When reviewing a piece of art, you can split up your determination into objective and subjective. Some forms of art are mostly subjective–an abstract painting has very little appeal to it that can be qualified as “objective”, for instance. Some have a bit more objectivity to them: a book that has constant misspellings or improper grammar can cause a reader to lose their immersion. But even then that sort of objective theory falls by the wayside if the author is using those “objective” errors for a larger purpose, such as denoting a character’s accent or causing the reader to doubt the narrator. Similarly for movies, some cinematography techniques may make the watcher very uncomfortable or make the film hard to watch, but have their place in advancing the director’s vision.
Yet, when it comes to reviewing video games, the objective is most important. In two senses of the term. First is the objective we’ve been referring to, where a trusted reviewer is expected to list off facts about the game–i.e.: how much is the game, what platform is the game on, when does it come out, what sort of content is in the game, etc. The second objective that is important is that of a goal. What is the goal of the video game in question? What and how many objectives are there in it? And it is in these two objectives where Mario Strikers: Battle League, Mario Golf: Super Rush, Mario Tennis Aces, and other Mario sports games have been cut down by reviewers.
Let’s look at the objectives of Mario Strikers: Battle League. From a goal standpoint, you have one goal to finish the tutorial, one goal split into 12 in conquering the 12 cups (6 easy, 6 hard) against the AI, and one goal to be on top of the online-play-only Battle League. The 12 cups are especially deceiving in terms of length because each one can be completed in a minimum of 3 games, and only a maximum of 5. I finished them in 39 games as I am very good at Strikers and only lost three times, each in the final cup. This constituted 3.5-4.5 hours or so of game time. I had already completed the tutorial in the demo, which was about another half-hour of game time. I cannot adequately say anything about the Battle League as its first week-long season doesn’t begin until June 20th, and I cannot climb the ranks in it until that starts. So. In one day of game time of about 5 hours, you can absolutely say that I have conquered each of the possible objectives in Mario Strikers. This has fairly earned a lot of ire from the gaming community as the game is currently $60 for 5 hours of objective-based gameplay. Let’s leave this type of objective here for now.
In terms of objective facts, here are the charged ones: the game comes with 10 characters, and does not have Daisy on the roster–a character who has been playable in both of the first two. There are only 5 stadium halves to choose from, and they are all cosmetic–no differences in gameplay come from choosing any of the 5. I have already discussed the objectives in the game’s objectives in that there are few and easily accomplished in a short period of time. Here’s an objective fact I don’t remember seeing mentioned, but is something that irks me personally: you cannot quickly chain games against the CPU outside of cup battles. You can only do one game at a time against the AI before having to go into another menu to choose the settings for a follow-up match. Last and most important: they removed the Waluigi crotch chop.
And so, with all of these objective facts piling one after the other on top of Mario Strikers: Battle League, it is very easy to dismiss it as a poor cash-grab. Something done with no love, no budget, and as quick a turnaround as possible for Nintendo’s summer party game. Next Level Games and Nintendo are spinning the upcoming DLC with additional characters and stadiums as some positive when past games had more characters playable at the start. In addition, those past games had much cooler unlockables with the Super Team and new characters in Charged compared to the lame unlock of additional gear in Battle League. How can this game possibly be good with all of these glaring objective problems?
As I said at the start, there is the subjective piece to enjoying art. For any individual, the subjective opinion is all that matters. I have played Super Mario Strikers for 16 and a half years since its release in December 2005 despite fulfilling all objectives in the game many times over, and it not having anything to offer other than playing the AI over and over and over and over. I love it. I do not care that reviewers at the time gave it average to below-average scores. It is my favorite game of all time. Battle League, unsurprisingly, doesn’t quite hit “favorite game of all time” status for me. But also unsurprisingly it is far, far better an experience than the below-average to average reviews give it credit for.
And that’s because the developers of Battle League, Mario Tennis Aces, and Mario Golf: Super Rush spent an extremely long amount of time refining the core gameplay of their respective games. This came at the cost of all of those objective problems against them that reviewers cite. I want to be very clear here: if you want a game that you can play for 16.5 years against the AI only, or a game with a lot of variety in characters, or a game with any sort of extensive single-player, do not get Battle League. I do not think you’re a worse person for not getting the game for any of these reasons. They are all very justifiable reasons to not spend $60. But if there’s one thing I want to be equally clear about: the gameplay of Battle League is extremely fun. It’s got a super-high skill cap, it’s very fast, and it just is flat-out fun. I have complaints with the core gameplay for sure–I don’t like how important items are, how hard it is to actually retrieve items from the boxes thrown on the field after earning one, I think hyper strikes are an awfully balanced mechanic that shouldn’t give 2 goals automatically for a timing minigame, it’s very hard to aim your hits especially when past games had you home in people as soon as you pressed the button, and it’s very hard to switch to the right person AND know who you switched to on the fly with the difficult-to-read player markers.
Yet, despite this: I love the game. It is the game I waited 15 years for since Charged. I did not love the core gameplay of the other maligned Mario Sports games, such as Mario Golf: Super Rush or Mario Sports Superstars, and didn’t play them much. Battle League is a game I expect to play for a while since it is a worthy successor to the Strikers series in terms of gameplay. The only problem is that I can only play the game as long as the online mode is active enough for constant games since, as I said, you cannot easily chain matches against AI. Only when you do quick play online do you get games in a row without menu action. And it is here where the objective problems will both hurt the game now as the negative reviews and lack of content will drive a good amount of potential players away, and will eventually kill the game compared to the original Super Mario Strikers or Mario Strikers Charged. It will simply have too much friction between games when I can play 16 games of Super Mario Strikers with having to navigate 20 seconds of menus and loading screens between them.
In terms of the other basic subjectives such as graphics and music, I think the game has fun graphics and pretty good animations. They’re very Punch Out!! inspired rather than Mario Strikers Charged inspired, so I, as a long-time fan, am a little underwhelmed with them compared to MSC. The music has a lot of great remixes of old Strikers and other Mario game music, but the character themes all blend together which is a real shame after how good the character themes in Mario Strikers Charged were.
Overall, I really love Battle League, and am deeply saddened that its objective flaws will hold back the titular objective of conquering the Battle League from being as fun as it should’ve been. I will still enjoy the online for as long as I can stomach it–I got very quickly too upset playing Charged’s online and had to stop after about 2 months because I cared too much. And then I will likely go back to playing the original Strikers. But that’s not this game’s fault.