We've seen Mario and his Mushroom Kingdom pals infiltrate every sport under the sun, from tennis to baseball to golf. Now it's soccer's turn to get a makeover and the result is yet another approachable sports title that flies high when you've got a group of friends going at it.
Super Mario Strikers does to soccer what Mario Kart did to racing: make it completely nuts. You choose a captain (Mario, Luigi or one of the other headliners), pick their supporting players and take turns abusing the crap out of the opposing team with the usual Mario power-ups. Banana peels slip up the competition. Chain Chomps decimate the entire opposing team. But the items seem more brutal now, often slamming players into a surrounding electrified fence like rag dolls. It's morbidly satisfying when playing with friends, where you really get a sense of how much all the tripping, freezing and blasting can make a placid friend want to bite your damn head off.
Each of the main players has their own supercharged, goalie-murdering attack that looks right out of Dragon Ball Z. These shots take some time to set up and execute, but are guaranteed goals if done right. In fact, high scoring games are the rule here.
With all the instant goals and power-ups flying everywhere, it's almost impossible to gain a sense of momentum. More than once we shot a goal from midfield as soon as the ball was dropped. This would break any typical sports game; for Mario, it makes sense. You never know who could win, with one item or face-planting tackle changing everything.
The friendly atmosphere from earlier Mario sports games has been replaced by a questionable "street" mentality that's ill-fitting for the Nintendo realm. It's just too bizarre to see Luigi talking smack to Donkey Kong and Princess Peach parading around in skimpy, dare we say, sexy shorts. What happened to sportsmanship, guys?
The gritty promotional artwork plays up the in-your-face attitude, though in-game it's the same cutesy character designs we've seen since the Nintendo 64 days, trying to look tough. It's borderline embarrassing.
Invite some pals over and you'll have a multiplayer dream session. Going solo, you could knock out a weekend but not much beyond that. As it stands, Strikers hits everything it needs to be simple and engaging, but really has legs when gaming with friends.