Before this week, I had never played a game in the Mario Strikers series, but now I’m a massive fan. After spending some time with the new Mario Strikers: Battle League, I’ve found it to be a solid, polished experience with surprisingly deep mechanics. It’s got a fantastic core gameplay loop, but its lack of variety makes the game feel incomplete. Currently, Mario Strikers: Battle League is not meaty enough to justify its $60 price tag. While Nintendo has promised free post-launch content, a lack of content is a problem that needs to be fixed during original development. DLC should be icing on the cake, but Mario Strikers: Battle League just needs more cake.
For example, look at the game’s three main modes: Quick Battle is the standard, single match where you can adjust the settings as you please; Club Battles is a tournament mode where you battle teams that specialize in certain stats; and Strikers Club is the online mode, where you can start a club with other players and compete in online play. There’s nothing wrong with any of these modes, but the only difference between them is who you’re playing against. The gameplay itself is always the same, classic soccer match. Battle League needs a campaign, a challenge mode, or even just a few alternate rulesets — anything to spice it up.
Gameplay changes incrementally when you play with different characters, but this isn’t as impactful as it seems. Even though there are ten characters (more than the Gamecube’s eight), it only takes three matches to try them all out, because they can fill any of the four slots available on a given team. The characters themselves, however, are wonderful, and their animations are some of the best, most ridiculous parts of the game. I’ve been playing as Toad solely because every time he scores, a small fleet of Toads run around the field with him. It’s adorable. My argument is not that the roster of characters is boring or small, just that they don’t provide the gameplay diversity I’m looking for.
Outside of aesthetics, the only differences between characters are their stats and their hyper strikes. The hyper strikes (a powered up shot to the goal) are character specific, but the stats can be augmented with the game’s gear system. I’ve written in the past about how I don’t care for unnecessary gear systems, but Battle League’s isn’t actually that big of a deal. To keep the game balanced, each character has the same stat total. All the gear does is move the existing numbers around; a bonus to strength might mean you lose some speed, etc. It’s not a game changer, but they at least provide some interesting options.
I only bring up the gear system to reinforce the point that the characters of Battle League are not the problem. Their animations are super well done, and they’re mechanically malleable enough to be adjusted to your personal preference. Despite this, the only detail we know about Nintendo’s post-launch content is that it will include new characters. I’ll gladly accept an expanded roster, but all the characters in the world can’t make up for the fact that each mode is barely different from the last. Nintendo might add more game modes, so not all hope is lost, but I shouldn’t have to hold out hope in the first place.
It doesn’t help that this game is the latest instance in a trend of Nintendo’s, where they release incomplete games and provide road maps to improvement later on. The most recent example is Switch Sports. As early as the announcement trailer, Nintendo said that free updates would bring leg strap support to soccer in the summer and add golf in the fall. Currently, however, Switch Sports only has six different modes, three of which (volleyball, badminton, and tennis) are very similar. Road maps are supposed to provide support to keep players playing, but when the base game has so little to do, does it even make sense to play in the first place?
I’m not frustrated with Battle League because I think it’s a bad game; I’m frustrated because I enjoy the game a lot, and there’s just not much to do in it. I’ll be putting it down soon, and if its post-launch road map looks anything like the one in Switch Sports, I might not be coming back.