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Mario Strikers - Battle League Football review: Chaotic from the kick-off

(Switch) *** Age: 7+

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In the US, Nintendo conveniently drops the word “football’ from the title of this one. Might confuse the poor lambs over there. But, honestly, it should have excised the word in every territory, such is the fast and loose relationship between Mario Strikers and the beautiful game as we know it.

That’s how Nintendo plays it with all its sports games – from Mario Tennis to Mario Golf – and Battle League Football (BLF) follows the anarchic template set by Mario Strikers’ 2007 outing on the Wii. Sure, there’s a ball, goals, a pitch, and a stadium. But there the resemblance fades.

Despite a standard set of controls (shoot, pass, tackle, etc), it doesn’t take long to realise BLF plays more like Mario Kart crossed with FIFA Street than any conventional footy game. Forget carefully dribbling your way through opposing teams in 5-vs-5 matches. Banish thoughts of threading incisive passes to split open defences. Abandon any thoughts of controlling the goalkeeper.

BLF makes the first two almost impractical and the last one totally impossible, as you’re hurled into thunderously physical encounters determined by special moves and bruising tackles. And there ain’t no VAR here. It squeezes the 5-on-5 action (single-player vs CPU or up to eight online in multiplayer) into cramped pitches that leave precious little room for subtlety amid the furious action. In fact, my recommendation would be to experience BLF docked on the TV rather than in handheld mode, so that you benefit from the bigger screen. But that just might be because of my failing eyesight and slow reactions.

Don’t skip the long-winded tutorials whatever you do, because BLF demands a lot of the player. A steep learning curve forces you to learn the combinations of a raft of special moves including the dodge, the charged shot or tackle and the hyper-strike, an almost unblockable attack on goal.

If it all sounds too daunting, don’t be discouraged. BLF still rewards the casual player, at least in easy mode versus the CPU. The character roster may be pitifully slim (just 10 Nintendo favourites) and the stadium count is limited to a paltry five. But if you put in a few hours’ practice, you’ll grasp the basics enough to stand a chance.

Step up a level, though – or take your game online versus real players – and the sheer speed and chaos of matches leaves no room for unskilled passengers. Crunching tackles, special items such as player-nobbling shells and the devastating hyper-strike combine for a cauldron of competitiveness. Losing sight of the ball amid the tumult of charging bodies and specials flying is a frequent occurrence (at least for this old man).

Mario Strikers may be just too chaotic for its own good when at its full-throated best. But a greater problem lies in the lack of content in single-player (no story mode, for instance) and multiplayer – something that may be rectified down the line with DLC but hardly helps now.

In football terms, Nintendo needs to bolster the squad while telling the existing team members to put their foot on the ball and calm down a little.

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