For all the success that the Wii has enjoyed to date, for all the press and internet fanfare that it has generated, for all its dominance of hardware sales charts, the Wii has really done little to sustain player interest. Outside of short, explorative stabs at the novelty of motion controls and the handful of GameCube ports that have found their way over, there just hasn’t been a lot on the platform to get excited about so far this year. So we wait, with baited breath for each successive Nintendo release, assuring ourselves that surely this one is going to be the one worth writing home about.
There’s no use beating around the bush; Mario Strikers Charged is not the game you’ve been looking forward to. A sequel to the moderately successful Super Mario Strikers on the GameCube, Mario Strikers Charged follows the Mario sports mantra to the letter: take a sport, strip it of all the unnecessary rules and gameplay elements, add some ridiculous super moves and power-ups, and wait for the money to flow in. For a lot of sports, this formula works exceedingly well. Games like Mario Tennis and Mario Golf benefit quite a bit from this approach and have enjoyed considerable success. And while it is indeed possible to develop an arcade soccer game (look no further than Next Level Games’ own Sega Soccer Slam on the GameCube); it requires a more nuanced approach to the game in order to keep things from getting out of control.
Sadly, “out of control” is probably the most apt description one can think of to describe Mario Strikers‘ gameplay. Players control teams of four players, with one perennial Nintendo star as the Captain, and three sidekicks of various shapes and sizes. True to the formula for dumbed-down sports games, each character is essentially weak and fast, strong and slow, or in the middle. In this respect it feels almost like that Virtual Console favorite, Ice Hockey. Captains are capable of delivering brutal Megastrikes which can score as many as six goals at once, and multiplayer games frequently devolve into a test to see who can get the most Megastrikes off without being disrupted by the other team.
And boy are there ample ways to disrupt shots. There are all manner of things that can separate a dribble player from the ball. There are scads of items that can be picked up by shooting power shots – including various colored shells, Chain Chomps, Bob-ombs, Bananas, mushrooms, and so on. Captains each also have their own individual power-ups that are nearly impossible to escape or counter, the most memorable (or notorious) being Diddy Kong’s tractor beam, which sucks an opposing player off of the pitch completely. And as if that didn’t make for enough chaos to begin with, most stages have ridiculous game-interrupting elements like electric currents running through the ground, giant balls of magma taking up a quarter of the field, or flying tractors careening across the grass.
This might seem like a fun spin on the sport in abstract, but playing against the game’s unforgiving AI in a setting as unpredictable as the one presented in Mario Strikers is a recipe for lost tempers and broken controllers. While the AI is apt to roll over on the Easy difficulty setting, getting through even the second of the game’s cup challenges requires a good deal of patience and a lot of practice. The Challenges the game offers also prove to exceedingly frustrating, as you only get to play three or four before the difficulty gets out of control.
The game’s saving grace is the fact that it’s the first to make use of the Wii’s understated online multiplayer capabilities. And believe me, if you want to enjoy this game, you’re going to need to play it with a friend. Whether on the couch with you or across the country, Strikers becomes much more palatable when you’re playing against somebody you know. More competitive folks will likely be frustrated by the seeming randomness of the scoring, but those just looking for an easy game to get into without a lot of depth will have a lot of fun with what the game brings together.
I imagine there is little I can say or do that would dissuade game-starved fans from picking up this latest Wii release from Nintendo. It’s the first solid title in a while and the first to make use of the online multiplayer. So I can’t say I blame them. But for everybody else, I can’t recommend this game in full confidence. The single player experience is shallow and frustrating, and the novelty of the multiplayer is fleeting. Mario Strikers Charged would make a terrific rental for the weekend, but it’s just not worth the full purchase price.