On February 9th, Nintendo put out a trailer for the upcoming Mario Strikers: Battle League, coming out June 10th, 2022. It is the third Mario Strikers game in the series, and first one since Mario Strikers Charged in 2007. If you know me, you know Super Mario Strikers is my favorite game of all time. Naturally, I am very excited to get another game in this series, and I have a lot of opinions on the three minutes of footage we got about the game.
First, I want to be very clear. I am excited. Super excited. I said that in paragraph one, but it bears repeating because most of the rest of this will be me pointing out differences between the original games and this one, and difference = bad. So let’s start with what hasn’t changed because no change = good.
The attitude, art style, and feel of Strikers has been retained, which is awesome. Strikers came out in 2005 but feels like a 90s game with extreme baditude, yet it never felt forced because you didn’t have a cartoon hedgehog swearing at you while shooting guns. Just like the other games, Battle League is 5 on 5 (4 in the field and one goalie, which is Boom Boom instead of Kritter, which is a CHANGE and is BAD (but consistent with Mario Sports Superstars’ goalie also being Boom Boom so eh)) soccer/football that plays a lot more like hockey with short possessions, short fields, lots of scoring, and even more hitting. It also has a stupid European name. “Mario Strikers: Battle League Football”. C’mon.
Beyond these base commonalities, there are quite a few things in Battle League that are similar to what previous Striker entries have. BUT STILL DIFFERENT! I’ll get to the stuff that the trailer pointed out as being explicit differences, but I want to talk about the “intangible” commonalities that I think add up to making Strikers extremely fun to play. Below are screenshots from gameplay of all three. The original Gamecube Strikers is on top, the middle is Wii’s Charged, and the bottom is the newest, Battle League.
The original Strikers has the camera zoomed-in on the action compared to Charged and Battle League, but the field size and relative size of characters are all pretty much the same in the three games. This small field allows for lots of shots and goals because teams can get the ball up the floor and immediately take a shot instead of having to do some sort of buildup like in FIFA. There’s a good reason why all three of these are screenshots of characters in the act of shooting. Also noticeable is the electric fence surrounding the fields came back, acting as a fun thing to hit opponents into and a way to keep the ball in play at all times. You can also see that item storage is the same between all three games–each team gets a maximum of two to hold onto. One thing that is conspicuously absent in Battle League in the trailer is that the characters do not have a number over their head indicating what player is controlling them. Perhaps this means there’s no switching what character you control, perhaps it’s a setting they chose to keep off for the trailer, but there needs to be some way to easily find your character mid-game, and the number system worked well for that. I think that’s enough dissecting stillness, these games are about action. What’s it like in motion?
In motion, there are a ton of differences. For one, the movement of Battle League has to be given a disclaimer. This is a gameplay trailer for people who have never played the originals. As such, the speed and chaos had to be turned way, way down compared to what I expect high-level gameplay will look like. It is very hard to concretely say that Battle League is infinitely slower than Charged and a quarter of the speed of the original, but that is my first impression. There’s a few actual mechanical changes that I can point to for backing this up rather than asserting this fear-based statement.
For one, the way a character passes the ball in Battle League seems inherently different to either the original or Charged. In those games, you pressed the pass button while holding a direction, and your character passed the ball to the nearest teammate in that direction. In Battle League, check out how the game opens in the trailer.
Mario wins the ball from Bowser and passes back to Peach in a way that looks like the original or Charged. Then, watch Peach. As soon as she gets the ball and dribbles upfield, she starts winding up a pass to Toad near the bottom of the screen. Unlike that pass from Mario, she’s able to use a small circle to aim where the ball will go, and the ball jumps off her foot with a bit of a charge. Both Mario and Peach passed the ball, but both did it very differently. I think it’s fair to say that both direct passing and freeform passing will be doable, giving Battle League players a lot of freedom in how they direct play similar to Mario Strikers Charged’s lob dribble mechanic (more on that later). One last thing about this five seconds of footage. Check out Toad. He doesn’t receive Peach’s freeform pass like how Peach received Mario’s direct pass. Peach immediately had full control of the ball after receiving it. The ball bounces off Toad’s side, and he never gets full control of the ball. Instead, he does the classic Strikers’ technique of pressing the shoot button while the ball is near him and takes a long-distance, easily-saved shot for the rebound.
