Thursday, August 2, 2007

Mario Strikers Charged review

Well then, in two days I've sunk about 8 hours into this game. I've played online and done a bit of single player, so I pretty much know this game inside out. I think I'm ready to write this review! (PS: No giggling about the common occurrence of the word "balls")

Developer: Next Level Games
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: July 30th, 2007 (North America)
ESRB Rating: E10+ for Everyone Ages 10 and Up
ESRB Notes: Crude Humour, Mild Cartoon Violence

The denizens of the mushroom kingdom have yet again donned their soccer jerseys and hit the pitch with Mario Strikers Charged. Sequel to the 2005 Gamecube hit, Super Mario Strikers, Charged is also the third game on the Wii to feature Mario, and the second in North America to go online. Taking all of this into account, Charged has a lot of expectations to live up to. Does it succeed in being all that it could be? This article aims to find out.

When it comes to gameplay, Mario Strikers Charged is quite the impressive creation. Forget FIFA and Winning Eleven. Charged is the most pumped up, adrenaline-filled soccer fest ever to touch a gaming console.

The point of the game is the same as any other soccer sim: Get the ball, kick it into the opposing team's goal, and have more points than the other team by the end of the match. The big difference between this and any other soccer game, though, is what happens between the time the game starts to the time the clock counts down to zero. While there's tackles and steals, passes and shots, there's also Power-Ups. Ever seen an Italian plumber get nailed by a giant turtle shell on a soccer pitch? How about a monkey getting blown up while passing the ball? It all happens here, folks. From Koopa shells to Bob-ombs, from mushrooms to chain-chomps, there's a whole wealth of items available for taking down your opponents.

Of course, your opponents can use these items, too, so you're going to want to make sure they don't get that chance. In order for a team to get a Power-Up, either one of their players not holding the ball needs to get tackled, or the opponent has to block a shot for the net. Basically, the items are there to keep you going if your opponents are on a tackling and blocking rampage. You can hold up to two items at a time, and you can use them whenever you want by hitting the C button (You can choose which item to use by shaking the Nunchuk). However, the opposing team can always see which Power-Ups you have, so they'll often know what to expect, as will you. Items can mean the difference between victory and failure, and using them right is often the key to success. So make sure to use them wisely!

The variety doesn't end at items, though. There's also 17 different stadiums to be played at, all of which have their own little quirks. There's a stage periodically struck by lightning, a windswept pitch that often has cows and tractors blow across it, and even a stadium that eliminates one or more of your teammates between rounds.

The variety doesn't end there, either! There are also many different team captains and sidekicks to choose from! When it comes to captains, you have Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Daisy, Bowser, Bowser Jr., Wario, Waluigi, Yoshi and Donkey Kong (As well as three unlockable captains). As for sidekicks, you can choose a combination of three from Koopas, Hammer Bros., Dry Bones', Monty Moles, Birdos, Boos and Toads.

Every sidekick and captain has something that sets them apart from the rest. Every player has their own unique "deke", or dodge, that can be used when in possession of the ball. Hammer Bros. can jump in the air and toss a hammer at the ground, eliminating any opponent unlucky enough to be too close. Koopas can retreat into their shells and shoot along a short distance. Toads do a back flip in the air while clutching the ball beneath their feet. Bowser Jr. can jump in the air and slam into the ground, knocking back anyone in the way. The list goes on! Sidekicks also have unique kicks that can be used when shooting for the goal. Dry Bones' will fire an electrically charged ball that will stun anything in it's path. Koopas encase the ball inside a giant shell, which plows through anybody in the way (However, the goalie can still stop this, but it leaves him temporarily stunned). Hammer Bros. leap into the air and throw hammers a short distance in front of them, knocking out anyone who makes contact with them (Including the goalie), then kick the ball through the path of destruction.

Team captains have the greatest ability of all, though: Mega Strikes. When a Mega Strike is pulled off, the ball splits into several separate spheres (How many is determined by a timed button press, as is the speed of the projectiles). The newly formed balls then fly straight for the net, and every one that makes it past the goalie counts as a point. However, if a Mega Strike is unleashed on you, fear not, for you have the power to stop it! When an opponent fires off a group of balls, your view changes from that of a bird's eye view to that of the goalie's perspective. The Wiimote's pointer becomes the hands of the goalie, and you have to aim at every ball the approaches and stop it by pressing A. It isn't as easy as it sounds (Balls appear on screen every second). It may be hard, but it is possible to block a volley of six high-speed balls. All captain's strikes are similar in effect, but each captain has their own unique animation to accompany it.

