Wario is a cheater. Sure, that’s part of his notorious personality, but in Mario Strikers: Battle League, he literally picks up the ball (with his hands!) and hurls it toward the goal. I won’t profess to be some sort of expert in soccer. I am, however, pretty certain that’s a violation of every rulebook from every professional organisation.
This is by no means the most egregious soccer infraction in Mario Strikers: Battle League, a sports game developed by Nintendo and Next Level Games, and out on the Switch today. After all, Mario Strikers has always been a series of excess, with more focus on explosions than on yellow cards or offsides. Strikers has sat dormant in the vault of untouched Nintendo franchises for more than a decade, its previous entry being Mario Strikers Charged, released in 2007 for the Wii.
Mario Strikers: Battle League has received some criticism regarding how it stacks up next to its forebears. The roster, which currently features just ten players, is thinner than ever. Longtime fan-favourites, like Daisy, are absent, with no explicit indication they’ll join up soon. (Nintendo recently told Game Informer that it will make more characters available as free DLC, though did not specify who they are or when they’ll be available.) Reviewers have also blasted the single-player for feeling anemic, tacked-on even.
Yeahhhhh, I’ll be honest, I don’t really care about any of that stuff. I’m here solely and explicitly for the competitive multiplayer. And in that regard, Battle League is a tour de force.
Last night, I played several hours of Battle League’s multiplayer, all locally against my roommate. (Nintendo did not provide Kotaku with early access to Battle League.) It’s the sort of edge-of-your-seat, hold-your-breath-without-realising-it couchside multiplayer experience that only Nintendo seems regularly able to capture.
Though there are just ten playable characters, there’s enough daylight between their stats, which creates a different play style for each. Bowser, as he is in most of the Nintendo Extended Universe, is slow but powerful. Try to tackle him with the spry and speedy Toad, and you’ll just bounce right off. But if Toad gets his feet on the ball, hey, good luck to any Bowser player trying to catch up. Ten players might not seem like a lot, but there are enough combinations to keep games feeling fresh for…not sure what the maths is there, but definitely Number Big. I quickly learned that mixing and matching team compositions is the road to success.
Well, there’s another easy way to victory: Just pass the ball to Wario. For whatever reason (ahem, cheating), he seems to land most of his shots.
The personalities of these characters feel distinct, too, with each player capable of a number of victory dances upon scoring a goal. Yoshi might run on top of a soccer ball while making his dumb Yoshi noises. Donkey Kong might show off some seriously fancy footwork. Wario might eat a clove of garlic and belch a cloud of noxious gas. Or he might shake his arse.
Mario Strikers: Battle League isn’t on my prospective game of the year list or anything yet, but it sure is a thrilling competitive multiplayer game, one that I’m definitely adding to the party time rotation. I’ve just eventually gotta come to terms with the fact that Wario might pull a fast one.