SUPER MARIO STRIKERS / Nintendo / Gamecube
I generally shy away from reviewing games based on sports that I know nothing about and have no real interest in. Thankfully, Super Strikers is cut from the same cloth as conceptual predecessor Mega Man Soccer - arcade-style mayhem with simple controls and few to no rules, made to appeal to as broad an audience as possible.
It's a game best looked at as something you'll play and have a blast with here and there, rather than something you can sit in front of and spend 10+ hours on. The game really shines in multiplayer mode - maybe the best 4-player game of the whole Cube roster - but it's rather sorely lacking in terms of options and single-player depth.
One of eight major Mario characters - all the big names except for Bowser - is chosen as captain of each of the two sides, and then the remaining roster is rounded out with a set of four generic players (Birdos, Toads, Koopas or Hammer Bros) and an alligator goalkeeper. Team selection is the first of a pile of fiddly little things you wish the game would do better and give you more flexibility on - teams are virtually identical aside from the captains, and none of them seem particularly different anyway with no visible skill levels or rankings.
Once in the midst of the action, however, you hardly care about the limited team configurations or lack of strategy. Strikers is basically no-rules, no-out-of-bounds soccer, and the gameplay is smooth and satisfying. Balls bounce immediately back into play off an invisible force field, which also electrocutes and temporarily stuns anyone who gets checked into it. There's not a ref in sight and you're free to throw body checks around at will, even at players nowhere near the ball, though crushing them with a massive check when they aren't playing the ball will cause their team to be given a power-up. Power-ups are all the traditional Mario Kart fare, deployed on the field with a tap of the button as long as you have something left in your inventory (though you don't get to choose the items that come out next.) And then Bowser, apparently mad at not being invited to the tourney, will randomly drop down into the field and start swatting both teams and breathing fire at them periodically. Each team captain also has a "super shot" that counts for 2 goals if it lands, but it's so hard to pull off it's virtually not even worth trying in most situations. Bowser, the Super Shots and Power-Ups can all be individually turned on or off, but there's no implementing any kind of traditional soccer rules.
As mentioned, this makes for frenetic and satisfying fun for two to four players, but the solo experience leaves quite a bit to be desired. It's fun enough to take for a spin once in a while, and there's a handful of new stadiums and cheats to gradually unlock, but there's nothing really approaching a season mode, or anything in the way of team customization. You play various Cups a la Mario Kart to unlock stuff, but they're really just a consecutive string of samey matches, only points are kept for wins and losses in a round robin style.
The presentation can't be faulted for much. The arenas look a bit generic and don't really have any ties to the Mario theme, but though the game was developed by a third party Nintendo brought in their own animators and sound crew to ensure the characters looked right and made authentic noises. The characters are very fluid and have an interesting little edge to them in this one that's a bit more than what you're used to from Nintendo - Donkey Kong runs over cameramen in celebration, Waluigi crotch-chops after scoring a goal, and the game features the most sexualized versions of Peach and Daisy seen yet (sporting skin-tight outfits that show off all the goodies.) The sound work outside of the voices is also great and keeps the matches pumping and exciting.
The game leaves you with a lot of little things to wish for, it's true. If I'd paid $40 or $50 for this back when it came out, I might feel a bit ripped. But at the $10-ish price point that second-hand copies go for now it's perfect for get-togethers and when you're just in a pick-up-and-play sort of mood without having to re-learn the more complex controls of "deeper" sports games. Recommended at the right price.
* Developer Interview
* Gameplay Video
* Good job Mario