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August 2022

Mario Strikers: Battle League

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Genre: Sports
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: June 10, 2022

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Switch Review - 'Mario Strikers: Battle League'

by Andreas Salmen on June 22, 2022 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Prepare for Strike, a five-on-five soccer-like sport with no rules – do whatever it takes to win!

Buy Mario Strikers: Battle League

Nintendo's lineup of iconic video game characters has been in many sports titles over the years, ranging from the Olympic games to tennis and golf. Mario and his gang have a knack for competitive sports, and it seems Nintendo is set on bringing them all to the Switch. Mario Strikers is next to get a shiny new Switch version a full 15 years after its predecessor on the Wii. It's a very welcome return to a fan favorite sport series, and the scope of Mario Strikers: Battle League is so narrow that even those who enjoy its gameplay to the fullest will be let down by the dearth of content.

Mario Strikers has always been the odd one out in a lineup of family-friendly games. It was half-soccer and half-hockey, with an emphasis on physical play without any rules and a high-voltage fence to catch your fall. A fierce team battle can sometimes feel dangerously close to a Mario-themed gladiator battle. That's ultimately what makes Strikers feel refreshing, especially given the long time since the last entry. There have been plenty of changes, some for the better and some that may not please everyone.

Battle League focuses on surprisingly deep and varied gameplay and a steep learning curve. You can still pick up a controller and start playing because most of the controls are simple enough, but as soon as you go online or face off against the CPU, things get hairy. I'd go as far as to say that Battle League is not only the hardest Strikers game to get a grip on, but it may also be one of Nintendo's hardest games to get into — if we're not counting Smash Bros.

Battle League is all about timing and coverage. Both passing and shooting are most effective if charged and timed correctly, so if you want to win, a player has to do a ton of work to perform the simplest actions. For example, shooting after a pass ideally requires you to pass to a player, that player charges the shot before receiving the ball, and then unleashes that shot just as the pass is about to connect. If everything is timed correctly, that means a perfect goal. They're best if fully charged and released at just the right time to fool the goalie.

That's why time and space are everything in this game. If you take out your opponents with tackles and don't leave room for charged shots, you can mostly keep the opponent's scoring in check. However, the slightest gap in your defense can mean an instant goal if your opponent times their shots well. Passing into the path of another player or dodging an incoming tackle for a brief speed boost adds plenty of options and variety to consider in-game. Once you get the hang of the systems and mechanics, games quickly turn from frustrating to tense battles of timing to evade a tackle, make a shot, or use items.

A Mario game would be incomplete without items, and Battle League is no exception. Items are either team-specific or free for everyone. You can unleash green and red shells, Bob-ombs, boost mushrooms and stars on your opponents, and they can be seriously effective if used at the right moment. The star provides brief immunity to a player, allowing him/her to get in a charged shot without being flattened by a geared-up Donkey Kong. It's an especially potent item when combined with a hyper strike. Every character has a hyper strike, which is a hugely powerful shot that requires a long time to charge and two separate timing inputs. They look like finishers with stylized cut scenes, and if successful, it's possible to score two goals rather than one. Even a hyper strike that doesn't connect can potentially leave a rebound opportunity if you're fast enough.

All in all, I am very pleased with how Battle League plays, and it holds great potential to facilitate competitive play in the long term. That said, it's simply not a game that I'd whip out when friends are over. The game simply isn't very fun to play in a casual way, since it relies so heavily on skillful play and the knowledge of how each system works. It's not for everyone and less of a pick-up-and-play experience than some other Mario titles out there. It's great fun to play when you get the hang of it, but be aware that requires properly learning the ins and outs of the gameplay. This is especially true because apart from some basic online functionality, there isn't much to sink your teeth into.

