This article was originally published at Aussie-Nintendo.com
The Wii has definitely had a spotty release schedule, especially with the apparent uncertainty Australian Wii owners are experiencing with regard to the big three (Mario, Metroid, Smash Bros.) arriving on our shores this year. However the release of the Mario Strikers Charged: Football has to alleviate the game drought for great many Wii owners, especially those who enjoyed Mario Smash Football on the GameCube. That and the fact that this is the first online Wii game for PAL regions! For those who loved Mario Smash Football, stop reading and go and buy this game right away, you don’t need any reassurance. This game certainly delivers what fans of the original and arcade soccer fans in general want. But if you are unfamiliar with the previous game or just unsure if this one is for you then read on!
Mario Strikers Charged: Football is a title developed by Next Level Games in partnership with Nintendo and is best described as “Arcade-Style Soccer”. Unlike other Mario Sports games though, this takes a much grittier and violent tone. There is no friendly hit of tennis or golf, or even a happy game of baseball with all those piantas. This is football and your players will be electrocuted, blown up, blown away, hit by cows, run over by giant eggs and vaporised by lasers before and after all that, they’ll probably lose by ten goals. So if you like your soccer realistic, this probably isn’t for you.
As a big fan of the original game I was probably one of many to be sceptical to whether Next Level could deliver the same fun gameplay from the original with different controls. And upon first picking this up I could be forgiven for initially thinking I was right. However upon playing through the detailed tutorial and playing through a quick exhibition match I found myself winning matches and having fun. Mario Strikers certainly won’t find itself included among Nintendo’s pick-up-and-play lifestyle games but the Wii controls are smooth, responsive and definitely an improvement over the gamepad. Once fans of the original have mastered both the basic and advanced skills they will notice that the controls are essentially similar to the original with a few motion and pointing extras that work just as well. Newcomers shouldn’t fear either, the original was extremely playable and if you allow yourself about thirty minutes to learn the basics in Charged, you will likely feel the same way.
This game does require a nunchuck attachment to play and if you only have one remote or nunchuck, this game is the perfect reason to get one more of each for multiplayer. The analogue stick is used for moving you player, ‘A’ will pass the ball and the ‘B’ trigger is pressed (and held to charge) for shooting at the goal. The ‘C’ button fires items and ‘Z’ performs lobs and other moves in conjunction with other buttons. Not surprisingly, flicking the remote will allow bumps and while this may give you wrist cramp in extended play, it works really well. The ‘D-pad’ is also used to steal the ball which is preferred in many situations as bumping can give your opponents some nasty items. If a super-strike is performed against you the game gives you control of the goalies hand using the point function and you have to point and click to stop as many balls as you can. Trying to explain how all these things works together would be difficult so allow me to cheat by assuring everyone that remembering and mastering all of the above will result in a lot of fun.
The original title played great but felt rushed due to a lack of variety in play modes, characters and stadiums. These issues have all been addressed in Charged and with excellent results. The stadiums now all have different characteristics that affect gameplay including the return of electrified boundaries but also storms, lightning, lasers and sometimes something as simple as a lot of sand. The character roster has now expanded with new characters including Bowser and Diddy Kong. Along with this, the sidekicks are now far more varied, not being the one-trick-pony’s of the last game. Each team captain has varying talents and their own special moves and all the side kicks do too. Bowser is big and strong but slow and his fire-blast will remove opposition allowing time for a super strike. Mario and Luigi are predictably all-rounders and can both grow big and stomp enemies in their path. Dry Bones is fast and can avoid enemies by breaking up and reassembling elsewhere and Birdo will turn the soccer ball into a giant egg before sending it yoking through the goals. This is but a sample of the variety involved and it has expanded both the strategy and the sheer random nature of gameplay with great results.
The play modes have all expanded and new unlockables are available including three bonus characters. The main cup mode has been extended with flashier introductions, after game reports and unlike the original the cups aren’t made harder by merely increasing the amount of matches. There is a new challenge mode which has you completing some of the most difficult scenarios you could encounter for each character. One mode has you down by five goals as Yoshi with just over a minute to make it up and win. At first it sounds hard but I finally ended up completing it scoring eight goals in less than a minute and still winning by only one goal! There is also the tutorial, an exhibition mode and the most enticing of all: online with the Nintendo WiFi connection!
The WiFi connection was another feature that I was initially sceptical of and this was not helped with the revelation that the much reviled friend code system would be included on Wii games. While my opinion on friend codes has not changed (I still think they suck) they don’t get in the way on this like in so many DS games. Friend Codes function mostly to let you know which of your friends are online and to organise custom matches. Once you have put in a friend code, playing is easy but it is a shame that the game is limited for organising a clan system or allowing a group of friends to set up their own tournament with displayed rewards and other features.
Mario Strikers Charged: Football is best played online in ranked mode. Ranked mode is split into seasons at the end of which, all scores are reset and a new person has a chance to be daily point leader or overall winner. These are played in a ‘best of three’ format which might sound long and unfair but are actually the opposite. Making three games actually ensures you will get decent play time and solves the issues involved with the randomisation of playing fields and game events. If for some reason you drop the ball in the first match and find yourself losing by six goals, you still have a chance to make it up in the second. Even if you end up playing all three matches, you will still only have played for a little over ten minutes. And if you end up losing the series you still get points for individual games won and goals scored. The ranked system unfortunately only has one game mode. It would have been nice to get a larger variety of ranked modes with different rules such as ‘no items’ or perhaps one with a set series of fields. Still the option to do this with friends is there and it is great that ranked can also be played co-operatively with a guest at home. The online mode is far from perfect but it is still one of the best Nintendo has given gamers so far and generally connects and runs smoothly.
Though they don’t merit as much attention for a game like this, the visuals and audio in this game are quite impressive, the visuals if only because they improve a lot on the original. The music is the stand out here with some excellent rock and funk tunes played throughout. The sound effects are penetrating but never intrusive and all the characters feature some entertaining voice work. The visuals trump what has mostly been seen on Wii so far and certainly make the original look old but they are still nothing above what the GameCube can do. The biggest improvement is in the overall presentation and the far more detailed environments and the music just rocks!
The worst thing about Mario Strikers Charged: Football is its unnecessarily awkward title. The game is challenging, has a variety of modes of play, and sports some pleasing though never amazing visuals and great sound effects. The gameplay is what really stands out here as it uses the Wii controls excellently although most will require a small learning curve before they can play comfortably. The online play though not perfect is a welcome addition and the friend code system hasn’t strangled the fun out of it like with many DS titles. As I said before, fans of the original should have stopped reading and bought this and Wii owners who haven’t played the original should definitely consider purchasing this. This is the first high quality title the Wii has had for quite a few months and we get it before the yanks too!