A whopping 15 years have passed since the last time we had the opportunity to enjoy Mario Strikers, the most brutal and funniest sports saga of all those that the iconic Nintendo plumber has starred in, so the announcement of his return with Battle League Football, we welcome it with open arms. However, what should have been a triumphant return after such a long time, in the end, has ended up leaving us with a slight feeling of disappointment. The reason? The custom that the company has recently caught of launching sports games with very little content to update them periodically.
Please make no mistake, we are talking about a tremendously fun game at the controls and with enviable gameplay that will offer you some great games in the company of your friends, but that makes a series of mistakes that prevent it from scoring the decisive goal.
If this is your first time with an installment of the series, you should know that this is a game that takes the basics of football and twists them to turn each match into a crazy festival of slaps in which breaking the opponent’s legs is the same as important as scoring goals. The similarities with the beautiful game mean that there are two teams (of five players each counting the goalkeeper) and that you have to put the ball in the opposite goal since, beyond that, there are no rules that prevent us from using our hands or hit our opponents to steal the ball. There are not even out-of-bands since the limits of the stage are made up of an electrified fence that we can use to stamp rivals against it.
As you can guess, this results in some chaotic games in which the law of the strongest prevails and that, at times, are more like a fighting game than a sports game, especially if we consider that item boxes will also appear as soon as possible. Pure Mario Kart style that we can collect to throw bombs, shells and banana peels at anyone who dares to get in our way.
And it is precisely here where we find its main strength, since once you jump onto the field and take control after a few games, it is revealed as an enjoyable work that hides a much greater depth of play than it might seem., allowing us to make passes at ground level, aerial and to the gap, being able to control their intensity and position, plays at the first touch, control the effect and power of our shots, attack, dribble, run, cancel charging actions and even use our teammates as a weapon to push them and attack with more ability to steal the ball. And all this with just a few buttons. In addition, there are many maneuvers, such as kicks or tackles, that we can load and that if we release the button at the exact moment when performing them, they will gain power and effectiveness, so having good timing is essential.
Of course, the hyper thrust also returns the most powerful shots in the entire game that we can only do if someone on our team gets an orb that appears from time to time on the stage. Once we get hold of it, we will have 20 seconds for one of our players to reach the opposite field, load a shot and overcome a minigame in which they must stop an indicator twice within a bar.
If we do all this, it will activate a spectacular video sequence with a comic-like visual aspect, and our player will shoot on goal, taking everything that stands in his way. If we make the last minigame perfect and stop the indicator in the two blue sections of the bar, the hyper shot will go directly to the goal nets. At the same time, in any other case, the goalkeeper will get in the way, and we will have to wait to see if he manages to deflect it or ends up giving in to the force of the shot. Obviously, the better we do, the more likely it will end up being a goal, and if we score with one of these shots, we will add two points to the scoreboard.
With all this, we have a hilarious game much more technical than its arcade proposal might imply but without giving up on being an accessible experience that anyone can have fun with. Additionally, this installment has some successes that we liked a lot, such as the fact that the field is smaller and the action is more concentrated, which increases the frenzy and dynamism of the matches. At the same time, the goals and plays follow one another. at a breakneck pace.
In addition, now the characters are not divided into captains and subjects, so we can assemble our Dream Team by selecting our favourite heroes and villains from the Mushroom Kingdom with the only restriction that we do not repeat the same player, a rule whose only exception we have in Yoshi and Toad. This is also equivalent to the fact that any club member except the goalkeeper can perform a hyper shot, with all this implies when developing our tactics.
Our only complaint in terms of gameplay is in the AI of our allies, as when we don’t control them directly, they are incredibly clumsy. We can’t give them commands to create good plays alongside them, so don’t count on them hitting the enemies to stop passes or steal the ball, much less care about trying to protect you when you’re charging a hyper shot. We have often seen that they have an item box or a unique orb right next to them. It has taken them a while to decide to take two steps to obtain it, which makes it clear that the best way to enjoy his proposal is in the company of another player since that is when we can get the most out of him.
Continuing with the novelties, the possibility of customizing our characters with different pieces of equipment that modify their attributes and that we can unlock using the coins we get playing has now been included. Here we were happy to see that it is an addition that does not break the balance of the matches in any way since everything we equip will subtract the same number of stat points it adds to us. In this way, we can focus, for example, on enhancing Bowser’s shooting ability in exchange for losing speed, thus allowing us to specialize our players to fulfill specific roles within our club.
