David Beckham isn't the only star trying to increase the visibility of soccer in the United States. Nintendo's chief mascot, the heroic plumber Mario, is taking to the field in “Mario Strikers Charged” for the Nintendo Wii.
And Mario isn't hitting the pitch alone. Not only is he bringing along almost the entire stable of Nintendo characters, like Donkey Kong and Yoshi, but "Mario Strikers Charged" is also the second online multiplayer game for the Wii, meaning friends can score goals on each other from halfway across the continent.
Developer Next Level Games worked closely with Nintendo to assemble a great game. It might not be the next "must buy" for Wii owners, but those that take the plunge will certainly find some endearing entertainment. Fans of the original “Mario Strikers” on the GameCube will also find a lot to like in “Charged,” as it addresses many criticisms, including general lack of depth and the inability to select teammates after choosing your team captain. Next Level has also added a host of extra content, such as players and stadiums you can unlock and a series of single-player challenges.
The big question is if the Wii Remote is at all intuitive for soccer. It certainly works for an over-the-top soccer game starring apes and dinosaurs. The nunchuk attachment primarily handles player movement, chipping, and lob passes. Direct passes and shooting are assigned to the A and B buttons on the Wii Remote. The Wii's motion sensing functionality is actually somewhat sidelined in “Mario Strikers Charged,” but that's a blessing here. Not every Wii game needs to have players hopping about the living room. The only time you're shaking things around is to block big shots and thwart attempts at the feature that puts the “Charged” in the game title: megastrikes.
Megastrikes are delirious kicks that leave reality (and gravity) behind in favor of some fun pyrotechnics. Every star player like Mario and Princess Peach can unleash these maneuvers that send both the player and the ball skyward, unleashing a barrage of balls that the goalie is almost helpless to defend against.
Each move is accompanied by a clever cinematic, such as the portly Wario inhaling the lone ball and spitting out a phalanx. (Unfortunately, these animations cannot be skipped no matter how times you've seen them.) Megastrikes keep games high-scoring, but do sometimes result in lopsided play if you're going up against an opponent with exceptional timing — such as the computer.
Artificial intelligence is always an issue in sports games, and “Mario Strikers Charged” is no exception. Your teammates aren't always the brightest tools in the shed and, even worse, as you advance through the single-player game (called “Road to the Strikers Cup”), the computer seems like a downright cheater, magically blocking almost all of your Megastrikes or grabbing the best items, like invincibility stars or explosive bombs.
Against a human opponent, though, "Strikers" is a scream. Up to four players can tumble around the field either online or offline. Setting up a match online is fairly easy, although those Friend Codes make a comeback, making it nearly impossible to ever challenge a stranger. The game has no voice support either, a big omission in a game that invites horrible trash-talk. Playing over the Nintendo WiFi Connection is smooth and without any real noticeable lag or dropouts — a real achievement for a game with such frantic action.
“Mario Strikers Charged” is one of the best-looking games in the Wii library — it pulls off some great effects that just weren't possible on the GameCube. The intro movie is a stunner you'll want to watch a few times. The game also has a great sense of humor, as evidenced in the wind-ripped Thunder Island stadium. As you charge down the field to score a goal, you hear a moo off-screen just as a cow flies across the screen, creaming every player she hits.
“Strikers” is a great pick-up-and-play game for families and sports gamers with a sense of whimsy. It's refreshing to play a Wii game that not only feels like it was made specifically for the system but also doesn't shove unnecessary motion control down your throat. The control scheme is fairly traditional with touches of shaking and pointing, proving that the Wii is indeed a fine destination for regular video game fare.
Of course, a game starring a giant monkey that goes airborne before scoring six goals in a row can hardly be called normal.