Team captains also possess one other key advantage: Custom Power-Ups. Each captain has their own unique Power-Up (Except for Mario and Luigi, who both share the same ability). When using their custom item, characters may grow to immense proportions, freeze their opponents, breathe fire, or release deadly flatulence upon their enemies (Guess who's power that is!).

Every one of these aspects comes together to deliver a fast-paced, action-packed, twist-filled take on soccer. No two games are alike, thanks to these many facets of gameplay. Mario Strikers Charged is one of the most fun games I've played on the Wii yet.

Mario making his entrance

Graphically, Mario Strikers Charged is also a winner. Every single one of the sixteen captains, seven sidekicks and the Kritter goalie are all rendered beautifully. The characters also move very smoothly, and if they get blown up or zapped, they appear visually harmed, sporting scorch marks and such. Everyone in the crowd is a separate 3D character, instead of the cardboard cutout spectators we had in the original game. Explosions and shattering ice all look very realistic, and some stages even sport visible damage when something blows up or crashes into the ground (Although the damage does self-repair shortly after).

If there's anything wrong with how the game looks, it's the fact that the camera seems a little too far zoomed-out at times. I often find myself mistaking Dry Bones for Luigi, and mixing up your players isn't exactly going to help you win a match. Also, once when Daisy was celebrating after a goal, her face looked almost entirely expressionless. But that was extremely minor, and it was hard to see. Overall, though, the game is quite visually pleasing. With explosions, lightning and such flying left and right, it's a miracle that the framerate never dips below normal. Next Level Games outdid themselves there for sure.

Mario Strikers Charged does pretty great in the audio department, too. The music is exciting and is always tailor made to the stadium. The sounds of the explosions and the screams of the players is crystal clear. You can even hear your team captain yelling to their team mates that they're open! And if the timer hits zero and the game is tied, it goes into Sudden Death mode, and out comes the rockin' tunes! The music during Sudden Death is so hyper and exciting, it could make Dracula nod his head to the beat. The sound is just as pumped up and fast-paced as the gameplay, and it fits like a glove.

The presentation is where things take a bit of a dip, though. While the main menu is creative (All the options are on a soccer ball with Mario's foot on top of it), the load times are atrocious. In between matches, it takes about 10 seconds to get to the summary of the next match, then about 10 seconds more from there to start the actual game. 10 seconds is understandable when loading a soccer game, I'll let that much slide, but taking 10 seconds just to load a mini-menu? That's a little much...

Bringing things back to the slightly more positive side, the multiplayer is pretty great. When playing offline, you and a friend can either go one-on-one or team up against a computer team. You can also play co-op online, with a team of two on each side. I assume this works very well, but I don't have an extra Nunchuk, so I cannot rate local or co-op multiplayer. However, I can talk about online in general. When you go to the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection menu from the main screen, you first choose a Mii from your Wii to represent you, then go through a short login process. Once done, you are presented with a main Wi-Fi menu. From here, you can see your standing, as well as the score of the player who currently has the most points scored. You can also see which of your friends are online (And invite those who are online to a match), check your Friend Roster, check out the overall leaderboard or go for a Ranked Match against anybody of your skill-level living on your continental landmass (For example, in Canada, I can play against anyone in North or South America). The only way to play with people living outside of this designated area is to exchange Friend Codes, although it is strongly recommended you not play people from other continents, as the lag may make the game unplayable.

Sadly, lag has a tendency to have the same effect on continental matches, too. In two of the three matches I've played online the lag was unbelievable. I'd move for three seconds, wait for two seconds, move for three seconds, etc. And this was with a connection strength of FOUR STARS (The best strength). The other match, however (Also with a four star connection strength), played rather smoothly, with very little lag spread very far apart. Don't take my experiences as an indication that two thirds of all matches will be crappy, but just don't expect lag-free matches, even with four stars of connection strength. Then again, this could all be due to my crappy wireless and my hack-happy neighbours...