Unfortunately, all this good work in the purely playable has not been accompanied by content to match, which ends up leaving us with a title that, at least at its launch, gives the impression of being halfway. This is especially evident in its minimal range of modes: Free Match, Cups and Club Strikers.
The first, as you can imagine, allows us to play against the AI or other players, either through the internet or locally. Here we can modify the difficulty of the games and customize the rules to choose the time the games last and activate or deactivate both the hyper thrust and the use of objects.
An interesting detail is that locally we can play up to 8 people on the same console, this being, by far, how we have had the most fun because of all the piques that occur and the number of moves and strategies that we can develop little that we coordinate with our peers.
However, in its online aspect, we have come face to face with a great disappointment: the rooms only admit four holes. Or what is the same, only four consoles can connect simultaneously to the same game through the internet, so the only way to be able to play a match with eight people on the network is that there are two local players on each Switch. An incomprehensible limitation to us in a game of these characteristics that hits the market in the middle of 2022. At least, the matches we have been able to play have worked quite well. Yes, it shows that there is a little more input lag than in local, and sometimes the rate of images per second suffers some occasional drop, but in general, it is allowed to play decently, and the games are enjoyable.
Beyond Free Match, the Cups Mode would become the primary mode for a single player, although you should note that it is also possible to play cooperatively for up to four users locally. Here we will have to participate in several double-elimination tournaments against three other teams that will be oriented towards one style of play depending on the cup we select.
The bad news is that, at the moment of truth, we will hardly notice differences when playing against the AI and all the matches are too similar, making this an uninteresting modality, not working at all and very dull, especially at the beginning, when the difficulty is non-existent. Luckily, things get better once we’ve spent enough time on it to get to its most advanced challenges, but even so, it’s still a mode that seems short and insufficient.
Finally, Club Strikers is an online mode that allows us to create (or join, of course) a club that up to 20 people can belong to participate in competitive seasons and score points based on victories to climb positions in the rankings and ascend to the higher leagues. In addition, by playing, we can get coins for ourselves and credits for the club that we can use to unlock new elements to customize the appearance of our team’s stadium.
Although we have already been able to play this mode and fiddle with its options, we have only had the opportunity to enjoy friendly matches against other clubs as there is no active season, which has served us to verify that, indeed, there is a limitation of four consoles connected through the internet per game (2 for our team and 2 for our rivals), we can only group with a single member of our club to compete, something that makes this modality very attractive. At the very least, we are left with the consolation that it still allows a second local player on each console to form an entire team, which does not mean that it is an unjustifiable limitation.
Unfortunately, and removing the surprisingly extensive tutorial that it includes, you will not find anything else to scratch, a problem that we also extend to the rest of the elements of the game, starting with a very scarce squad of 10 characters, means that in the matches there is almost always a repeated player, a selection of just five stadiums and very few possible kits where many colours are limited to playing us as a second option. Add to it the fact that there are not many accessories to customize our heroes and villains, very few unlockable secrets, and the structure of online rooms is very archaic (there is not even an option to send invitations). You will understand how lame it ends up staying. Proposal.
Nintendo has promised to release free updates regularly to expand its content over time, something that makes us look at its future with some optimism. Still, right now, we can only analyze what you will find when the game hits the shelves, and the reality is that, at times, it conveys the sensation of being a demo of what will probably end up being the final product in a few months.
Finally, it should be noted that the graphic section we liked, thanks to some very successful and detailed modelling and above all to some animations that are an absolute delight that we never get tired of seeing. And all this, not to mention the spectacular sequences that the hyper-thrashings put on the screen and the attractiveness of the artistic direction. We will not deny that we are missing a greater variety of scenarios, but that does not prevent us from having a well-developed product that looks and performs wonderfully on a laptop and desktop.
The soundtrack, for its part, gives us some very powerful songs where electric guitars prevail. Although they are mostly original compositions, they sometimes surprise us with exciting remixes of classic Mario songs that we didn’t expect and liked. On the other hand, the effects are responsible for providing an excellent atmosphere to the games and giving force to the blows and kicks that follow one another without stopping.
Mario Strikers: Battle League Football still has a long and challenging game ahead of him to win a victory costing him more than we expected. If he has made anything clear, he is not lacking in quality, and that his dominance on the playing field is more than evident; laudable efforts marred by a few mistakes cost him dearly on the scoreboard. Maybe in a few months, during extra time, it will finish scoring the decisive goal with its free updates. Still, today, we have a hilarious, accessible and profound game at the controls that shines, especially when we enjoy it in the company of our friends, whose contents are not up to par.
We prepared this review with a digital review copy provided by Nintendo.