Mario Strikers: Battle League is a fun and frantic soccer-esque game that's perfect for parties or a club of soccer fanatics, but it becomes quickly repetitive when playing solo. The first Mario Strikers game in over 15 years, Mario Strikers: Battle League is the latest entry in Mario-themed sports games. Developed by Next Level Games (the maker of the last two Mario Strikers games), Mario Strikers: Battle League offers slightly tweaked options from previous games but ultimately provides the same frantic "Strikers" experience that mixes soccer with tackles and opponent-seeking Red Shells.
The core of Mario Strikers: Battle League is a fast-paced four vs. four soccer match with no rules and an electric fence serving as its walls. Players form a team of four characters from a roster of 10, with each character having a different mix of stats that determine passing accuracy to tackling strength to overall speed. Some characters, like Mario and Peach, can only appear on the roster once, but others like Yoshi and Toad can fill multiple slots on the team. Players also have the option of equipping their roster with individual pieces of gear which increase one stat at the cost of another.
Once players select and customize their team, they face off against another team in a four-minute free-for-all. With no rules, tackling and incapacitating are encouraged. Items are thrown onto the field at random providing teams with a handful of items that can be used to bowl over opponents to create a turnover or create an opening for a fast break. Strike orbs also randomly fall onto the field which grant one team a limited window to perform a Super Strike – a powerful shot that can score two points and comes with a nifty animated cutscene with dynamic comic book-esque graphics.
Four minutes is about the sweet spot for a Battle League match. There's enough time to give each team a chance to adapt to each other's playstyles and overcome any temporary disadvantages caused by an unlucky item drop or a Super Strike, but the shorter timer adds an extra level of franticness to each game. That momentum does tend to get stifled by the celebratory cutscenes when goals are scored, but that should just give players incentive to play some defense.
There are three main modes in Battle League – a Quick Play mode for one-off games, a Cup League that offers a group of up to four players the chance to work their way through a four-team tournament against AI opponents, and a Strikers Club mode in which players join online clubs. The Strikers Club seems to be the preferred mode of play – not only does Strikers Club drive online matches, it also provides the only real deeper purpose to winning matches beyond the passing thrill of victory. Clubs battle for promotion during seasons of play, while also trying to avoid relegation. Players can also collectively use their Club winnings to unlock various cosmetic upgrades and customization options for their club stadiums.
While I enjoyed playing the actual matches in Mario Strikers: Battle League, the game has a few fundamental flaws. The first is that the AI is pretty easy to beat – I was able to score at will against AI opponents, slipping past the defense and scoring on the AI goalie almost every time I got the ball into my opponent's side. Multiplayer matches are a little more chaotic and unpredictable, but give players an inch of free space and a skilled player will score most of the time. The other issue is that the game is remarkably thin on content. There is no extended single player mode – there's no season mode or a way to build and grow a roster of characters or improve them over time. The gear options, while intriguing, are also a bit of letdown. It's fun to try out different stat combinations (such as a speedy Bowser or a punishingly strong Peach), but purchasing a new set of gear isn't really much of a reward for grinding through single player tournaments.
Ultimately, Mario Strikers: Battle League reminded me a bit of last year's Mario Golf: Super Rush. Both games offer a fun core gameplay experience but are ultimately very thin in terms of content which hinders their replayability. If you don't have a dedicated group who wants to play Battle League on the regular, the game could end up collecting dust on the shelf. Next Level Games has promised additional roster updates and other content releases after release, so hopefully the game grows into a more robust experience after a few months.
Rating: 3 out of 5