That was a lot to get out of literally 5 seconds of footage, but it’s very telling stuff. I already mentioned earlier that items are back in this game, but they’re already shown to work a little differently from previous games. At 58 seconds in, Peach uses a large Green Shell to clear space for her in the offensive zone, and hits two opponents. Unlike previous games, the shell does not bury Bowser or Yoshi, which was always a cute touch, it just runs them out of the way. There’s also a large banana used that does much the same and a red shell was shown in the background that presumably hones in on enemies like prior games. The Bob-Omb is pretty different as well. At 2:28 in the trailer, Mario uses it, and the Bob-Omb walks through an opponent before blowing up. In past games, the Bob-Ombs arced in the air before falling and exploding. The main thing about items that didn’t get answered was how you earned them. If Battle League is like Charged or the original, a team will earn an item for either taking a charged shot or for having one of their players hit by a bodycheck or slide tackle while not possessing the ball. We’ll find out eventually, but there needs to be some kind of mechanic to dissuade teams from simply hitting opponents into the electric fence at all times.
Next Level Games has brought back the original version of the Super Strike with slightly more balance. Now called Hyper Strikes, a proper execution of charging a shot and then pressing the shot button with the correct timing will earn a team 2 goals instead of 1, just like in Super Mario Strikers. Charged had the ability to earn a team up to 6 goals, but felt like a roulette wheel against the CPU and absolutely pointless in high-level play because players were expected to be good at the minigame stopping them. There is a slight change, though. In the original and Charged, only your captain could launch a Super Strike and simply hitting them out of the play repeatedly prevented them (unless they’re playing the Super Team but no one likes the Super Team). Here, it seems anyone can do it, but they can only do it when your team collects an orb that randomly appears at random times. Who knows if this will end up being better or worse balance than the original–I never have liked them and keep them permanently turned off in the original.
That comment about only captains being able to use Super Strikes is a great segue to the next noticeable change. Battle League has no “captain system”. Team selection in the original had you pick one of 8 captains (or 9 if you want to play the Super Team but seriously go away) and then the other three teammates were one of 4 sidekicks. The original is weird in that character selection really doesn’t matter much, but it mattered a ton more in Charged. In Charged, you picked one of 12 captains, then filled out the other three teammates by selecting from 8 that you could mix or match (or really just taking 3 Boos). Your captains in Charged had special items associated with them which mostly drove why you’d pick, say, Waluigi and his wall over Daisy and her Crystal Smash even though they have the same stats. Here? Mario and Peach are on the same team. Yoshi and Bowser are on the same team. This was never possible before now. And it is currently very unclear if this means that there are intrinsic differences in stats between characters like Charged or if there are no intrinsic differences like in the original. Instead, we do know that there is a new mechanic that will affect your stats, and it’s…
The equipment system. Highlighted from 1:20-1:40 is the big, new, and original gameplay mechanic of Battle League compared to all these prior slight tweaks. You can outfit your playable character with four different pieces of gear, and each piece of gear will change your characters stats in slightly different ways. FOR INSTANCE, a no-gear Mario has 11/25 strength, 12/25 speed, 14/25 shooting, 10/25 passing, and 16/25 technique. One of the helmets bumps his strength up 2 points at the cost of losing 2 points in technique. Small stuff, but added across 4 pieces allows for some interesting min-maxing. More on my thoughts about it later. I do think that no-gear screenshot does suggest all characters will have intrinsically different stats, but the disparity between each character won’t be as insane as it was in Charged. Charged had players with 10 speed versus players with 3 speed and, uh, that difference in speed made power/offensive types unplayable save for the captains.
