, kit and stadium. Ranked seasons last for one week, followed by an off-season week, before repeating. The Strikers Club also grants tokens to customize your stadium – changing the fence posts, goal line decor and stadium themes. It’s a lovely touch, but bizarrely, none of this seems to be available in Battle League’s offline modes, where aesthetic updates would be equally welcome. Perhaps we can expect a more complete feature set after some updates; Nintendo has already promised more characters after launch.
Mario Strikers: Battle League is a great game that clearly got its chance very early on. However, you’ll find a nice view of 5v5 football here with the Super Mario team. It feels more skill-based than its predecessors, the multiplayer is frenetic fun and it’s packing a gorgeous art style. Solo content might be missing, but if you can look beyond that, you’re in for a great time until the final whistle.