Just when you thought Mario sports titles have been played out, along comes Super Mario Strikers. Yes, it’s a soccer game. Sure, Nintendo could have made a lacrosse, rugby, or curling game and it would be more familiar to the American audience, but soccer has a certain appeal. It’s really easy to simplify, throw in a few Nintendo characters, and push out the door. Okay, so maybe that’s being a little harsh, but Super Mario Strikers‘ low production values will make you wonder if the company’s namesake is just being milked.
Unless you were able to scam a doctor’s note and sit out of gym class through all four years of high school, you probably know the basics of soccer. Kick a ball into a net, right? This is the approach Nintendo takes, eliminating all those messy, complicated rules that so many sports seem to have. There are no fouls in Super Mario Strikers; instead, your opponents are given power ups if you, say, slide tackle from behind. There aren’t any boring waits for a throw-in when the ball goes out of bounds; instead, there’s an electrified wall around each stadium. Don’t know the technical details of a soccer game? Like the rest of America, you don’t need to!
This is probably why the word soccer (or football, for everyone in the rest of the world) isn’t in the title. This isn’t a game about soccer so much as a game about trying to kick a ball into a net while throwing banana peels, shells, and chain chomps around. The funny thing is, it actually works. Sure, you have every right to be skeptical; Mario playing soccer sounds about as appealing as a rusty nail Flurry from Dairy Queen. But it’s actually pretty fun, though more so with some friends than by your lonesome.
If you’re unfortunate enough not to have some friends, you should probably stop reading this right now and find a better hobby. But if you’re still determined to play Super Mario Strikers, you’ll probably enjoy it for about an hour and then never touch it again. That’s because the single player tournament mode is woefully short, especially at lower difficulty levels, and there’s only really one thing to unlock. It goes something like this: pick one of eight team captains (you know, Mario, Luigi, Yoshi, Donkey Kong), and one of four support characters. Along with the generic goalkeeper that everyone gets, that’s your team of five.
There are some differences between the characters, but all you’ll really notice is their speed. So you have a mostly meaningless choice of a team, and then a short run through a couple of tournaments until you face Bowser’s super team. Defeat them, and you can use them — that’s the one thing you can unlock — and that’s pretty much it. You can ramp up the difficulty, but the only way the game makes it harder is by making the action so fast and cluttered that you don’t know what’s going on, so you feel cheesed if you lose.
Invite three friends over, and it’s a whole different story. You can play with any combination of players on either side, so go cooperative or make one unlucky loser play all by him or herself with an A.I. team while the other three of you gang up. Once you have some real, live people to play with, the game turns into something like Mario Kart with a soccer ball. Frequent fouls provide tons of power ups for all kinds of mayhem; throw blue shells to freeze the opposing team captain, or use the almighty chain chomp, which chases down every one of your enemies. Team captains can throw powerful super shots that give two points if they score, and things get frantic as defenders scramble to take out the striker as they try to line up the shot. Every now and then Bowser even drops into play, literally tilting the grounds and unleashing fiery wrath upon anyone dumb enough to get too close. Put all of this together, add beverages of your choice, and you have one awesome party game.
But in the midst of all the multiplayer goodness, the boogeyman of low production values rears its ugly head. Sure, the graphics are bright and colorful, but there’s just not much to them. The textures of the stadiums and the pitch (that’s the proper term for what we Americans would call the field, contrary to what the baseball movie Fever Pitch, which is based on a book about soccer by the same name, would have you believe) leave a lot to be desired. While all of the character modeling is fluid there’s some slowdown here and there, most notably with Bowser’s super team. It’s hard to believe that a console that could do Metroid Prime with zero visual flaws three years ago can’t do Super Mario Strikers. As far as audio goes, while the crowd effects are good, everything else is forgettable except for the characters’ intro phrases, which you’ll wish you could forget.
It might seem like Super Mario Strikers doesn’t have much going for it, but that’s not really the case. The problem is that it’s simply not worth the $50 going price for a new game. With no real depth, like a true league mode with player stats, trades, and so on, it almost feels like it should be a mini game inside the next, inevitable Mario Party. At a bargain price it would be a steal, so you’re best off waiting a few months until the price comes down — that is, if you can find a few friends to play with, as there’s not much to be said of this as a solo game. Nintendo has a good formula here, but unfortunately the execution leaves something to be desired.