IGN Review of Mario Strikers Charged
Two years ago Nintendo and development studio Next Level Games released Super Mario Strikers -- a title that married a very untraditional approach to the sport of soccer with the lovable characters from the Mushroom Kingdom -- for GameCube. Nobody had any idea what to expect from the endeavor, but it proved to be surprisingly enjoyable, particularly as a multiplayer affair. As a single-player outing, however, it lacked depth. Gamers could select their team captains, but they couldn't pick their sidekicks. Special moves called megastrikes practically guaranteed goals. And the selection of characters and stadiums seemed as light as the CPU-controlled artificial intelligence. Thankfully, for the official Wii sequel, Mario Strikers Charged, many of these criticisms have been addressed, but Next Level Games hasn't stopped there. It's also spruced up the overall graphical presentation and added a full-blown online mode -- the first one on Nintendo's new console worth mentioning. Charged still has some shortcomings, and yet it's a definite improvement over its predecessor in every facet and ultimately one of the best multiplayer offerings available for Wii, period. ''
''So many developers have taken the easy route when it comes to creating software for Wii. Just take what worked for GameCube and do it again. These lazy undertakings aren't official ports, but they always have that same air about them -- that they might have started out as GCN or PS2 projects until someone got wind of Wii sales and decided to go with a quick, no-fuss port instead. Wii hasn't even been out a year and we've seen too many of these careless releases to count, so it is incredibly refreshing to behold an effort that looks and plays like it was created specifically for Nintendo's new system and not rushed to it, and for that Next Level Games has earned our respect.''
''''Take, for instance, the game's crisp, detailed and wholly stylized visual presentation, which actually made us wonder if the experience could be duplicated on GameCube; probably not, we think. The title begins with an absolutely stunning pre-rendered intro showcasing characters like Mario and Peach battling it out on the soccer field against Waluigi and Bowser, and not only is the art and choreography beautiful, but there's no artifacting whatsoever -- the video couldn't possibly be cleaner. It's a small detail, we know, but it's the first sign that the developer has strived to deliver a completely polished package, and this truth is demonstrated again and again. Slick, intuitive menus revolve around a soccer theme. Compared to the original Strikers, Charged boasts larger environments with crisper, cleaner textures, thoroughly enhanced particle effects, characters who run, jump, kick and perform special moves with very fluid animation, and a host of camera sweeps, screen shakes and environmental effects (wind, lighting, etc.) to add atmosphere to the action. Even the music is catchy, although it's repeated too often. There is the occasional background or stadium texture that looks a little blurrier than we'd like, but for the most part the game looks great and it supports 480p and true 16:9 widescreen (it'll fill your whole screen -- there's no fake stuff here). Everything runs at a pretty solid 30 frames per second with the occasional dip.''
''''Obviously, Strikers plays differently from its predecessor, in part because of a brand new controller. The title moves speedily and tightly along at an arcade pace and is responsively controlled with the nunchuk's analog stick. You'll tap the A button to pass to a teammate when on offense and the same will cycle between characters on defense. B-trigger will fire off shots or, when held, charge up heavier kicks and megastrikes, the latter of which look superb thanks to some great new in-game animations. You can earn special power-ups -- send shells at opponents, drop bombs, etc. -- by slamming into competitors who don't have the ball or by charging up a kick and releasing at the ideal moment. You'll be able to unleash these specials when needed by tapping the C button. Finally, when held, the Z button enables you to volley passes back and forth to teammates, which can set up some all-pro shots. Novices may never fully explore this function, but for it may change the way dedicated gamers play. These very traditional mechanics come together for a fast-paced and fun soccer romp.''
''If you haven't yet noticed, though -- no, there aren't a lot of motion controls in place. This is because the development studio didn't want to force waggle onto players when it wasn't necessary. When gestures are used, however, they are used well. For instance, to perform bit hits, you now motion in any direction as you near an opponent and your character will knock them off their feet. It may sound like a subtle change over the original control scheme, but trust us when we state that it feels much better because there's significantly more "umph" to acting out the damaging move. On the other hand, thanks to the pointer functionality of the Wii remote, megastrikes are no longer a cheap means to score goals because now you can actually block them. Megastrikes are more powerful than they've ever been -- if charged correctly, you can send up to six soccer balls at the goal -- so this new measure is a necessity. If you're quick with the pointer and can move the goalie's hand in front of the oncoming soccer balls, you will regularly stop ones that might've been massive scores. In Charged, you can be leading 6-0 one second and find that the game is tied in the next. It can be intense and frustrating at the same time.''''Charged continues its predecessor's rule in that only team captains can perform megastrikes, but that doesn't mean that the sidekicks are still more or less useless. Actually, not only do they come equipped with basic attributes -- some are slow, others fast, others more powerful, etc. -- but they can each perform one special maneuver. For instance, Boo is able to send the ball directly into the goal in one quick burst if you have the character positioned in exactly the right spot on the field. The Hammer Bros. can hurl hammers toward the goal, knock out the goalie, and then roll the ball in. These moves are executed by charging with the B-trigger, just as you would a megastrike. As a result, sidekicks feel like real contributors now, as opposed to the generic stand-ins of the first game. Since you can also specifically choose the sidekicks you want on your team, too, there's inherently more skill involved in building the perfect soccer all-stars this time around.''
