Mario Strikers is a football game starring characters from the Mario universe. You start creating your team by choosing your captain from the 12 choices: Mario, Luigi, Bowser, Donkey Kong, Peach, Daisy, Wario, Waluigi, Yoshi, and unlockables like Bowser Jnr., Diddy Kong and Pete Piranha. You do not get to choose a keeper, instead you end up with a Kritter from the DK series. Then you choose 3 outfield players from: Koopa, Shy Guy, Dry Bones, Monty Mole, Birdo, Hammer Bros., Boo and Toad. Each character has various stats in movement, shooting, passing, and defence. They are noticeably different, so it's advisable to pick a balanced team. Each player has a different style of charged shot and fake (dodge).
You can pass the ball with the A button, and performing a sequence of successful passes charges up the ball, giving you a higher chance of scoring. Shooting is performed with the B button, holding it longer gives you a more powerful shot, and fully charging it gives you the Skill Shot/Mega-strike. Z button modifies your pass/shot into a lob. C button uses your power-ups. Tackling is performed by pressing down on the d-pad, or wiggling your remote for a stronger challenge.
The Captain's charged shot is called a Mega-strike and the other player's charged shot is a Skill Shot. Skill Shots usually knock-down players in the near vicinity, or whoever gets hit by the ball. You can score with Skill Shots, but most get blocked or saved. If you can get to the rebound, you do have a great chance of scoring.
When you hold down the B button long enough with a captain, a meter appears that increments up to six. This determines how many balls you're going to boot. The meter then swings backward, and you need to time the second button press to determine the difficulty of shot-stopping for the keeper. Against the Computer, you often get at least one goal out of this technique. If a human-controlled team is on the receiving end, you have to stop these shots yourself by simply pointing the Wii Remote at the screen to aim at the balls, and press A to catch it. Activating a Mega-strike against the easier opponents is quite easy, especially from long range; the weaker opponents don't have the urgency to close you down unless you get close to their area. Since you can pull off a Mega-strike from anywhere in the opposition's half, you can just activate them from the half-way line. On the higher difficulties, finding the time and space to do them is a rare occurrence. Your opponent will charge you down more often, especially if you begin charging up a mega-strike Additionally, there's more items flying about, so there's a good chance you will be hit by something.
You are awarded an item every time you use a Skill Shot, or as compensation for being tackled off the ball (a creative way to substitute the yellow/red card system in traditional football). Items can be various shells, bananas, mushrooms, bombs or Captain specific power-ups.
Tackling people off the ball is a highly useful technique. If your opponent is about to receive the ball, knock him to the floor, then pick up the ball, giving you more space to run into. Knocking the opponent into the wall takes them out of the game for longer, since the boundaries are charged with electric! The computer will play very aggressively, so you need to play aggressive to be competitive. If you press the tackle button whilst having hold of the ball, you perform a fake, which can avoid tackles and give you space. This is also a highly useful technique that you will use often. Some fakes cover a surprising amount of ground, and some can be used to jump past the keeper and into the goal. This is a cheap way of scoring, and the tougher computer opponents sometimes love to abuse it.
The pitches often have random events that happen during the game, such as gusts of wind that blows cars and cows across the pitch, fire eruptions, electric shocks etc. It adds to the madness, but often I was yearning for something a bit more predictable.
The goalkeepers do a great job of saving a lot of good shots. Annoyingly and unpredictably, they may come out of their area and pick up the ball. There doesn't seem to be much consistency to their behaviour in this regard, so sometimes will just stay in their area when the ball is just outside their area with no team mates close by, but moments later will come charging out to pick up the ball in the corner.
In the main game mode, Road to Strikers Cup, there are three tournaments to play through, each implementing a league then play-off system. The first one is fairly easy, then the second is really tough in some games, especially the play-offs. So getting to the final tournament takes some skill and a lot of time/perseverance. It's so frustrating to play though the league for about 40 minutes only to lose in the play-offs/final and then having to do it all again. In the second tournament, the top 4 out of 6 go through to the play-offs, so it seems the majority of the tournament is inconsequential. It would probably would have been better doing a play-off with the top 3 teams; 2nd VS 3rd and the winner of that plays the team in 1st in the final. If you win the final, you get to play a special game. Win that and you unlock a new captain and progress to the next tournament. Lose, and you have to do that tournament from the start!
The matches have to have a winner. If the 3 minutes are up and it is a draw, the game continues in 'Sudden Death'; next goal wins.
You can play single matches where you have a choice of having timed games, or first to X amount of goals. In this mode, you also have a choice of 5 difficulty levels, so you should be able to find one that suits your ability. There's also a challenge mode which gives you scenarios such as scoring a few goals within a minute or playing with a team-mate down. Completing these unlocks 'cheats' that you can use when playing single matches.
Aesthetically, it is futuristic which doesn't feel very Nintendo. It wasn't developed by Nintendo though, rather by Next Level Games, but you would have thought it would look more bold and colourful, with Mushroom-Kingdom inspired arenas. Instead, things look dark, dull and some stages look particularly blurry. Another problem is that sometimes it is hard to tell who is on which team. The players generally take your team's colour, but some colours can look similar, for example; when Mario's red take on Peach's pink.
Mario Strikers Charged is a good game, but the erratic difficulty is really frustrating. Having a longer Road to Strikers Cup with a smoother difficulty curve would have been a better idea. The craziness of the game can be great fun, but it is often a bit too hectic and cluttered at times. With a few tweaks, Mario Strikers could be a brilliant series.
Some suggestions for a future sequel:
Mega-strikes are just stupid and the captains should just use Skill Shots like everyone else.
Keepers should stick to their area, and other players shouldn't be allowed in (this will stop players running into the net for cheap goals.
More trophies to play for, with some leagues not using the play-off system.
Slightly decrease the keeper's general ability, and slightly lower recovery times to reduce amount of double saves, and increase the amount of goals scored.
Reduce frequency of the environmental effects
Reduce the ball height for lobbed passes, or be able to control the height depending on charged button press.
Improve the team colours to make it clearer which players are on your team.