Super Mario Strikers: Battle League may be based on soccer, but from the looks of a hands-off live preview, it appears to be taking some liberal notes from American football. From the name "Battle League" to the heavily armored gear to the Mushroom Kingdom residents striking poses with what can only be described as "'tude," this appears to be an enjoyably irreverent way to toughen up the sport.
It starts with the selection of stadiums, in which two different arenas are smashed together at the mid-field line, making a functional hybrid of both. These fields may have some minor size differences, but the main point is the visual satisfaction of watching huge landmasses crash into one another. Then the players take the field, looking angier and more determined than they ever have (even when a giant lizard kidnapped their quasi-girlfriend). The overall impression seems to be that this is soccer, but badass, but also Mario. It's very silly.
Then the game starts, and it's mostly a straightforward 4v4 soccer match. The relatively small roster of players have different stats like power and speed, though some fields on the smaller side seem to erase the speed difference between a bruiser like Bowser and a lighter character like Yoshi. Goalies on both sides are the Boom Boom from Mario 3. You can pass and shoot, occasionally taking a detour to collect Question Blocks that appear on the field.
Where it distinguishes itself most from a regular soccer match are with the special shots, which can be delivered after a team has built up sufficient power. These are the Blue Shell of Mario Strikers: Battle League, albeit with a little more skill involved. When you activate a special shot, a swinging meter will appear, similar to ones you've seen in Mario Golf games or 2007's Mario Strikers Charged. Pulling off perfect timing launches an unblockable shot and guarantees you a score, while less-than-perfect timing makes the shot difficult--but still possible--to stop.
These special moves look nicely differentiated, too, each highlighting a character's unique traits. They're also a cool visual flourish, showing elements of the sketchy ink style that appears in the official artwork. The characters' post-goal celebrations, as seen through a cinematic and replay camera, are a fun touch.
The thin roster looks to put that much more emphasis on gear to differentiate your playstyle. Like the special shots, this is a nice visual touch that incorporates each character's traits. Mario's headgear options, for example, are a series of different armored takes on his iconic hat. They each come with stat boosts so you can tweak your players to your liking. And this seems to be where the game's economy comes most into play, as you purchase new pieces of gear with coins earned during play.
You can also customize your soccer club with things like different fence posts and decorations. Managing your club is part of the backdrop of competitive play, as you'll make your own club identity by picking a logo from a series of icons, background shields, and colors. And you'll be competing for seasonal ranks, with rank points coming whether you win or lose, but bigger rewards for a win.
You can start taking the field now with a "First Kick" demo, which covers the training section of the game and is available for Nintendo Switch Online members. And as was the case with both Mario Tennis Aces and Mario Golf: Super Rush, Nintendo has also announced plans for multiple free content drops that will add additional characters post-launch.
Mario Strikers: Battle League releases for Nintendo Switch on June 10.