With a recent wash of Mario sports titles, its hard to justify them all. Mario Smash Football or Super Mario Strikers to the Americans is an action sports title, developed by Canadian outfit, Next Level Games. Don't expect to find the tactical side of the beautiful game here, Smash Football does exactly that, you simply have to Smash your way through the opponents.
If you cast your minds back a year or so, you may remember a title called Sega Soccer Slam, its extremely hard NOT to compare this offering to that, because the basic outline is pretty much the same. In Mario Smash Football you are required to pick a team captain from popular Nintendo characters, such as Mario, Luigi, Wario, Yoshi and Donkey Kong. With your captain selected, you choose between Koopas, Birdos, Toad and the Smash Brothers to make up the rest of your team.
Before taking to the field they're are a couple of things to take into account, Mario Smash Football isn't like the Premiership, there is NO referee and you are actually encouraged to attack your opposing team. So much so, this game features familiar Mushroom Kingdom weapons! After the game begins, on the relatively small pitch, you'll soon grasp the quick pace of the game and get stuck into the action. After a while shells start flying, fouls are plenty and fights break out!
The combat system in Mario Smash Football is excellent, simple and easy to get started. Whilst on the defence you have the option to slide tackle (B) or Deke / Attack (Y) the other team, even if they don't yet have the ball. If you've collected a weapon, you can use it with (X). The weapons consist of Red Shells, Green Shells, Blue Shells, Bombs, Banana Skins and sometimes power ups such as speed boost Mushrooms. You really have to be careful with the power weapons, they WILL inflict damage to your own players!
In the same vein as traditional football titles, you have a button used for running (R) and the ability to chip a shot or pass using (L). The only common move lacking from this is through ball, but its really not required. You can also use your weapons whilst on the offence, to clear away those defenders. Passing between players with the (A) button is nice and simple, allowing for fluid and quick passing, simply by aiming towards your intended team mate.
There are lots of ways to shoot in this game, the most exciting of all is the Super Shot. The (B) button is used for shooting, hit it once and your player will have a crack at goal, however holding it down will charge into a more powerful shot, the more you charge, the more powerful the shot gets. Holding the button down even longer will result in a Super Shot attempt, the game goes into slow motion and you must press (B) twice more in a golf style power meter. Hitting both green areas will unleash an unstoppable power shot blasting the poor goalkeeper into the back of the net, however missing these green areas your shot can still be saved by the keeper. A successful Super Shot strike is worth 2 goals, so they are more than worth the effort!
With fluid passing you can also create a "Perfect Pass" opportunity, the game is sent into slow motion as the ball takes on a green trail of light before your striker slams the ball into the back of the net. Every goal will result in a cut scene celebration and replay, allowing you to bask in glory. You can expect really high scores in Mario Smash Football, 20-8 is not a high scoring game
In the usual Mario fashion, the player is required to enter a "Cup Battle" which is the main way to progress through the game. Starting with a Mushroom Cup leading to the Flower Cup which is then followed by the Star Cup, ending with the Bowser Cup. The Cup Battle games are usually league based, with some knock-out rounds later on. There are a couple of unlockable items, but nothing worth spending hours and hours over.
It's pretty obvious that this game is geared towards multiplayer, it soon gets repetitive in single player mode, although the four skill levels could easily challenge the best of players. Like alot of team games, they're often greatly enhanced when playing against friends, in that respect, Mario Smash Football is right up there with Mario Kart and Mario Party.
Your also given the ability to create your own Cup Battles, choosing the amount of teams, what weapons are allowed and how long the game is played. This is great for setting up mini tournaments with your friends or family.
The graphics are pretty respectable considering the style of game, bright and detailed stadiums really bring the game to life. The cut-scenes are well executed with some great animation. The highlight is of course the Super Shot with its iconic Matrix style panning cameras and explosions. Subtle details also help the overall presentation of the game, the different pitch types, ranging from wood, metal to the obvious grass.
Overall Mario Smash Football is a pretty neat little package, its great in multiplayer but stumbles to go anywhere in single player. The general feel of the game is extremely solid, impressively well polished for a non-Nintendo developer. If your looking for a new high-action, arcade style party game for you and your friends, this is certainly worth a try. However, owners of Sega Soccer Slam should think twice before buying such a similar title.