about time for real online

User Rating: 10 | Mario Strikers Charged Football WII
When I first bought the previous iteration of Mario's Soccer world, I was a bit disappointed - The game's single player mode wasn't very extensive, and the game didn't have too much going for it in the way of unlockables or depth (Though it had great multiplayer!). I was quite happy to find out that Next Level Games has addressed all these issues for the game's sequel.

The basics of Mario Strikers Charged are still practically unchanged from the previous game - Pick a captain, pick sidekicks, play a game and try to win. All of these things have been polished up from the previous game, though. First off, all captains and sidekicks now have their own statistics - Some of them might excel at movement speed, while others are great at tackling. In the original game, everybody was the same, which made the game feel similar to a Mario Party title. On top of this, 4 captains and 4 sidekicks have been added to the roster, and you can now select 3 different sidekicks - You don't have to have three of the same!

New to the actual gameplay are the upgraded and completely new moves. First off, the deke, a move that let you dodge incoming attacks quickly, has been given a change, and, much like the varying character stats, is different for each character. Characters like Hammer Bro or Monty Mole, for example, have a deke that knocks out nearby opponents, while characters like Waluigi and Dry Bones can teleport forward short distances, which could be used to fool the goalie.

The Super Strike has been replaced by the new MegaStrike - While sort of similar in concept, it is in fact completely different. If your captain charges a shot, he will, after reaching max power, continue charging a MegaStrike. Timing is of the essence here to select a number of balls (3 to 6) and shot speed. After this is done, your character will go into a short cutscene and fire 3 to 6 balls at a slow/medium/high speed towards the opponent's goal. When this has happened, the opponent gets to control a set of gloves with the Wii remote as balls fly towards him, and he must point at each of them and press A to block them. In the original game, if a Super Strike was executed perfectly, it was unstoppable. Now, however, those with fast eyes will find MegaStrikes relatively easy to stop. This makes the gameplay much less cheap, and you will find the game to be less about "get into the corner, knock out opponents and shoot your Super Strike" like the original game was.

New to the game are Skillshots - Sidekicks can now pull off mini-MegaStrikes by charging their ball's power to the fullest. This will make them pull off a special move (Which is, once again, different for each sidekick) which instantly scores, or at least makes it easier to score. To make the game more balanced, the heavier, and thus slower, characters are the ones that possess the instant goal Skillshots. As they are so slow, it is far less likely for them to make it close to the goal and actually pull them off. Skillshots make your sidekicks a whole lot more useful than they were in the original game.

Another new thing is the inclusion of Super Abilities. Each captain has his or her own Super Ability, which can be activated when you receive an item shaped like your captain's head (Items are still received by being tackled when not having the ball, or shooting a charged shot at the goal and missing). These Super Abilities temporarily power up your captain and usually let him/her knock down opponents with ease to create an opportunity to score. These items are fairly rare, and as such, do not feel cheap at all.

One other new gameplay element is the titular "charging" of the ball. As the ball is passed around between your teammates, the glow around it will begin to change colour. If this glow becomes white in colour, shooting it will result in it instantly being shot at maximum strength and power. This is not a gamebreaking element, but still something that could be used to your advantage.

The final new thing is the overhaul of the stadiums. There are 17 stadiums in this game - All 7 from the original game and 10 new ones. 8 of the new ones have stadium-specific features (The other 2 new ones and all 7 old ones are extremely basic, not featuring anything special). Thunder Island, for example, has no fences on the edges, and storms are quite regular on it. When one occurs, wind will begin blowing characters (And fish, cows and tractors!) around, and if they get blown (Or knocked!) off the edge, they take about 10 seconds to be launched back up to the field. Another stadium, The Dump, features a constant flow of mud towards the center, meaning you have to keep moving or you'll be slowly moved around by the stadium itself!

If you've played the original game, the core gameplay and controls are practically unchanged. All moves are still in the game, but, as the Wii remote and nunchuk do not have enough buttons, their special functions have been given three uses. To tackle, you must flick the Wii remote, to switch items (If you have multiple) you have to shake the nunchuk and to block MegaStrikes, you have to use the remote's pointer. None of these moves feel tacked on and merge with the rest of the controls well.

So, how about game modes, then? Most old modes make a return in some form: There's Road to the Striker Cup, which lets you pick a captain and team as they fight their way through three consecutive cups in order to become the best player there is. There's Domination Mode, where you can play a quick one on one (Or two on two, three on one or two on one if you've got friends over) match. Then there's Strikers ABC, where you can learn the game's controls.

New modes? There's Striker Challenges, where you pick one of the game's 12 captains and try to beat their unique challenge, which can range from extremely easy (Mario and Luigi's challenges) to completely insane and seemingly impossible (Yoshi and Diddy Kong's challenges). Beating a challenge will unlock a new cheat and a "Character Card" which features a piece of artwork of that character. Striker Challenges are simple, short, optional challenges, comparable to Mission Mode in Mario Kart DS, and, if you choose to complete them, they should help to sharpen your skills considerably.

