Striking, but not super.
After all the sports games Mario has been involved in, from Mario Power Tennis
to NBA Street V3
, you'd figure he would have lost some weight and toned up that stomach
. Considering how often his girlfriend gets kidnapped, it only makes sense that he'd work out a little. Don't-a kick sand inna my face!
At the very least, you know he's got marathon lungs, especially after Super Mario Strikers' nonstop madness from the minute you fire it up until the minute you shut it down. Unfortunately, a minute isn't very long, and for all its zany hijinks this soccer game has the lasting appeal of a kick to the groin.
Despite what the game box and in-game menus say, you really only get two modes: Exhibition and a tournament style Cup mode, with each progressive Cup requiring more matches to win. Those two smushed together yield the ability to make your own Tournaments, but all in all result in a very lean shell encasing a fun, juicy core.
Strikers' simple pick up and play mechanics let anyone jump right in, get competitive and get hooked. Those with skills will also be rewarded, since Strikers offers a couple of smart gameplay buffs for playing well. Pass to a teammate in a good position and you will nail a "Perfect Pass," giving the striker a few frames of bullet-time glory and increase the chance that the shot will score. Each team member can charge up a strike and let loose a powerful, curving shot with a high scoring chance, but only the team captain can perform Super Strikes, the game's trump cards. After charging a Super Strike with your captain, a timing meter will pop up. Nail the meters in the right spot and you'll send an unblockable shot worth two points screaming at the goalie.
You'll need a fair amount of space to pull off one of these mini gamebreakers, though, since the defense can easily tackle you out of charging. Slide tackles steal the ball while diving tackles are faster and have a longer range, but don't guarantee ball control afterwards. You'll use these interchangeably, trying to time your tackles right when a pass is caught to gain possession again and lose it just as quickly. This constant back and forth sets up some real nail biters, and the auto goalie does a good job of keeping the matches exciting with some insane saves while letting well-placed strikes through. However, the minimalist goalie control can make the scoring feel too random. If you can't tackle a Super Strike in time, you're left at the mercy of chance and potentially frustrated.
But you'll get right back into the game with jukes, lob and direct passes and shots, along with quick pass-and-shoot one-timers that are easy and satisfying to pull off. The game's frantic pace makes it all flow like a thawed NHL Hitz. It's just that now, your weapons are more than mere sticks.
Each shot on goal earns you a power-up, while fouling the other players gives your opponents some weaponry of their own. Any team can only carry two power-ups at a time, so when the other team is full, you can get as foul happy as you want without fear of giving them any artillery. Power-ups range from freezing blue, homing red, or normal green turtle shells and bombs, in either single, giant-sized, or triple- threat varieties. You can also get the old faithful invincibility star, a speed boost Mushroom, some bananas or a Chain Chomp, which will run over and stun everyone onfield for a few seconds.
The items are as plentiful and random as your scoring opportunities, so you'll be itching to fire them off once you get them. However, constantly using weapons reveals the small weapon variety and how mundane their applications are given the whole Mario universe. You can't grow to huge sizes, shoot fireballs, fly, break blocks, or do anything that you haven't already seen in Mario Kart 64. The weapons you'll get are usually of the shell, banana, or Bob-omb sort, and since you use those either to regain possession or clear out some defenders, you'll get tired of the repetition once the novelty has worn off.
There are seven available fields that are all skinned well enough, though they are categorically boring since they have no effects on gameplay at all. Icy fields, warp pipes, power blocks, random goombas " anything that might have spiced things up are unfortunate no-shows. Every once in a while, Bowser will randomly drop onfield and wreak havoc for ten seconds or so, but that's as far as Strikers goes to add life to gameplay that takes two minutes to learn and two days to master.
Most of the characters from the Mario universe are selectable as team captains along with either Hammer Bros., Koopas, Toads, or Birdos to fill out the rest of the four man side. Being that every captain and team plays exactly the same, whether it's Donkey Kong with Koopas or Daisy with Toads, Strikers will leave you wanting more. Ultimately, the only reason to choose one team over another is to have some kind of self-imposed variety. Too bad only their skins and sound effects are affected.
It all looks pretty enough, with the characters getting some decent star treatment. The camera pans before kickoff shows some blocky stadiums filled with badly stylized, choppy, and blurry crowds. You'll just want to skip through all these cutscenes and highlights, sweeping the rickety cinematics under the rug to get to the gameplay. The framerate is smooth throughout, except when you use the one unlockable Super Team in Bowser's Stadium, a chuggy mess.
A pair of generic menu tunes eggs you on through their unrivaled pop-rock blandness; gladly, they don't make the cut to the pitch, where sound effects are king. The typical "Yeehas!" "Im-a Gonna Wins!" and Yoshi's various chirps are in full cutesy effect, and actually serve a purpose when a teammate in position is ready to receive a perfect pass. But like in the Mario Party games, you'll want to kill Daisy after the millionth "GOOOAAAAL" blaring at you from the bottomless pit of your psyche.
Super Mario Strikers might well fund Mario's rising creatine costs, but Nintendo didn't include enough extra fuel to give this otherwise fun endeavor the appeal of a Mario Kart. Like other Mario games before it, Strikers promises to reduce student productivity by groups of four, but don't expect it to last through finals week.