''What you will eventually notice is that you'll be able to use more skill shots and megastrikes in the single-player mode against easy AI competitors than you will against well-practiced human opponents -- a disappointment, as far as we're concerned. This is because real-life gamers are relentless, as we've found, and they will stay on you, keep nailing you with big hits and power-ups, and you'll just never have the time to fully charge a kick into a megastrike; and vice-versa, of course. Playing two-dozen matches online, we actually managed to get off only a handful of megastrikes against opponents and our competitors even less that. Perhaps that's why NLG felt compelled to prevent us from being able to skip the admittedlly-fancy megastrike animations, which see characters like Mario hurling themselves into the air before becoming engulfed in flames and eventually kicking the shot -- these animations can take 10 seconds or more. They look great the first time, or even the first 20 times, but after awhile you'll just want to skip by them and we unfortunately haven't found that option.''''Arguably the game's main offering is its Road to the Striker Cup, which enables you to progress through various cups, including Striker, Crystal and Fire. The cups start off ridiculously easy, but eventually become quite challenging, particularly if you start out with a more advanced difficulty. NLG has returned all the classic stadiums from the original game and has added a host of new ones, including Sand Tomb, Thunder Island, the Vice, Lava Pit, the Dump, Galactic Stadium, the Wastelands, Crystal Canyon, Stormship Stadium and the Classroom. The levels are extremely varied and come to life with interactivity -- for instance, wind that has a bearing on the game and objects that crash onto the fields. The sheer diversity of the levels helps break up the monotony of the cups, which are all too similar. While the difficulty does increase, you will eventually take notice of the repetitive nature of the experience -- maybe that's inherent to any sports game, but it's a consideration nonetheless. What may also be true is that sports games are simply best played by two more or more people, and that, of course, is where Strikers shines.''
''''And it really shines, actually, because it dishes out a robust four-player mode either off or online. Both are great, which surprised us since our experience with Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection is based solely on the rather clumsy and stupid Pokemon Battle Revolution. Strikers is the anti-Pokemon in that it features a very clean, intuitive connection interface and in our experience very little lag, even when playing four players online -- two per Wii console. The title pulls your system's Miis and saves all your Wi-Fi Connection data to them. When logged into the network you've got the option to battle friends, compete against a randomly selected competitor in a ranked game, look at the leaderboard or evaluate your friend roster. ''
''''The obvious downer is that, yes, Strikers does use individual friend codes that are completely separate from your Wii system number. Why, we have no idea, since it's not simple or easy in the least. You'll have to call up all your buddies, ask them what their friend codes are, enter them, and they will in turn have to enter yours. With that done, you'll be able to see whenever they are online and you can invite them very quickly to a match. Another real disappointment is that you can't communicate with anybody at all during the online experience. No headset support. No typing via the Wii remote and virtual keyboard. If you want to communicate at all, you better have a phone handy. This is especially unfortunate because in a game like Strikers, as in Smash Bros., half the fun comes with the trash talking that transpires during matches. There are some other minor gripes. You can't set conditions or choose levels in ranked matches -- they are chosen at random. (You can do this against friends, though.) And you will not be able to gain the friend code of someone you play in a ranked match. ''
''''In the dozens of online matches we played both at the IGN offices and at home, the network generally held up quite well. In fact, only once was lag so unbearable that we felt like we were not even controlling our characters; we actually checked to see if we had mistakenly turned on some unnoticed CPU control option -- no joke, it was really that bad. But by and large the online experience was excellent, offering no lag whatsoever. We've posted some videos to our media section that show a few online matches and you can see for yourself that it runs just as smoothly as the single-player experience. When we first got the game, we seemed to be the only ones in America on the network and we could never find anybody to connect with in ranked matches. However, in the days prior to this review, more and more players started to appear online and we found that the process of searching for gamers and eventually connecting to a ranked game usually took no more than 30 seconds and sometimes as few as five. NLG has created a sense of community via online leaderboards. You can log in to see where you rank across the Americas, which is sure to spur competition (sadly, ranked matches cannot be played outside the continent and official Nintendo documentation is very vague and iffy on the subject of whether or not you can play against friends on different continents; we tried and couldn't, but it's allegedly possible, maybe.)
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