By far the biggest new mode in this game is Wi-Fi Connection Mode. Mario Strikers Charged is being touted as the first Wi-Fi game on the Wii in Europe and Australia (The first online Wii game is Pokémon Battle Revolution elsewhere, Japan already having it as of this writing), and it certainly puts Wi-Fi to great use. You are able to select one of the Miis stored in your Wii as your "avatar" in the game, and it will be seen whenever somebody connects to you.

Once online, you can choose to play Friendly or Ranked matches. Friendly games have no impact on your score. Ranked matches, however, do. But as most of you have experienced in Mario Kart DS, what with those horrid snakers and all, is people disconnecting, causing you not to gain points and the disconnecter to lose points. No worries though, as Next Level Games have found a way to remedy this! If your opponent disconnects, they will lose 5 points. You, however, will still gain a point for each goal you scored (Unfortunately, no extra 10 points for winning, but you can't win 'em all!), for a maximum of 10 goal points. If you're so bad (Or your opponent's so good) that you end the game without scoring a single goal, you will still receive a single pity point. So unless you disconnect like a sore loser, you will never lose points!

So, what are these points for? Well, the game features leaderboards which you can look at between matches. These are divided into three categories: Friendly, Daily and Seasonal. On the Friendly leaderboards, you can see how you stack up to friends. On the Daily leaderboards, you can see how you compare to other people who have been playing that day. On the Seasonal leaderboards, you can see how you match up to other players this "season". A season lasts one week (Monday to monday) and thus gives you plenty of time to battle to the top. After the day/season is over, the Daily/Seasonal leaderboards will be reset, so you can attempt to get to the top again. Another nifty feature is that the Daily leader is shown in the Wi-Fi lobby as the "Striker of the Day", complete with name and picture of their Mii! So if you're good enough, the whole world can see you.

Wi-Fi has a few tiny flaws, however. When not playing against friends (I'll get to those in a bit), you can only play against people of your own skill level. This means that once you're ridiculously good, it is no longer possible to run into really bad players, and thus it is no longer possible to rake up the goals against weaklings. Another thing is that you can only play against players around your own region when playing against strangers. No American, Australian and Japanese players if you live in Europe, and of course vice versa.

When playing against friends, you can only play a Friendly game - No points are awarded for crushing your friends with an ungodly difference in goals. However, a neat feature when playing with friends is that you can customise the game. When playing against strangers, you can not pick the stadium (It is picked randomly), the time limit (Always 3 minutes), the goal limit (Impossible against strangers), activated cheats (Impossible against strangers), and AI Intelligence (Always 1 against strangers). When you're playing against friends, however, you can! This makes playing against friends a whole lot more fun. Also, you can play against friends from all over the world, unlike Friendly/Ranked games.

If you've got a friend playing the game with you (In real life), you can also choose to hit Wi-Fi together. If another group of two people (Strangers) are playing, then you can do a 2 on 2 match on Wi-Fi as well. If you're playing against friends on Wi-Fi, then it is possible to do the same as in Domination Mode - 2 on 2, 3 on 1 or 2 on 1.

The only setback to playing against friends on Wi-Fi is that Nintendo chose once again to use their Friend Code system, however, for this game, the code is assigned to the Mii you select. This COULD mean that your Mii will keep this code for other games, however, I don't know this for sure, so don't chase me with pitchforks and torches if it turns out otherwise. What is neat about friends is that you can look at their records anytime, and you can see where they are - Busy (In a game), Available (Not in a game), or Not Connected (Not online at all).

Overall, Wi-Fi Mode in this game is very neat - Next Level Games did a very good job with it, and besides a few minor flaws, it is practically perfect. Did I mention it's virtually lag-free? Before each match, you see your opponent's connection quality. As long as this is relatively good (3 or 4 stars out of 4), then there is no lag AT ALL. Pretty awesome.

So, as I'm nearing the end of the review, I'll discuss some minor other things now. A very nice addition to the game is that, at practically ANY TIME, music is playing. In the original, during gameplay, you could hear nothing but the cheering of the crowd. Here, however, each of the new stadiums has it's own theme music (The old stadiums have no music as to preserve the feel of the original game), which makes for a much more enjoyable playing experience. Also, each captain and sidekick has his or her very own theme song which plays when they score, which can range from awesome (Bowser's rock theme), to nostalgic (Boo's merry-go-round theme from Big Boo's Haunt in Super Mario 64), to downright insanely hilarious (Waluigi's hillbilly banjo music)! All these theme songs give the game just that bit of character it needs.

A thing fans of the original will be pleased to hear is that all characters that were in the original game have kept all of their animations - Yes, that means Waluigi can still do a crotch chop (But now with his hilarious banjo music playing with it!) - but they've also gained a whole slew of new, hilarious ones, and the new captains got some pretty funny animations as well. I mean, come on, who doesn't want to see Petey Piranha limbo dancing while his sidekicks cheer him on and tropical music plays?

Overall, I feel Mario Strikers Charged improves upon the original game in every single way. Single player features, multiplayer features, music, moves, characters, the way you unlock stuff and game modes have all been improved immensely and the cheapness has been toned down considerably. As such, I feel that this game is very much worthy of a perfect score. So, Next Level Games, here's a 10, please make another Mario Strikers. I'll certainly buy it!