ANARCHY ON THE PITCH: But sometimes less is more.
Some said it would never happen, but the arrival of a certain global icon has done the impossible and made Americans care about soccer. This lovable European has captured the hearts and imagination of an entire generation with his physics-defying play and inimitable personal style.
Oh, I’m not talking about David Beckham. I’m talking about Nintendo’s mustachioed plumber Mario, whose latest wacky sports endeavor finds him taking to the pitch for some five-on-five footie action. Mario Strikers Charged isn’t supposed to usher in the zeitgeist the way Becks is, but so far it’s been getting at least as friendly a reception.
Strikers is cut from the same cloth as past Nintendo sports games like Mario Golf and Mario Tennis. It takes the most rudimentary aspects of the sport, throws out any needless complications (like rules), and adds a spate of ridiculous power-ups that ensure non-stop anarchy on the field. The result has as much in common with something like Winning Eleven as humans do with chimps: maybe the origins are the same, but at this point the similarities are unrecognizable.
That’s usually the selling point for Nintendo sports games. As befits the company’s emphasis on luring casual gamers, they’re intended to be silly affairs that anybody can pick up and enjoy. Multi-player action is encouraged. (Strikers is the first Wii game to allow on-line play.) Besides Mario, the games feature canonical characters like Princess Toadstool and Luigi, and even a few completely fake, cash-in characters like the enigmatic “Waluigi.” All the same, Mario Strikers is a perfect example of how less is sometimes more. It’s packed with silliness that eventually stops feeling like levity and starts feeling like lunacy.
Each Strikers side features one star player from the Mario/Luigi/Donkey Kong mold plus a supporting cast of scrubs like Shy Guys and Hammer Brothers. (In goal for both teams is the largely autonomous Kritter.) Some characters excel at offense and others at defense; assembling your team isn’t too far removed from the strategy in the classic NES Ice Hockey, which let you choose among the slow fat guy, the fast skinny guy, and the, uh, medium medium guy. The biggest difference is that each of your teammates has a different special move depending on his class. Most are brightly colored and exciting, but nearly all have the same effect of knocking over or otherwise deking out the keeper.
The captains get the lion’s share of the action, however. Only they can execute the “MegaStrike” move — depending on your reaction time, you can get your character to shoot up to six balls at the goal. It’s Strikers’ version of the gamebreaker, and though it takes a bit of skill to trigger the MegaStrike, it happens often enough that the repetitive nature of it begins to grate on the nerves. Each time, your character leaps up in the air in exactly the same animation, an identical chugging guitar riff plays, and the keeper makes the same handful of stops. Eventually you wish there were some way to skip the theatrics.
Indeed, the entire game starts to feel excessive. One of the most common power-ups is the mushroom, which will cause your captain to grow enormously and pick up lots of speed. The first time you do this, it’s delightful, but familiarity breeds boredom. Most of the environments feature hazards like electrified walls and spontaneous fireballs, and before long it’s all just too much whimsy for whimsy’s sake. You almost long for the simple pleasures of a corner kick.