Mario Strikers: Battle League is too complicated for casual players
Inverse Score: 7/10
After scoring a lucky goal in Mario Strikers: Battle League, I found myself facing a tough choice.
Ahead by one point, I decided to run out the clock by hoarding the ball on my side of the field instead of going for another goal. The cheapness of the strategy left a bad taste in my mouth, rendering the victory bittersweet.
Mario Strikers: Battle League is the latest entry in Nintendo’s soccer series, focusing on 5v5 matches starring your favorite characters from the Mushroom Kingdom, including Mario, Wario, Donkey Kong, Yoshi, and Toad. Like every other Mario sports game, realism is thrown out the window in favor of ridiculous gameplay. The final product is mostly fun, but overcomplicated systems feel destined to frustrate casual players. Does that make this only for Mario and soccer diehards?
Deep gameplay with a major caveat
Battle League’s complexity is immediately palpable. An intimidating number of tutorials are thrown at you from the outset. These mechanics add complexity and depth, but take a long time to master. Newcomers will likely find this offputting. Even experienced Strikers might struggle to grasp and juggle all the techniques this game has to offer.
When you combine the various methods of passing, moving, dodging, tackling, shooting, and dashing with character stats and upgrades — along with Hyper Strikes and items — things get out of hand quickly. For seasoned players looking to spend plenty of time with Battle League, the nuance may be welcome, but this depth could easily overwhelm and alienate those with more casual curiosity.
Battle League also includes a currency system that allows you to buy various pieces of equipment for each character, impacting power, speed, technique, and other factors. This certainly adds to the replay value, incentivizing you to experiment with different builds and teams in a way that makes for one of the most satisfying elements of the game. Decking Wario out in what looks like a suit of armor is not only funny but it serves a meaningful gameplay function.
Unfortunately, the general gameplay loop isn’t as consistently satisfying. The basic flow of passing and shooting on the field feels exhilarating. You might be chasing after the ball only for your opponent to dodge, close in on your goal, and take the shot. Your heart might skip a beat before it’s blocked by your goalie, but the thrill is undermined by how difficult it is to actually earn a point yourself.
To make matters worse, the player’s goalie is always worse than the opposing goalkeeper, making for a frustratingly disproportionate experience. If you simply kick the ball towards the goal, the AI-controlled opponent’s goalie will block almost 100 percent of the time. So you have to pull off expert plays like Hyper Strike finishing moves just to score. But these complex maneuvers are worth two points, so their impact can significantly turn the tide of a match.
There are other strategies you can use to score, like putting a teammate on either side of the goal, luring the goalie to the far portion of the net, then passing it to the player on the opposite side. But executing this tactic is far easier said than done.
Simply put, it is too difficult to score in Battle League.
A handful of issues with hit detection and collision also hamper the fun. For instance, on more than one occasion, I’d tackle right in front of an opponent’s shot to block, but the ball would clip through my character and go straight into the net instead. This only amplifies the discouraging feeling that the odds are stacked against you.
Battle League’s aesthetics — both sonic and visual — are excellent. The soundtrack is more hardcore than you’d expect from a game like this, nearly venturing into metal territory with some of its tracks. I found myself humming some of the songs as I played or navigated the menus. The music didn’t have to hit this hard, but I’m glad it does.
The graphics are stunning. Even basic character models and environmental assets are gorgeous, and the game looks even more impressive during a Hyper Strike move. This turns the art style on its head, giving characters a thick black outline and a cel-shaded style that makes it look like a comic book. I almost wish the entire game looked like this — it gives the art much more of a unique edge.
Animations have a similar degree of polish and charm, with each character moving in a distinct way. Wario tends to waddle while Rosalina hovers around. Luigi runs faster and feels more fluid. Mario has a tighter center of gravity. Cutscenes that play after scoring a goal are each designed with specific characters in mind: Yoshi balances on top of a soccer ball and does a few flips before striking a victory pose, while Wario slaps his own butt and makes it rain money when he wins (which is just as funny as you’d expect).
Mario Strikers: Battle League is a good soccer game. Its potential greatness is marred by its complexity. The soundtrack and art style offer enough to tempt gamers into trying it out, and if they can grok many nuanced gameplay systems, then this soccer game might have legs. Still, issues with scoring and collision detection hold this latest Mario sports game from being a champion.
Mario Strikers: Battle League launches on June 10, 2022, exclusively for Nintendo Switch.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.