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Critical Essay Series: Mario Strikers Charged

How Mario Strikers Charged achieved hitting that arcade sports game sweet spot.

There was a certain beauty to arcade sports games.  Now almost a dead genre, arcade sports games in the 90’s showcased what was best about each sport appeasing to the hardcore sports fans but at the same time making it approachable to people who are not familiar with the complexity of sports games. 

Even though EA, who have been wildly successful with their sports simulation franchises, holds the majority of the professional licenses in this generation, they still have not been able to crack the code on the arcade sports games genre.  Majority of the Big series, EA’s arcade sports games division, has yet to put out a quality title from the absolutely dreadful NFL Tour to the short lived FIFA Street; however the exception tends to be NBA Street: Homecourt. 

While it does have a lot of arcade flare and is a quality title, it still seems to miss the major appeal of the arcade sports game, which is approachability factor for the casual sports fan.  So in this generation, who could possibly make a quality arcade sports title and still sell enough copies to make the title profitable without having licenses for professional teams?  Well, leave that up to Nintendo.

 About two years ago, Nintendo had quietly released Mario Strikers Charged for the Nintendo Wii.  What at first seemed to be a bit of a quandary in actually makes total sense on Nintendo’s part.  With the Nintendo Wii being labeled the party system of choice in this generation, it is no surprise that a game like Mario Strikers Charged nails the feel of a good arcade sports game.  Being the sequel to the Gamecube game Super Mario Strikers, many felt that the game was much more of a conventional sports game then the other titles in the Mario Sports franchises. 

Even though it was a strong soccer game, fans had sounded off that the strict soccer simulation feel of the game really detracted from the fun light heartedness that most Nintendo games showcased.  Fortunately Charged did away with the simulation like aspect of soccer and embraced its Mario Sports roots by emphasizing the aspects of the franchise’s arcade flair.  It hits that sweet spot where depth and strategy is offered to those hardcore sports fans who seek it while still being approachable to those who have no affection towards the sport of soccer.    

The premise of Mario Strikers Charged is essentially five on five games where each team’s objective is getting a ball into a goal. Your team is made up of the goalie, three supporting characters, and the captain of the team. When you first start the game up you are asked to pick the captain of your team. On the selection screen each captain has different attributes in four unique areas.

For example, Mario is an overall very balanced player, while Waluigi might be very fast and good at passing, but his other attributes are diminished. The same goes for the other three players that play a supporting role on your team; which are showcased by side characters from the Mario universe. Supporting players on a team have different special shots when holding down the B button on the Wii-mote. Like the hammer brother will throw a plethora of hammers at the goalie then shoot the ball or the Boo becomes the ball itself and goes past the goalie. 

With secondary players having additional abilities actually brings a certain element of tactical strategy and pre-game planning to the game that would make enthusiasts happy.  If the game was essentially just to see who could spam the score button the fastest, this would have been a mistake by the part of the developers.  In the early days of sports games on the original NES, they had a very crude functionality in terms of depth. 

As much as we all loved Blades of Steel or Double Dribble, these games would be suited as a flash-based game then a full retail product.  All players, casuals and enthusiasts alike, have grown to have more sophisticated expectations on the games they play today.  Adding enough depth is vital for any game to be considered quality.  However Nintendo also had to also keep in mind of their focus to the casual market.  This is where Captain’s “multi-goal” kicks come in.

 As for the captains of the team, they have the ability of performing special types of shots, when this move is executed by a Madden style kick meter showing up around your character. At the top of the kick meter designates the number of balls that are going to be hit by the captain and the bottom determines how fast the balls would be coming at the goalie. If you complete this successfully with out the other team disrupting this action, you go into the Dragonball Z type cut scene where they jump into the air and behind them flames or angel wings or something ridiculous appears as you kick then multiple balls into the goal.

Once the captain’s special kick has been initiated a mini game begins for the opposing kicker. This mini game is played using the Wii-mote to control the icon of hands that appear as a cursor where you literally have to click on the balls in first person view from the goalie’s perspective to stop them.   

The scoring mechanics of captains is that certain element which makes Charged such a great arcade sports game.  While it is true that on paper this game design decision does sound cheap and unbalanced, but that is what makes arcade sports games so great, the element of unpredictability.  For novice or casual sports players, mechanics like these actually keeps someone interested long after the first kick.  Down by three goals with only fifteen seconds left, if you are able to pull off your captain’s special “multi-goal” maneuver you actually have a chance of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. 

Though this little bit of brilliant game design also helps veteran players as well.  At times when playing a sports title or a fighting game, when one player is obviously much stronger then the other, games can be quite frustrating for both parties.  The addition of “multi-goal” adds to that element of constant readiness which usually makes games interesting for everyone. 

However, at the same time if a skilled player is good enough, the “multi-goal” move will not make miracles happen.  In other words, if someone is down by an obscene number like eight goals with thirty seconds left it is pretty much assured that whoever is winning will chalk up that victory.

Mario Strikers Charged has many things going for it as a great arcade sports game.  Its depth really does give veteran players enough game for them to dig in and master; while novices and casual sports players will love it for its accessibility.  It is sad that there are not more arcade sports games in this generation like Mario Strikers Charged, but there is a blue print there for publishers like EA to follow.      

 

[Mario Strikers Charged is developed by Next Level Games and published by Nintendo.  It is currently available for the Nintendo Wii.]    

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