Of the four outfield players, three are “sidekicks” - lesser characters chosen from a selection of Shy Guy, Koopa, Dry Bones, Toad, Boo, Birdo, Hammer Bro and Monty Mole. Each one has an evasive move, activated by pressing the D-pad, and a particular type of special shot. For example, Birdo’s evasive move makes her spin on the spot, knocking down nearby rivals and buying almost enough time to charge a special shot that blasts a keeper-flattening giant egg towards the goal. The Hammer Bros. can chuck concussive hammers at the goalie which can get the ball into an empty net.
You can choose any combination of sidekicks. They all have different attributes for speed, shooting, tackling and so on, and you can have three the same if you’re particularly fond of one special move. That’s an instant and massive improvement over the GameCube original, which forced you to play with a team of identical nonentities.
As useful as the sidekicks are, their main function is to set up chances for the team captain. Instead of a basic charged shot, each of the 12 available main characters can perform a mega strike - a shot that sends multiple balls flying towards the opposition’s net.
It’s done by holding the shoot button until a golf-style swing meter appears. Stopping the meter in the left-hand orange zone unleashes the maximum quota of six balls, and nailing it a second time in the right-hand orange zone launches them at maximum power. Characters with better shooting stats have bigger orange zones but tend to be a lot slower around the pitch.
If you didn’t get crunched while trying to activate the swing meter, a game-interrupting, unskippable cutscene commences, in which the team captain soars into the air, transforms into something scary and launches the balls. The player on the receiving end gets a minigame chance to save the shots by moving a pair of hands over the balls and pressing A to burst them. Afterwards, the resulting saves and goals are shown back in the main game.