Mario Strikers: Charged Review
For me, soccer has always been one of those sports I really didn't enjoy playing sim-style games of. I'm not trying to say that the FIFA series is bad or anything – it could be enjoyable at times – but soccer just felt too off for me. Maybe it's the fact that soccer is nowhere near as big in the US as it is in other countries or maybe it is just that it doesn't seem as exciting. I'm not really that sure.
However, arcade-style soccer games have always been a blast. Tossing most of the rules out of the window and, in some cases, adding in hilarious characters and powerups (take Sega Soccer Slam as a prime example), the games were fun to play, especially with some friends. Not wanting to be left out, Nintendo tossed many popular Mario series characters into their own soccer game, the original Mario Strikers on the GameCube. While I never personally played it, I heard a lot of good things about it. I decided that, when the Wii version was released, that I would pick it up. And, while there are a couple of elements of the game that annoy me, it still stands out as one of the more fun multiplayer experiences on the Wii to date – especially since you can take it online.
Mario Strikers Charged is, on the surface, your basic run of the mill arcade soccer game. Instead of a huge mess of players, your team consists of four characters. One of these is a major player in the Super Mario universe such as Mario or Bowser. The other teammates are characters like Dry Bones, Shyguy or Birdo – ones you've seen in the universe before but didn't often play a main role in the games. Each character is rated on a few statistics – Power, speed, passing and defense. You aren't forced into certain characters, either – there are generally a couple with the same stats. Composing a team can be a huge element of how you'll play but the problem is that there are a couple of characters with really awesome moves. These characters will appear in damn near every team online.
The controls in the game are really simple, too – the Nunchuk has controls for your movement, use items and lob the ball while the Wiimote allows for you to use character's special abilities, perform slide tackles, pass the ball and take shots. In all, the controls are pretty easy to pick up on and, save for the ability to hit another player by shaking the controller, don't force motion controls on anyone unlike a lot of games on the Wii. There's even a solid tutorial, though most of the controls are easily picked up when you start the game – they really just feel natural.
As you play, you'll get powerups too. If you are slide tackled while you don't have the ball or if you perform a charged shot, you'll get a powerup. You can only hold two at a time and they are shown by your character's portrait. They range from a banana peel to shells and even a special super ability based on your character. Mario, for example, grows to epic proportions and stomps all over the enemy while Yoshi turns into a gigantic egg and rolls over everyone. Each of these super abilities are nice and add to the gameplay while not providing an instant score.
Getting those goals is ridiculously easy at first. See, each team's star player can perform what is called a Mega strike. If you hold the B button, you'll eventually get a meter that lets you shoot off anywhere from 3-6 difficult to block shots. If you're on the receiving end of one of these, you'll be thrust into a mini game where you control the goalie's hands and try to deflect the shots. The charge time on them is long, though – but this isn't an issue on the first single player tournament. Using this technique, I was able to rack up stupidly high point totals. However, it got a LOT harder on the Crystal Cup, to the degree of rarely being able to pull them off, if at all. While I'm sure they were intended to be a rarity, the huge jump in how the game plays from one level to the next is harsh.
This isn't the only jump you'll see difficulty wise, either. This is probably the game's biggest fault – the difficulty jumps from really easy to really, really hard. Most games have, at the most, a sharp curve. Charged is missing that – there's no curve, but instead a steep cliff that will frustrate players as they try to win at the next level. You don't have to learn any real tactics or strategy in the first cup you play as it is ridiculously easy to dominate. You're thrown into the fire with the next cup and some players will get frustrated enough to never go back to the single player game.
That may not be all that bad, though, as this game also features online play. You can even play multiplayer in a coop fashion letting you run some really neat strategies. Take one that I read about on some forums I hang out at – you can have one player go into a mega strike and have the other just defend him. Doesn't much matter if the other team gets a mass of powerups when you get off a big mega strike, now does it? This game manages to hold true to what seems to be the Wii's target – a single player game to teach you to play then multiplayer of some kind for God knows how long.
In the end, Mario Strikers Charged is a pretty fun game. Sure, the AI can go from ridiculously easy to brutally hard in a heartbeat, but if you own a Wii, you probably have some people to game with. And that is where Charged really shines – the multiplayer arena. Take it online, knock some people around and have a blast. If you're one of the rare Wii owners that really doesn't enjoy multiplayer gaming, though, I'd recommend you avoid this one.