Super Mario Hooligans
It’s strange that soccer, the darling of the international sports scene, suffers from an equally popular reputation for boredom and violence. What kind of world do we live in, where thousands of people can riot over such a slow, low-scoring event? In America, if we aren’t making fun of our much-neglected professional soccer leagues, we’re hearing how some other country explodes into violent mayhem over a 1-0 barn-burner.
[image1]In a land where soccer is still underplayed and misunderstood, Nintendo is returning to the field with its attention-deficit take on soccer - the goals, the hits, and the Italians.
Mario Strikers: Charged is the latest installment in a series that is more X-treme than ten headbutting Zidanes, nay, twenty headbutting Zidanes. It’s suiting up to try and be the next big Wii multiplayer game, and unless you have a Game Boy full of Pokeymans to show me, it is the first major Wii title with online play.
Charged really captures all the fun of a real soccer game: it’s easy to jump in and start beating on some people, but the actual, delicate sport feels lost in an ocean of unsportsmanlike conduct.
Like its Gamecube predecessor, Charged is all about holding the B button to make supercharged shots. Normal shots and even one-timers are highly unlikely against the spot-on goalie A.I., so players have to clear some space and sneak in a charged shot. Toss in a few shells, bomb drops and giant plumbers, and Charged becomes an incomprehensible riot. A hilarious riot, but an incomprehensible riot nonetheless.
When Mario and the other heroes charge up, they launch into the sky for a Dragon Ball Z-styled ‘Megastrike’ shot, kicking four to six goals at a time. It’s a step beyond the original game’s two-pointers, but a defending player can knock the shots away in a lightning-fast shooting gallery minigame. The Megastrike cut scene is so involved that many players have disabled the feature, but without it the game disintegrates into a mediocre Gamecube outing.
[image2]Though the game remains critically flawed, low lag and a solid interface make the multiplayer an entertaining diversion. Mii-based Friend Codes and a very speedy Quick Match feature make game setup fly by, with support for two teams of four players. Every win, loss and goal gives you points on the online leaderboard, and the bragging rights change hands every two weeks when the records reset. It feels like the right amount of user-friendly, no-nonsense support for casual or competitive play.
The online play, of course, doesn’t change how the best part of the game is playing the bully, running around and knocking your opponents into the electrified walls. Two or three-man teams are often the best because you can switch characters and keep pressuring the ball carrier; full four-player teams have to slowly cover the whole field, and the game feels slower as your hustling player falls off-screen.
Charged amps up the art design two X-treme steps past Strikers; Mario and company have traded in their traditional jerseys for molded body armor, looking more like motocross racers. The characters have been stretched to their extremes, with Peach prancing like a pop queen and Shy Guys dropping their masks everywhere. It’s different, but it has a nice edge over the typical Nintendo diabetic cutesiness. Little details in the graphics, like frost or soot all over booby-trapped players, and some dynamic camerawork help seal the arena-style atmosphere of the game.
A full cast of supporting characters and arenas add lots of much-needed choice to the experience. Familiar faces like Hammer Brothers and Shyguys have their own slick special moves, and though you’ll probably stick with the same three or four favorites, they have just as much character as the team captains. Stages like the volcano field and the tornado field present significant obstacles for reckless players, though they aren’t too remarkable amidst the clutter of all the characters and items on the field.
[image3]The soundtrack is as funky as ever, I could leave the Channel menu open all day. You’ll have to be your own announcer, the game is a little lonely without anyone yelling GOOOOAL.
Exploration, unlockable characters, fields and trophies beg you to toil through the single-player campaign; you will eventually reach a point where the computer tackles your every shooter, at which point you will want to smack someone. Fortunately this is Mario Strikers, so you can hop online and knock someone off a cliff. Is Charged so deep that you will play it for months? Probably not, but for a Wii game that isn’t Wii Sports, there is lots of that catchy simplicity and character to latch on to.
There’s an old saying, “I went to a boxing match and a soccer game broke out.” Mario Strikers Charged is enjoyable on a lark, but it’s a tiny baby step just to advance a single feature of the Wii. So while we’ve got new online play; the button-based controls feel outdated and unsatisfying on the Wiimote. But what the hell, if you’ve got the old hankering for a football or a fight, grab a pub-sized ale, rent Charged and dig those cleats into the mud.