Mario Strikers Is Nintendo’s Hardest Franchise And I’m Glad It’s Back

Mario Strikers Is Nintendo’s Hardest Franchise And I’m Glad It’s Back

It’s been fifteen years since the release of the last Mario Strikers title.

I’ve become a kind of weird evangelical online about this series. Ahead of each Nintendo Direct, while everyone else was crossing their fingers for Breath of the Wild 2 or  a crumb of information about Metroid Prime 4, I would shout my desire for the return of an obscure football game from 2007 into the void.

But if Nintendo has proven anything in the last few years, it’s that faith will eventually be rewarded. The Pokemon Snap people had to wait 21 years for their time in the sun. Metroid fans waited 19 years for a true sequel to Fusion. Team F-Zero has been waiting since 2003 for their day in the sun. My wait, by comparison, has been much shorter.

No wrong answers

Nintendo transforms the world’s most popular sports into chaotic party games where the rules are made up and the points don’t matter. Tennis, golf, motorsport, basketball, and even baseball have gotten a look in. Mario Strikers takes the beloved game of football and makes it an absolute madhouse. Well, a different kind of madhouse, anyway.

The game bears all the hallmarks of real football. You have a pitch and a netted goal at either end. Teams field squads in a 5v5 arrangement, created from a roster of captains and sidekicks. Each player can use special moves, power-ups, and hyper-aggressive play to stymie competitors. Throwing fireballs or performing ground-pounds to knock the ball free of possession keeps the ball constantly in play.

Defensive play does not exist in Mario Strikers. There is only searing, ceaseless offence. Securing the ball’s place in the back of the net is not unlike running across an active warzone. Even the pitches will invoke dark powers of their own from time to time, unleashing further hazards or status changes upon the field. Even calling this pandemonium ‘football’ stretches credulity. There is a ball, certainly, and characters can kick it with their feet, but you spend most of your time assessing greater dangers.

Greater dangers like the captains. Each of Nintendo’s star characters is a potential team captain. In a manner similar to a MOBA, these are the “hero” characters with powers beyond that of the smaller sidekicks. These are a ones you have to really watch out for. Mario’s super ability makes him grow in size and become nearly invincible. He will crush anyone that gets near him, even his own team mates. Peach takes a photo, freezing any players around her in place. Wario farts on everyone, leaving them disoriented. Waluigi can create a wall of thorns for insane area denial. Diddy Kong can emit a piercing ray of light that teleports players out of the arena for 15 seconds (?!?!?!).

All this to say, if you came here to play actual football, you’ll be driven instantly and irretrevably out of your mind.

These powers were what made Mario Strikers Charged such a memorable experience. Unlike Mario Kart, where powers are used to shake up the leaderboard at random, powers here are used to overwhelm the opposing team. Knowing what to do when the supers started popping off was only half the battle. The other half was knowing how to follow through in the wake of these attacks. This, again, neatly, weirdly, aligns with the MOBA genre.

But what made Mario Strikers hard?

In defiance of the standard Mario Sports model, what made the game so hard was its opponent AI. What was supposed to be a fun, family-friendly party game was a bruising experience when playing against the computer. Honestly, ask any fan of Mario Strikers Charged for their strongest memory of the game and they’ll likely tell you it was how slam-your-bits-in-a-car-door painful it was to get ahead.

Games from Nintendo’s stables are renowned for not being particularly difficult. The goal of any Nintendo game is to be an enjoyable toy, a pleasant diversion to while away the hours on. That’s not me paraphrasing, that’s what Nintendo sets out to create because it still views itself as a toy company. Challenge in Nintendo games is a design component, one of many. Rarely is it a load-bearing pillar, but in this case, it was.

Because it packed this rather savage bite, it wasn’t a surprise when Strikers fell out Nintendo’s sports roster in favour of more reliable games. To see it return after all this time carries the worry that its teeth will be filed down to make it more palatable. I truly hope it isn’t. I hope that when Mario Strikers: Battle League finds its way to shelves in June, it will be with a vs AI mode that makes me want to throw my controller in disgust.

Mario Strikers is a brilliant, unique gem nestled among Nintendo’s tried-and-tested favourites. I’m glad its back.

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