Mario Strikers Charged
Developer: Next Level Games
Release Date: 07/30/2007
Super Mario Strikers, released for the Gamecube in 2005, was a very intriguing game. However, many shortcomings prevented it from being more than a mildly entertaining multiplayer experience. The single-player mode was underwhelming, and outside of playing against a friend, not much could have kept you interested into this game. When Mario Strikers Charged was announced at Leipzig in 2006, we were promised a superior sequel that would offer everything we would have wanted from the original: a good single-player experience, more characters, more customization and a full online multiplayer mode. Nintendo fans were literally overjoyed by the excitement of finally competing against total strangers on a home console, and anticipations started to run high for the upcoming title.
As the Wii’s second game offering an online multiplayer mode, a lot of things are expected from Mario Strikers Charged. The frantic and fun gameplay was already apparent in the original, but the rest of the game was sorely lacking extras. Is this a sequel that manages to overcome the original’s shortcomings? I will reassure you right away: it is a far better game than its predecessor, but is it a good game on its own? Let’s find out.
At the start of the game’s “Striker Cup” mode, you pick a captain as well as three sidekicks, and you then try to lead your team through the different tournaments before finally reaching the Striker Cup finale. Each cup has a qualifying round where you must meet each opposing teams a couple of times before in the hope of making it to the playoffs. The concept is similar enough to the first game, with the exception of the presentation, which has been completely redone for the better. After each game, you get a complete report on your stats; you can check the standing and even look at the other teams’ numbers to see if you are on your way to also grabbing the defensive or offensive awards for the tournament. All of this is fine enough on your first play-through, but once you placed first in every cup and unlocked everything, there are no real reasons to go back to this mode. Even when you are by yourself, competing online against real people is much more fun (more on that later). The only other single-player mode is one where you try to complete different challenges (such as winning without allowing goals), but chances are you won’t touch that one much either.
Story/Season Mode Rating: 3/10
Wow. They really cranked up the presentation on this one. Everything just screams with attitude, but not in that bad cheesy way that many games seemed to showcase in the mid 90’s. The graphics themselves are some of the best I have seen on the Wii, with every character looking slick and detailed. The stadiums are gorgeous, the many animations are fluid and the camera is amazingly effective. I have to mention the opening cinematic, which is worth watching at least once. I have never seen the Mushroom Kingdom citizens looking so good. The cutscenes before each mega-strike are also impressive, although repetitive. Everything in this game looks polished and lovingly crafted, from the menus to the stadium crowd. There is a lot of attention to details here; you can actually see the texture on the eggs when Birdo executes her charged shot. It looks like the real deal! These are truly spectacular graphics.
Graphics Rating: 8/10
The music generally fits the aggressive mood of the game, and the sound effects are perfect. The characters are actually kicking a metal ball here (which can’t be good for your toes), and the sound of metal resonating each time it hits something hard is very well done. The characters squeal to your delight each time they are checked and shocked into the electrified wall surrounding the arena, and the usual effects such as Bowser growling or Donkey Kong screaming like the crazy ape he is are top-notch. Even the sounds coming out of the remote’s built-in speaker are surprisingly good. Sure, it’s not 5.1 with DTS sounds, but it does a good job as an indicator of what’s going on during the game, with different cues for a missed shot or when you get a new item.
Sound Rating: 8/10
Great job once again. It’s good to see that developers are not trying to shove the remote waggling down our throat. Because of that, everything feels natural with one button for passing and one for shooting. Hitting people is the only action that requires a simple flick of the remote. The other actions are controlled by the nunchuk’s buttons, and the whole thing does a good job of emulating the first game’s controls, which gives this one a great pick-up-and-play feel. Of course, if you are going to play online, some training might be necessary, but the in-game tutorial does a great job of showing how to tackle effectively or use items. The mega strikes use the remote’s pointing ability for a minigame where you control the goalie’s hands, trying to block as much as 6 balls coming at you quite rapidly. The whole ordeal is fun and works flawlessly. As a whole, the controls are simple yet superbly effective. My only grip is that trying to hit your opponent sometimes doesn’t feel as precise as it should, but it’s a minor issue.
Control Rating: 9/10
This is a mixed bag, really; as a single-player experience, you will simply finish the Striker Cup and the challenges in order to unlock everything before calling it quit. It honestly gets tiring to play against the computer, especially at the highest difficulty level. The often-cheap A.I. can get on your nerves pretty quickly with its knack for scoring goals out of nowhere, dodging all your hits and blocking every pass. However, the game really shines as a multiplayer experience, and from that perspective only, it would deserve a full 10. The online mode features stats with leaders for the day as well as the season, and the standings reset after each week, meaning that you always have a chance to increase your ranking even if you played like a limbless monkey for the past couple of days. All of these features make you want to play just a few more games, just to see if you can get a couple more points on your profile. The games last 3 minutes each, so it’s pretty easy to think that you have enough time for one last game… then another, and another, and so on. As if this sweet package wasn’t enough, you get even more options when playing against someone you know, either online or offline. You can then choose the stadium, the length of the game as well as the possibility to change some rules. You will have many reasons to come back to this game, as long as you have an internet access or a friend handy.