This game seems to have quite the lastability factor, since after two days I still find myself in the second tournament. Although I guess it does help that I've lost about four times so far... Online should help this game last a lot longer, so long as Nintendo gets a better server sometime soon...


Gameplay: 9.5/10

With sixteen captains and seven sidekicks, there's a team out there perfect for any gamer. The soccer matches are insanely fast-paced, with explosions, lightning, tractors and more pummeling the pitch. The Mega Strikes are very hard to pull off (Finding an opening is extremely difficult), which is good, or else it would be far too easy to win. Fast and furious soccer, served up hot!

Graphics: 8.5/10

Everything looks absolutely beautiful, from the players to the explosions to the Piantas and Toads in the audience. However, sometimes the camera seems to be zoomed out a little too far, making it hard to discern Koopas from Dry Bones'.

Audio: 9.5/10

The music is fast-paced and really gets you pumping, a statement made even more true during the Sudden Death sequences. The players' screams and hollers are all crystal clear, and the sounds of explosions and crashes are all very believable.

Presentation: 6.5/10

While the menus and info screens are all cleverly thought out, the load times between matches are terrible, which can really kill the adrenaline high you get after a particularly intense game.

Multiplayer: 8.0/10

The ability to play against anyone in North or South America is great, but the lag really brings things down. However, if you do grab a lag-free match, it's a really great experience. But if you've got a local buddy you want to play against, it's probably best if you just invite him over to your house.

Lastability: 8.0/10

I've been playing a few hours for nearly three days, and I still have several more tournaments to master. Add to that the (Laggy) online multiplayer and unlockable characters, and you've got a game that's bound to last you a while.

Overall: 8.8/10

Mario Strikers Charged is the most hyperactive sports game we're gonna be seeing for a long while. Explosions, dinosaurs and plumbers falling from the sky are all standard fare in this game, and if that doesn't get you the least bit excited for this, I'll be very surprised. Mario Strikers Charged manages to meet and defeat the standard set by it's predecessor. If you've been waiting for a Wii game truly worthy of your hard-earned cash, this is it. Mario Strikers Charged is definitely one of the five best Wii games released yet, and it truly deserves a place in any gamer's collection.

So that's what I think of Mario's inaugural sports outing on the Wii. How many of you guys have played it so far? What do you think?

The Duck Has Spoken.


Unknown said...

You need to be a reviewer on my site, I need someone who can say alot about a game. This is MidnightScott btw :p

Kam said...

nice review Duck
when talking about online
you forgot to mention the dreaded error code
(unless you have been fortunate enough to not get it)
every time but once, I’ve gotten an error code after my match was over
it kicks you off the server and you have to reconnect
several other people are experiencing the same problem

PsychoDuck said...

@ Adam:

I got that once, but only once, so I thought little of it.

The Duck Has Spoken.

Anonymous said...

Hey Duck, Thanks for the great comments. It nice to be part of a game that people enjoy.

I had a question though. During development we didn't notice any 10 second load times for mini-menus. The screens have a timeout function (they last ten seconds) but you can click in the bottom right to advance immediately. It's kind of confusing (click beside 'more' not on it) and if this is the case we can make that more obvious in future games.

Thanks again and see you online.
Ze Prof,

Anonymous said...

@ze Prof,

Sorry Duck I put my foot in mouth. You are right there is ten seconds in between menus. It is there to keep the games in Sync online between matches. My mistake.

Thanks again for the review.
Ze Prof

PsychoDuck said...

@ anonymous/Ze Prof:

Actually, I was talking about the load screens encountered between menus during offline tournament play. I dunno, maybe 10 seconds is a little off (Might actually be more like 5 or 7). I know which screens you are talking about, and these aren't the ones in question.

I know 5 seconds doesn't sound like much, but I remember that Nintendo set out to all but eliminate loading screens on the Wii. Godfather and Resident Evil 4 have similar problems, but I don't remember them being quite this long.

The main issue is where the load screens are. After a match, you wait whatever amount of time (On a screen with the word "Loading..." on it, in front of the flashing ball) just to get to the round trophy room, which is basically a fancy menu. Now don't get me wrong, I like all the unique takes on the menus here, but I really don't think that these tweaks should in any way affect how long load times are.

Also, if you really did work on the game (No offense, but there's a lot of fakers out there), thank you very much for reading my review. It means a lot to me :)

The Duck Has Spoken.