Battle League is depressingly light on content. Launching a 4v4 team sport game with a roster of 10 characters is not a smart move, and it quickly gets annoying. Given Nintendo's track record, there's likely extra content and characters to look forward to down the line, but that isn't remotely an excuse to release any game with such a slim amount of content. The included characters are done well, each with their own animations for various activities, such as goals, hyper strikes, or getting frustrated on the pitch. What's here looks truly lovely, but it's not much. Each character has different stats in areas like shooting, speed and technique, and there's gear to somewhat reallocate those points for each character, but that doesn't fully make up for a lack of character variety. I hope there's much more to come in future updates because 10 characters isn't enough for a full-priced title. Alas, lack of content is a common denominator for Nintendo sports titles nowadays.

There are only two ways to play the game: online and offline. Again, the latter is severely lacking. Apart from offline quickplay, all the title offers is a selection of offline cups against the CPU with increasingly tougher opponents. The latter cups are a challenge to get through and a good early source for coins to unlock gear, but beyond that, the only remaining thing is the underwhelming online modes. There's the usual online quick play to get into an online match right away, and then there's the titular Battle League mode, which is an intriguing concept. Anyone can create a custom club and invite up to seven other friends to play for your club and earn points to rank up in a set of divisions during seasons. The club owner can spend special currency to adjust the look of the home stadium, making the field more distinct. That said, it's just a few cosmetics and doesn't change a whole lot. It's interesting in theory, and the first season began on June 17, which was a full week after release, so I was unable to try much of the mode before turning in this review. It shapes up to be the main mode that is designed to keep you coming back to the title, but I'm not convinced that's enough to provide longevity.

As a sum of its parts, Battle League is great from a gameplay perspective. It is a tense and skill-heavy competitive sports title in the Mario universe, but it risks alienating the casual crowd. Otherwise, it's a bare-bones experience. There's no single-player content outside of increasingly difficult cups and quick play, and online doesn't offer much more beyond Battle League mode. It's a difficult sell, even if you're into the title and gameplay, and I cannot see it holding my attention for long. New stadiums (there are only a handful for now) and characters are one part of the equation, but the title desperately needs other content. Time will tell when and how much post-release content Nintendo will end up granting the title.

From a technical perspective, Battle League is a strong showing for the Switch. The title runs at a solid 60fps and what looks to be full 1080p/720p resolution in docked/handheld mode. It was a joy to see the attention to detail in the animations. Each hyper strike, shot or evade maneuver is animated differently, depending on the character. Donkey Kong's hyper strike curves like a banana, while Warluigi's strike leaves a thorny rose growing across the field. There are a ton of little details hidden in how characters react and animate, and it makes the small roster of characters more bearable.

Stadiums also look good, especially given the number of rendered objects with an audience in attendance. The stadiums are usually not the highlight of the game, since there are minute differences in how they're skinned. The field remains the same in any stadium, which is not necessarily a detriment but a missed opportunity.

One last thing I want to point out from the technical side is AI. The goalie AI is especially spotty, frequently missing simple shots and sometimes making ungodly desperation saves. Your own defenders won't be too reactive, sometimes literally standing in front of a free ball without any motivation to engage until you take over control and do it yourself. It's an area where an update would do wonders, but time will tell.

Otherwise, the title enables local play with up to eight players, which is quite impressive. Less impressive is the fact that no more than two people can play online via a single console, so 4v4 online play with eight players would require four consoles and four copies of the game. Online play exhibited quite a bit of lag, especially in its early days after release, although things have improved dramatically since then. For a paid online service, though, Nintendo's offering has been lacking quite significantly for some time, and Battle League will not convince you otherwise.

Mario Strikers: Battle League is a bare-bones experience that facilitates tense competition but leaves behind casual players. The limited selection of game modes, stadiums and characters further limits its potential, leaving the title with good gameplay but almost no interesting ways to engage with it. The hope is that Nintendo has more to add via DLC, but what, when and how is still a mystery. As with previous Nintendo sports titles, you're better off waiting for the additional content to make a more informed purchase decision. In its current state, Battle League is fun and great to play, but it's hardly worth the full price tag.

Score: 7.0/10

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