Tech

Mario Strikers: Battle League Is the Absurdist Sports Game of My Dreams

The combination of soccer, football, and Mario Kart mayhem is rage-inducing. But I can't put it down.
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I suck at sports games. I know, it's hard to believe considering I am a pro athlete and brilliant tactician. But every time EA drops its yearly slew of offerings, I just can't keep up. But that all changes the second Mario and his crew jumps into any and every kind of athletics, and I could never put my finger on why. Then it hit me. Mario sports romps are actually fun.

OK, OK. Calm down. Before you all get angry with me, I respect you FIFA heads out there. I, too, love games that many would call mind-boggling exercises in masochism. So to each their own. But Mario Strikers: Battle League, which debuts on the Nintendo Switch today, brilliantly combines soccer, football, and Mario Kart mayhem into one cartridge. It's full with all the rage-inducing, just one more game! chaos we love from the battle-torn plumber.

Battle League comes as a welcome, if not wild surprise. The franchise was dormant since 2007's Mario Strikers Charged, which has somehow found a cult following in the years since. Now Mario Strikers has returned—and it's arguably better than ever. Mario's return to the pitch features refined, hectic gameplay, a gear system that makes Donkey Kong look like RoboCop, a killer online club system, and a grungy, aggressive world for our Mushroom Kingdom residents. Nintendo has been amping up the difficulty on the Mario sports titles, so Battle League even provides a challenge later on. It adds a remarkable amount to replayability, even if it's at the expense of some co-op with your little sibling.

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Battle League has a few different game modes, including Quick Play, Cups, and Club. Quick Play is as expected, a place where you can make a custom ruleset for local play. Cups acts as Battle League's story mode. While you may be able to breeze through the first few tournaments, trust me when I say the titular battles are a different beast after the first credits sequence. Finally, there's Club, which is essentially an online clan system. While I haven't had a ton of time with this mode during the review period—due to a lack of players—the structure is clear and pretty cool. People earn points for clubs, and the points help with rankings, stadium unlocks, and more. You also have the opportunity to to customize colors and uniforms for your club, which can all be used in other offline aspects of the game. The club customization is a wonderful thing, and being able to customize a stadium and uniform for many players gives the mode a very Football Club Vibe, which is really where Battle Strikers excels. If you're alone out there, please feel free to join the officially sanctioned Esquire Football Club, run by yours truly, named “Esquire Gamer Zone” (Code 4K9fNK2). We'd love to have you.*

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Battle Strikers definitely leaves room for DLC characters and gear, thankfully. While there are unlockables in the main game, which I won't spoil, there are also plenty of purchasable goodies for your football club. As for Mario's mainstay characters, the roster isn't lacking by any means, but I’d love to see the likes of Blooper, Shy Guy, Goomba, Funky Kong, and more make their way to the field. Battle Strikers by no means feels empty, but it definitely feels like it features more of a straight-laced roster with room to become far wackier.

Battle Strikers will be a blast for those who love the likes of Madden and FIFA, or want something more intense than Switch Sports. Here's hoping Nintendo keeps Battle Strikers fresh with cool events, DLC, and updates to keep its community alive and kicking—because the potential for a large online community is absolutely there. The Mario Strikers franchise is officially back and better than ever, so strap on your boots at your earliest convenience. See you out there, striker, but beware: getting between me and a goal may cost you your life.

*Now, you may be asking, before I join your club, what kind of player and captain are you, Gamer-in-Chief Cam Sherrill? A fucking great one, that's what. I play as Donkey Kong, who's wearing some epic gear that no, you haven't unlocked, noob. And I hit. A lot. I play aggressively, slamming people into walls, barreling down the field and taking the ball by whatever means possible. You may think that makes me a ball hog, but au contraire, my little mushroom-headed friend. My DK has his passing skills through the roof—at the expense of shooting. (Read: I’m bad at scoring goals, so I choose not to.) Like a good captain, I’ll do the dirty work, so you, my gamer pal, can have all the glory. It’s a thankless job here in Esquire Gamer Zone, but one only a great ape can truly accomplish.

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Cameron Sherrill
Cameron Sherrill is a designer and writer for Esquire.com, where he covers technology and video games.
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