Replayability Rating: 8/10
I am torn on this one. On one hand, because of the way you can assemble your team, there’s always a way to build a team to match every situation. It’s like Ice Hockey, where you picked a fat guy, a thin guy or an average guy, but with more choice. On the other hand, some of the sidekicks have skill shots that could be considered cheap while others are practically useless. This problem becomes even more apparent when playing online: nearly everybody I have encountered had a Hammer Bros. on his team because of its nearly unstoppable skill shot and powerful dodge, which consists of stunning everybody in the way with hammers, including the goalie, before tipping the ball into the goal. The same can be said about Birdo. The only occasion where I could stop her shot was by sacrificing a player to throw in front of the shot. Otherwise, it will always get past the goalies. As for captains, it’s the opposite. They all have the same mega strike, which makes everything balanced, but some of them have special items so weak and useless that picking your main character becomes an aesthetic choice more than anything else. Thankfully, the mega strikes can now be blocked, which greatly helps in making things fairer.
Despite all of these issues, the game is far from being broken. In fact, even the Hammer Bros. can be stopped when you know the correct tactic (just stay out of the way until the player is done throwing hammers around, then hit him while he’s charging his shot). It’s just that it makes the learning curve a tad bit harsher than what you would expect from a Mario sports game. You will need to spend a couple of hours learning and imitating your opponent’s strategies before grasping every trick in the book.
Balance Rating: 5/10
Games that fall in the “Mario Sports” genre are not known for being overly original. A lot of sequels are being made quickly with very simple changes. Thankfully, some stylized presentation and new gameplay elements manage to make this one different from the original Super Mario Strikers. A new set of rules as well as making soccer/football some sort of sci-fi competition distinguishes this game from every other FIFA titles coming out each year. It has been made before, but a lot of effort has been deployed to make Mario Strikers Charged clearly different from its predecessor.
Originality Rating: 6/10
That’s the only game I have been playing since it came out, which is always a good sign. Otherwise, you can also see signs of addiction on many people online. I have looked at the leaderboard Friday (the game came out last Monday) and some people have found the time to play over 500 games. I am willing to bet that someone will have played a thousand games before the end of the week-end. The multiplayer mode seems to even pull in people who used to loathe online games (like me) because it takes away what casual gamers hate in the usual experience: poor sportsmanship, abusers and unnecessary trash talking. Sure, it’s not something you’ll think about days and nights like Pokémon, but as soon as you will have a couple of minutes to yourself, another game of Mario Strikers Charged will look like an appealing option. It’s a shame the same cannot be said about the single-player mode.
Addictiveness Rating: 7/10
As a Mario sports game, it’s already very appealing to a certain group of people, namely the Nintendo maniacs that usually buy mostly anything that has the name “Mario” on it. I can’t blame them really, because the games are usually of the highest quality, even when they get repetitive like the Mario Party series. I could also see soccer/football fans giving it a chance because it’s a very fun take on the sport. People might not go out and make it an impulsive buy, but most people I know who were shown the game were interested and intrigued, and those who tried it with me thought it was a perfect party game. But let’s be serious for a moment: the Mario name by itself sells game, so the rest is simply frosting on the cake for many people who would have bought it anyway, and it might even go out and reach jocks who think Nintendo’s sports game are too kid-oriented because of the style and attitude oozing from this game. All right, so it’s Birdo and Princess Daisy with an attitude, but the game really has a level of roughness rarely witnessed in a Mario title. You know the kids are going to love it.
Appeal Factor Rating: 7/10
One of my biggest problems with the Gamecube game was the small number of characters, and the subsequent lack of team customization. This time around, you can choose every sidekick on your team independently, and the number of captains has also expanded. There are other characters that were excluded that I would have liked to see, most of which had already made the cut for Mario Superstar Baseball (a goomba can handle a baseball bat but cannot kick?) but the selection is already a huge improvement over the last version. The number of modes is more or less the same as in the first game, but the single-player mode is already much more fleshed out. However, it would still be nice to have a reason to come back to the single-player mode once everything is unlocked. I don’t know if a pseudo season mode with a schedule and stats could work in a Mario sports game, but I think it could be tried. Yes, Mario sports games are entertaining and as usual, there’s a lot of fun to be had – and the replay value might be the greatest yet for such a game, thanks to the online mode – but the single-player mode has always been the weakness of Nintendo’s sports outings, with the possible exception of the Mario Golf games. Despite this minor issue, Mario Strikers Charged remains fun, especially when you have some human competition to go against. Finally, I just want to give a big thumb up to the presentation as a whole. The sci-fi feel makes for a different experience and it is well-implemented. The intro videos, the cutscenes and the style of everything from the menus to the stadiums is extremely polished and pleasant.
Miscellaneous Rating: 6/10
Story/Season Mode: 3/10
Average Rating: 6.7
Final Score: 6.5 (Fair)
Short Attention Span Summary
Nintendo did not lie: they made sure that everything that was good about the first game was back, and at the same time, they successfully took care of the shortcomings of the original. It is not a perfect game, and the single-player mode is still an issue despite being improved, but the multiplayer mode, both online and offline, is enough to make this one an easy recommendation for the usual fans of Nintendo’s sports games. If you ever liked any of these games, such as Mario Tennis or Mario Golf, you should give this one a try because it takes the usual eccentric take on the sport and pushes the envelope further by re-envisioning it as something completely different. If you don’t have a Wi-Fi connection or a USB adaptor, then I hope you have some friends around. If you are going to be playing this game by yourself all the time, you will probably get bored quickly. Otherwise, give it a try just to make sure you like Nintendo’s vision of soccer, and if you do, then you will get a lot of mileage out of this one.