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Review: Mario Strikers: Battle League could be the game of the summer

Mario doing his best
Enlarge / Mario doing his best “sport anime” impression.

When it comes to sports video games, I’m of the opinion that the wackier they are, the better. If I want a game that captures every detail of a real sport accurately and authentically, I’ll just go outside and play that sport myself, or maybe watch some professionals do the same. In a virtual version, I want to see the sport enhanced with features that would be impossible on a real field of play.

Much like its predecessors, Mario Strikers: Battle League fulfills this video game sports fantasy quite nicely, offering what is essentially the Super Mario Kart version of simplified soccer. And while the game has some balancing issues (especially in single-player mode), as a whole, it’s a frenetic and fun take on the sport that could easily sustain a strong online multiplayer community.

The more things change

If you played the original Super Mario Strikers on the GameCube or its 2007 sequel on the Wii, you know the basics here. While the game is ostensibly a four-on-four game of soccer (without the possibility of the ball going out of bounds), it more closely resembles a knock-down, drag-out brawler most of the time.

You’ll find yourself constantly charging at nearby opponents to knock them down and get the ball or prevent a pass, without a yellow or red card in sight. Then, on offense, you have to constantly be ready with a quick-reflex dodge or be on the lookout for an open pass to avoid losing the ball to a similar pummeling.

Despite the full-contact changes to real soccer, this is still a game of careful positioning. On offense, you have to push forward for a charged, centered shot without overcommitting and letting the defense come back with a fast break. On defense, you have to be careful that tackling the ball carrier doesn’t leave you out of position to block a pass or a powerful charged shot. Battle League‘s lob passes also open up the field in the third dimension a bit, letting you sail the ball over a tight defense and set up a good shot that can more easily get by the computer-controlled goalkeeper.

More sports games with giant items on the field, please.
Enlarge / More sports games with giant items on the field, please.

Mario Kart-style items like shells, banana peels, and bombs are also still in play here; they are effective on offense to create some much-needed space or on defense to stop an attack quickly. Those items now come in boxes thrown down on the field at random, which sometimes necessitates breaking up a play and running out of your way to pick them up. The game also self-balances a bit by providing the losing team with item boxes that only they can pick up throughout a match.

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