Nintendo and Next Level Games’ experimental fusion of fandom and sports leaps from Gamecube to Wii in Mario Strikers Charged, the sequel to Super Mario Strikers. As in Super Strikers, Charged sees Mario and his Mushroom Kingdom mates take to the pitch for fast and furious arcade soccer matches with numerous Mario-worthy twists like power-ups and obstacles. To take the unlikely series to the “next level,” the developers carefully integrated Wii’s motion controller without disrupting the game’s flow, introduced online play, and allowed Mario’s sidekicks to serve a meaningful purpose.
Gamers looking for the next big Wii Remote experience in Charged should look elsewhere. Wii Remote use is specific and mostly subtle, which I find perfect as trying to motion control players in the heat of a match would have been dizzying and near impossible. A great example of subtlety and only use of the Remote’s motion control on the field occurs as a defender approaches a ball-handler. A quick flick of the Remote will initiate a power move to knock the ball-handler over and steal the ball. This form of tactile defense satisfies aggressive tendencies more than basic button presses.
Not-so-subtle motion control use occurs during Mega Strikes, or small penalty-kick games-within-a-game. Only a team captain can charge up a Mega Strike kick if given enough space to power up the kick from one to upwards of six balls. This is controlled via a standard charge-up meter which the defensive team can distort by shaking the Wii Remote in hopes of the balls shot being closer to one as opposed to six. Once in the Mega Strike mode, the defender will have to use the Wii Remote to point at the incoming balls and click on them in rapid-succession to either save the shot, or give up a goal for every ball that gets by. A steady hand is required to have any semblance of success.
The downside to Mega Strike mode is it dominates games played against predictable CPU opponents. The entire match turns into one Mega Strike after the next with scores consistently jumping up by multiples of four, five or six. Although the neat 10-second animation kicking off each Mega Strike is specific to the team captain involved in the play, it can’t be skipped and grows old by the second match. On the flip-side, games against human opponents rarely feature Mega Strikes as smarter defenders are quick to tackle a potential Mega Strike play as soon as it begins to develop. These matches are more fun with substantially lower scores.
Sidekicks may not be able to perform Mega Strikes, but they’ve a got new trick up their sleeves to make them almost as valuable as their bigger persona captains. Each sidekick has a unique super ability ready to execute with a quick tap of the C button. These abilities can result in near-automatic goals, such as the Hammer Brothers tossing hammers to knock out the opponent’s goalie, leaving the net wide open for a tap-in. Since each sidekick is no longer created equal as in Super Strikers, selecting them to pair with a captain requires strategy and forward thinking in order to best take advantage of the abilities you play best with.
Mario Strikers Charged may very well turn out to be the online game of choice for Nintendo’s weakly-supported Wi-Fi online service. Up two four players, two per console, can play at once in matches that far exceed the intensity of playing against the CPU. Granted Nintendo’s Wi-Fi service lacks recognizable member names or any sense of cohesiveness. Strikers does come through with weekly Mii-supported leader-boards and a custom friends list ” which while not ideal is better than no list at all.
Online multi-player is supported by a standard round robin tournament mode, Striker Cup, one-on-one versus matches, and Striker Challenges. The challenges are vital to play through as they unlock secrets and additional modes when beaten. Unlocking Mario’s is especially noteworthy for the ability to play classic mode with no Mega Strikes. If you have to play solo, the challenges are far more fulfilling than dredging through ubiquitous tournament trees with only a pixelated trophy to show for hours of invested work.
Nintendo continues to reiterate a desire to create “fun” games and with Mario Strikers Charged, they’ve done just that. It adheres to the publisher’s pick-up-and-play philosophy while managing to come off as a viable update to its predecessor in every imaginable sense. “Mario Strikers Charged” is not perfect, though. I shouldn’t be able to memorize the CPU’s kick-off pattern after only playing one game. It is the perfect filler to pass time until Metroid Prime 3: Corruption arrives. Even after Samus makes her next-gen debut, “Charged” online play will still be the best online multi-player option Wii has to offer.
– Dan Bradley