A lot of people take soccer very seriously, so it’s perhaps not surprising that most gaming translations of the beautiful game can often come across as somewhat po-faced. FIFA and Pro Evolution are the titles which dominate the market of course, but there’s also titles such as Football Manager – and as enjoyable as those games are, they sometimes feel like they can suck the fun out of the game. Soccer is a national sport in many countries of course, and while it’s all well and good – and perfectly noble – to create painstaking recreations of the game and its rules, often times the pure joy which draws people into the game to start with can be lost in translation.
Not all soccer-based games take this approach, however; FIFA Street aimed for a more accessible gateway to the wildly popular sport, while of course back in the day many a gamer sunk hours into Bitmap Brothers’ Sensible World of Soccer. There’s plenty of room for all-comers with a new taken on the sport then, and while it doesn’t exactly break any new ground, Mario Strikers Charged is one of the most entertaining takes on the game to do date. Created by Vancouver-based developer Next Level Studios, Charged is a wonderfully fun update to Mario’s original Gamecube football outing, and while it doesn’t exactly break new ground, it does provide plenty of laughs and fiendishly addictive mechanics that will keep you coming back to it, whether you’re a fan of soccer or not.
Mario sports games have always operated outside of the norm – prioritizing fun and whimsy over balanced and technical gameplay. Whether they’re playing tennis, baseball or soccer, Mario and his pals always bring the right intensity to deliver a hectic and exhilarating experience; Mario Strikers Charged is no different.
Mario Strikers Charged is the Wii sequel to the GameCube’s Mario Strikers. It features Mario’s crew kicking, passing and slide-tackling their way through interactive stadiums and hazardous items, all for a chance at soccer glory.
Mario Strikers is absolutely ridiculous, but in the best way possible. There are no penalties, no cards and no rules. Anything is permissible so long as you have more goals than the other team in the end. Mario Strikers is definitely not a game for people looking for a realistic soccer experience; this is game for people who would rather run around slamming their opponents into electric fences and firing turtle shells at the goalie than launch a proper 3-4-3 offensive.
After choosing your mode and character – each of whom has a different special move and slightly different stats – you’re plunged into the game, with the objective of scoring a certain amount of goals before your opponent does. Matches are fast and frantic, but most of all they’re fun, and you’ll find yourself grinning from ear to ear as a well-placed red shell wipes out an opposing player and gives you the opportunity to steal the ball from them.
Each time you pass the ball to a team member, its charge level grows. A fully charged white ball can be shot with more force, and is harder to block; smart players will quickly learn to pass often, and take down opponents who are trying to charge their ball. This doesn’t mean that it’s wise to tackle your opponents randomly, though. Tackling a player who doesn’t have the ball will give the other team an item; and items are extremely useful. Red shells can take out an entire line, and a speed-boosting mushroom can give you just enough space to take a shot. Despite the fact that these items can make a dramatic impact on the final score of a match, it’s just far too tempting to slam everyone in your path into the electric fence – which is what the AI does most of the time anyway. This means that for the majority of the match, you’ll have to not only dodge your opponents, but a plethora of destructive items.
At any given moment, bob-ombs could be dropping from the sky and a giant Chomp could be tearing through the field – either way, Monty Mole will be claiming his place as the cheapest defensive lineman of all time, by tackling your player from ten feet away.
In the wrong developer’s hands, this could all be insanely frustrating – and occasionally it is – but it’s this pervasively hectic atmosphere that makes this game such a blast to play. Not only does it make Mario Strikers Charged incredibly fun, but it also ensures that matches are tense, as the right item or a well-timed super shot can turn the tide in seconds.
In the previous Strikers game, super shots only gave you two goals. In Mario Strikers Charged, super shots (now called mega strikes) are revamped as a mini-game of sorts, taking advantage of the Wii’s motion controls. Captains can charge their mega strikes to shoot between three and six balls at either a slow, medium or fast speed. The opposing team then takes control of the goalie, and must use the Wiimote’s reticule to block shots as they come at the screen. Obviously, the better timed the shot, the harder it is to block the mega strike. It’s not uncommon to get three, four or even all six goals on a mega strike, especially if your opponent doesn’t have particularly fast reflexes. These shots can definitely be the deciding factor in match; thankfully, they take a long time to charge up, so they can usually be interrupted unless your opponent has taken out several members of your team with the aforementioned items.
The best feature of Strikers Charged is the multiplayer. Online play works pretty well for the most part with very little lag, partly because you can only play against players in your own region. You do need friend codes to play with a specific person, but you can also play against random opponents to advance your rank. For the most part, the rankings are a novelty. The game tries to match you up against players within a few ranks of you, but it doesn’t always work out that way. You gain points by winning matches which are dependent on how many goals you scored and let up. The server keeps track of these points and lists the “striker of the day”, highlighting who was the top dog for that day.
Up to four players can compete in local multiplayer too, with a variety of adjustable gameplay options such as stronger tackles, a permanent white ball, and constant item drops. These options can be unlocked by playing the game’s Challenge Mode, which asks you to complete matches with special win conditions, or where the odds are heavily stacked against you. Some of the challenges can be pretty difficult, and provide a fun alternative to the Tournament and Versus Modes.
Tournament Mode can also be played with friends, which is a nice touch. What’s even better, is that players can join in at the start of any match, so you could quite easily play the first few rounds of a tournament solo, and have a friend join in when the matches become harder. Having a friend or two on your team can really make a difference in the tournament – especially so in the “extreme” tournament, which is much more challenging than the standard fare.
Visually, the game is just as colorful as you would expect from a Mario title and the animations are wonderful. After each goal you’ll get a short of clip of the scoring player performing a victory run and a brief replay of the scoring shot, and the game does a good job of choosing camera angles which maximize the dramatic impact. The personality of each and every character shines through in their movements, and while the technical limitations of the hardware means that the game is never stunning to look at, it’s entertaining to watch matches as a spectator. It’s a game with plenty of charisma, and don’t be surprised if people watching you playing will find themselves itching to have a go.
The sound work is also good, with a series of catchy guitar tunes that interpret familiar Mario tunes as toe-tapping funk rock, and well-crafted effects – as well as the usual exclamations from characters that we’ve come to expect from a Nintendo franchise. While the music on the character select screen can get annoying, overall the selection of tunes on offer is varied and catchy, though you hear the same tracks so often that they can rapidly become over-familiar.
Mario Strikers Charged is pure chaotic fun. It’s not so much about soccer as it is about aggressively eliminating your opponents (sometimes knocking them clear off the field) so you can take a clean shot. Everything about this game is gratuitous – from the captains free-falling into the stadiums from hundreds of feet in the air to start to match, to the Kremlin goalies punching or kicking you in the face if you get too close with the ball, to the outrageous mega strikes that have captains firing goals at the net with whips and (if you’re Wario,) powerful farts. The matches can be imbalanced due to the items, and the AI is extremely cheap at max difficulty, but the game is so fun to play, both alone and with friends that it’s not hard to overlook these small blemishes on an otherwise great Mario sports experience.