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Mario Strikers: Battle League Football

Impressions: Mario Strikers: Battle League Football is so technical that it lends itself to esports

We've played a bunch of offline 1v1 matches and you can do similarly online with the just-released demo over the weekend. Easy to learn, will take a lot to master...

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We love Mario sports games here at Gamereactor, but while the Japanese Tennis and Golf series by Camelot have been getting their regular iterations, it had been too long since we enjoyed the completely different approach by Canadian Next Level Games. It's not that they don't know how to make football games in Japan, it's just that it's been no less than 15 years since we got the second entry on the Wii, and also that the Western team, now part of Nintendo, really nailed a wilder, bolder, and perhaps more mature style for Mario Strikers.

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The "wilder and bolder" part is obvious based on how this is far from realistic football. We're talking about 5v5 fenced, futuristic street football arenas in which pushing your rival aside to steal the ball won't get you a red card. More so, it's all covered with fire, lightning, and a wide range of the super-powers, items, and shenanigans you expect from Mario Kart and Smash Bros. Now, with some hero/mecha suits added to the mix.

So you're saying that the more physical take and the American comic style make it more "mature" than, say, a realistic Mario Golf match with all the accuracy and physics it implies? No. What I mean in terms of maturity, is that other than the façade, it also is a way more hardcore experience in terms of gameplay and the skills required to win. And after playing Mario Strikers: Battle League Football for a full hour, it became very clear to me that pros will love to master it just to show off.

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Because for some situations, you can find more moves, resources and techniques here than in say FIFA or eFootball, and as the game pace is much higher and gameplay more chaotic, it almost feels like a fighting game at times. Bit overwhelming even, but yeah, only one hour in myself.

Mario Strikers: Battle League Football

In previous iterations it was basically about passing fast and accurately, charging the super shots, and positioning teammates properly, if it was multiplayer. Now we're talking about feints, stamina, charge-cancelling, tackle-cancelling, button-release-nailing, stats-based roleplaying, team-specific items, and even teammates-pushing.

As such, same as with realistic football games, completing the different tutorials is a must this time around, even if you come from previous Mario Strikers (or more so, as you'll think you know, but you know nothing, Snow Pokey). Also, remember how in those first two entries you had a main super shot-enabled captain and then three average minions per team? Well, now the 5v5 teams consist of four main player-controlled characters from the Super Mario universe plus your typical AI-controlled bully goalkeeper.

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So, can't I start the same character 2-4 times in my team? Well, following the Mushroom Kingdom canonical rules, you can with both Yoshi and Toad, as they're the ones that traditionally had several specimens/instances of the same characters, but the others you have to think carefully. Between teams they can be duplicated of course, as after all each team teleport through a portal. Believe it or not, it makes sense.

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With the way more varied teams the aforementioned stats come into play: not only do you have to learn the strengths and weaknesses of each and every one of your team members (strength, speed, shot, pass, technique, 1-25 points each), but also the better customisation items and costumes (head, torso, arms, legs). Do these affect much? Well, as much as, for example, being able to actually steal the ball from a bulky character, or being able to score a 2-goal Hyper Strike even if you don't nail the preceding QTE. Thank god, then, that the five different stages are just beautiful backgrounds, a half for each team.

And how does it play? Incredibly technical and tactical. As much as this looks arcadey, don't expect constant Hyper Strikes every now and then, as the strategic risk/reward balance means it gets really tricky to find the seconds needed to execute it: perhaps it's 'easier' to time your passes right to score standard goals. And it is satisfying, of course, as it's clear already how much work NLG has put into the different systems and mechanics for this to feel smooth and great.

Add to this the production values and the fantastic character models we expect from the Luigi's Mansion 3 studio, with much more detail and funny movie-like animations than the other Mario sport games, and it will also be a treat to the eyes, a very different, stylish Mario approach, finally in HD.

Mario Strikers: Battle League Football

We played offline for a full hour, and it turns out that Mario Strikers: Battle League Football is getting its own free demo for Nintendo Switch Online players to train online next weekend. Both will miss the "League" part of the game, a club-based system that aims to make this last for several seasons, as well as the different Cups one can complete offline. With all that we'll come back with a review before the game launches exclusively on the Switch on June 10, but if it debuts with a nice balance, and if Nintendo finally bets high on competition, this could turn into their very first proper esport.

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