[14 November 2007]
In my halcyon undergrad days, frozen pizzas and cheap red soda fueled marathon nights of Mario Kart, Goldeneye, and Super Smash Bros. An added incentive: whoever came in last could expect a flurry of punches to the groin. This atmosphere is something I’ve missed over the last several years, and multiplayer-driven games like these haven’t held the same magic since…until now. Mario Strikers Charged made me shout “OWNED” at the top of my lungs for the first time in years. That’s because I’m playing against an old college nemesis who lives an ocean away. I giddily run to my laptop to type a quick “hahahapwned!!!11” in between matches. It’s an adrenaline rush of dumb fun.
Despite my surname, I was a mess on the soccer field back in first Grade, so much so that my parents graciously allowed me to quit after sticking it out a full season. However, I rule at Charged. Perhaps that’s because the game really isn’t about soccer. Like EA’s early ‘90s NHL games, it’s all about body checking—or in this case, slide tackling.
The style of this game is the most interesting to be seen among Nintendo’s sports franchises. All the characters have been given makeovers and mildly humorous intro sequences. When engaged in a Megastrike (a volley of powerful shots), they turn into darker, more sinister version of themselves, in distinct anime style.
An aside: Is it just me, or did Waluigi give me the “suck it” motion after scoring a goal? This move hasn’t been pulled on me since middle school by that creepy kid who wore the same Austin 3:16 shirt every day! Ten years later, it still feels equally insulting. I thought I had imagined it until I found this Youtube proof.
Mario gets a bird’s eye view of the apocalypse as he
performs his megastrike
Little touches like charred uniforms and frosted turf make up for the last-gen visuals. The swooping camera style gives the game a cinematic feel, but is easily bypassed so you aren’t forced to watch instant replays of unremarkable goals. This is crucial, as the chaotic action is maintained throughout each match. The sound is similarly top notch. Each character is provided with unique victory and loss music. My personal favorite is Bowser Jr.‘s Dick Dale-style surf guitar intro.
The frenetic action that makes up Charged can sometimes be too much to process. Adding to the basic soccer rules are a dizzying array of special moves and items that can be used as weapons or powerups. Each field also has its own obstacles, such as lava, electric currents, fierce winds, or slippery ice. When all this is coming at you full bore, it can be difficult to see the ball, let alone decipher all the action. Fortunately, the game is fully customizable, allowing you to limit elements that may muck up the core gameplay.
There are two ways in which Charged takes advantage of the Wii Remote’s unique abilities. It is used to block MegaStrikes (You point at the screen, targeting incoming balls to keep them from flying by). Secondly, thrusting the wand in the direction of an opponent initiates a devastating slide tackle. This maneuver is key—you’ll spend more time tackling for possession of the ball than anything else. It seems simple, but this tactile action adds a modicum of immersion, much more so than many of the half-hearted attempts at Wii Remote functionality that have hit the Wii so far.
Bowser: Inspired by Wolverine?
Sadly, the single player ladder tournament is an afterthough because the AI is so, well, cheap. After the first few rounds, you’ll find yourself being tackled at every turn, scored on without even getting the chance to take position of the ball. It’s the sort of “there’s no way a human player could do that” AI that tarnishes many of Nintendo’s multiplayer-focused games. Thankfully, the Wi-Fi connection ensures that you’ll never be limited to this mode. One of the key elements in a proper multiplayer experience, however, is that of trash talk. It would have been nice if I could have spat game via a headset. This absence is all the more glaring when my Wii has two idling USB ports. Having to sprint to my laptop to lob insults does get old after a while.
I’m glad Nintendo has finally made the jump to internet play. With a lackluster single player experience, clumsy friend codes and the lack of headset or even keyboard support, this first venture into the online arena is not without its missteps. Nonetheless, it’s a solid title that should keep Wii owners busy until the Christmas rush, as well as an encouraging move toward deeper online play.