TUCSON, Ariz. — Aside from stomping Goombas and rescuing princesses, sports are what Mario does best.
The king of kart racing, tennis, and golf is also adept at the world's most popular sport and reignites that dominance with the outrageous and thrilling soccer game "Mario Strikers: Battle League."
Eschewing a story mode in favor of a ladder of double-elimination tournaments with escalating difficulty, the game sucks you in with bite-sized matches that are juiced with wild momentum changes, thrilling comebacks, and stunning highlight reels.
You may find yourself shoving an opponent into the wall — this version of soccer takes some cues from the hockey — then steamrolling a defender with a giant red shell before you unleash a charged-up shot that stuns the goalkeeper, allowing a teammate to scoop up the rebound and strike it into the back of the net for a goal.
The franchise, which debuted in 2005 on the GameCube and its online-enhanced 2007 Wii sequel, breaks out of dormancy with a Switch release that takes the best of the past games and pushes it forward in significant new directions.
The 5-on-5 matches allow you to round up Mario, Luigi, Rosalina, Peach, Yoshi, Toad, Wario, Waluigi, Donkey Kong, and Bowser for zany power-up-laden soccer matches. Think "Mario Kart" on the soccer pitch rather than the race track.
The initial character selection may be a little slim, but the cheap, frivolous goals from the past games are gone. Every move, no matter how outrageous, has a defensive answer. The aim seems to be to give the gameplay enough balance to make it acceptable on the e-sports circuit.
There is plenty to explore in single-player or couch competition and co-op modes, but online play is where the game truly soars. Teaming with a friend to take on other squads from around the globe is particularly thrilling.
Although seemingly geared toward a niche audience, "Mario Strikers: Battle League" has a broader appeal than it may seem, thanks to its accessibility and ease of use. The title excels in craftsmanship and compact excitement. It's one of my favorite games on the system and a shining example of a crossover sports sim.
The publisher provided a review code.