Most everything you can do in Super Mario Strikers would earn you a red card or worse in a real soccer match--and that's just the point. Nintendo's arcade football game is big on manic pace and cutesy graphics, and it finds just the right amount of pick-up-and-play addictiveness. Unfortunately, its sometimes troubling frame rate and a lack of variety hold the game back from greatness.
Mario and the gang hit the pitch with their Nintendo-themed take on the beautiful game.
So far in 2005, we've seen Mario and his friends on the baseball field in Mario Baseball, the snowy slopes of the GameCube's SSX On Tour, and hitting the hard court in NBA Street Vol. 3. Here in Super Mario Strikers, the gang takes on the beautiful sport in four-on-four competition that focuses squarely on the main cast of Nintendo greats. Each team you control includes three sidekicks and one team captain. The selectable captains are Nintendo mainstays: Mario, Luigi, Peach, Daisy, Peach, Yoshi, Waluigi, and Wario (and one unlockable team). The sidekicks that fill out your team are either Koopas, Birdos, Toads, or Hammer Bros. While the sidekicks have their place on the field--and can be effective in the right situations on both offense and defense--you'll likely want the ball at the feet of your captain when the game is on the line.
Captains, after all, are the ones with the superstrike abilities--essentially massive aerial stunt kicks that, if they find the back of the net, are worth two goals as opposed to a measly one. Each captain has his or her own superstrike animation and, while they're all unique and dramatic in appearance, they're all relatively easy to pull off. By holding down the B button, you can charge your shot. Hold it down long enough and you'll enter a small rhythmic minigame that will require you to press the B button twice more while a cursor swings back and forth on a small meter. If you land in the second green area, you nail a superstrike, which goes right past the opposing goalie. If you manage to nail both green zones, you'll kick a shot that blasts the keeper into the back of the goal. Timing is of the essence here, of course, and it's important to note that these superstrike power-ups can be interrupted, provided you can tackle the opposing captain in time.
Checking your opponents into the electrified fence is nothing short of shocking.
Tackling is an essential skill in Strikers. In fact, it's probably the most essential skill you'll need to master in the game. There are two varieties of the tackle: the slide tackle, which is pulled off with the B button, and the big hit, which you execute with the Y button. As its name implies, the big hit is the more powerful of the two and, as a result, will be your likely go-to tactic when playing defense. Smashing characters with the big hit will knock them down, temporarily taking them out of the action and allowing you to grab possession of the ball. Position your big hit near the sidelines and you'll check your opponent into an electrified net that surrounds every playing field in the game. Yes, that's right, you can electrocute Princess Peach if you so desire (and if you want to win, you better desire just that very thing).
The transgressive nature of shocking Nintendo luminaries aside, the big-hit tackle seems a bit overpowered in Strikers. You can certainly play (and win) matches without throwing a single big hit (at least on the lower difficulty levels), but once you discover the powerful effect it can have on your defensive game, you likely won't want to give it up. The turbo button can be similarly overused. Because Strikers has no stamina meter for individual players, you can basically play an entire game with your finger gripping the right trigger button, a fact that is mitigated only by the seemingly minimal boost your character will enjoy while turbo-running.
Still, despite these flaws, it's undeniable that Strikers' pick-up-and-play design will have you playing like a cartoon Pele in no time. Lob passes are a breeze, as are one-time kicks, which usually result in some fantastically animated trick shots such as headers and bicycle kicks. The default five-minute setting feels a bit long on the lower difficulty settings (scores will inflate accordingly), but at the upper range of challenge, you'll often find yourself in gripping, one-goal matches in those five minutes, where the momentum shifts with every bomb or mushroom thrown. What, you didn't think you'd get a Mario sports game without tons of power-ups did you?