The other big new original feature of Battle League is, well, the Battle League. Charged was I believe the first Wii game with online play, and it was an instant hit despite being very simple. I’m trying to remember how exactly it worked, but there was a ranking system. Every week, that ranking would reset. Every day, you could play up to 10 ranked best two-out-of-three series to earn a number of ladder points based on if you won and how many goals you scored. You lost points in the ladder for losing and for disconnecting before the end of matches, which I did a lot (I am a very sore Strikers loser).
In Battle League, players can join an online or local club. We don’t know exactly what sorts of prizes these clubs will compete for (presumably for fun and official/unofficial tournaments), if there’ll be a ranking system, if there will be a MOBA draft system in picking characters (which sounds like a joke but is a real thing I was thinking about late at night while pondering the game!!), etc. Lots of questions. But it’s a neat idea that I hope is fun and that there will be chill enough people to play with because I really, really, really do not want to play ultracompetitive Strikers ever again. I think that’s everything in the trailer that I care to comment on, other than saying that Boom Boom as the goalie instead of Kritter is a little sad but has precedent from Mario Sports Superstars, so it’s onto random speculation about the game.
The game’s presentation has a fun understated element in field design. Each half of the field appears to be affected by the characters and color scheme chosen by the defending team. However, it does not appear that any half shown off in the gameplay affects the way the game is played. Mario sports games have recently gone far away from the gimmick fests of Charged or Baseball or even Sports Mix, so we’ll see if they continue that trend or if there will be some halves of fields that will affect the game as badly as The Wastelands. I personally want some freaking gimmicks.
Another area that was never the focus of prior Strikers games but was always there and yet not mentioned in the trailer is the single-player. People remember Charged’s single-player as an extremely brutal and difficult campaign that was super hard to unlock everything in, and the presentation was quite focused on the multiplayer (and the title is Battle League) so there just… might not be single-player. Which would suck! I love beating up CPUs, and Charged’s insane difficulty is pretty fun to battle against. Ever since Sports Mix, even the most difficult CPUs in Mario Sports games have been real easy to beat. Disclaimer: haven’t tried too much against the highest difficulty in Super Rush, so if they’re strong there, that’s my bad.
Finally, I’ll close with four pieces of mechanical speculation that I really hope got addressed. The first is one I’ve mentioned earlier. What will stop people from hitting opponents into electric fences over and over again? The second is tied neatly with that. What will stop players from taking a one-goal lead and then turtling? Turtling in Strikers is the strategy of possessing the ball near your goal box in a way that makes your goalie pick up the ball if it ever is jarred loose, and you can simply wait out the rest of the game this way. It’s really unfun to play with or against this strategy, and has always been a problem in Strikers.
The third and fourth are things that ended up happening in Mario Strikers Charged, and things I worry may happen again in Battle League. In Charged, the lob mechanic allows for insanely broken and unintended goals to be easily scored. Just watch this fun highlight reel of lobs and know that this is not at all how you’re supposed to score.
Super fun looking, right? Well, unfortunately, the lob mechanic was so refined that high-level game was all about executing it and stopping it. Check out a clip below of one of the best players in the world executing a lob glitch to score.
This meant that you had to play with speed characters in order to set up a lob goal or to stop them. The high-level stuff was all about this. Plus, Boo itself was so extremely broken that you almost never saw anyone use anything other than 3 Boos because he was fast enough to execute the lob goals AND passed the quickest AND had a special deke to dodge any oncomers or charge the ball quickly.
All of this is to say that I hope Next Level Games learned their lesson and make Battle League actually viable for more than just speed characters. Because it is super fun to use a slow power character and hit someone into a fence and then score with a strong shot. I have to think they have, and I am looking extremely forward to this game. June 10th can’t come soon enough.