When it comes to Inazuma Eleven Strikers, don't let any references to football (soccer if you're of the North America persuasion) or the snazzy kits fool you, this isn't a football game. It's a ball game with football-style rules, infused with extravagant special moves and buckets of charm, which is guaranteed to raise an initial smile for anyone who remembers when video games were little more than silly fantasies and over-the-top action. Unfortunately for this title, that smile won't last long for grown-up gamers, though the younger target audience may get through the full match.
To make one thing clear from the offset, this title has very little in common with the two DS RPG experiences released in Europe. While those are lengthy, involving tales with an experience defined by much more than the occasional game of football, Strikers strips out the match-play, spruces it up and does away with everything else. While that's probably to be expected of any spin-off, it's important to note that any levelling up, bonds or team building through transfers — all in the Club Room career mode — are minor and far less substantial than in the main series entries.
The game of football — a term we'll continue to use loosely — that this title offers up is undoubtedly stylish and fun. With clean and basic cel-shaded graphics to set the tone, you carry out the basic actions of run, sprint, pass and shoot, but throw in plenty of the outlandish special moves that have come to define the franchise. Some are particularly memorable, such as a defender that replaces the ball with a bomb or summons an enormous "divine" foot to crush the attacker, or the striker that produces four rocket-propelled penguins that fly the ball towards goal. One of the main activities in this game is, quite simply, messing around and experimenting with special moves, playing with as many players and teams as possible in order to see them.
It's in the basic modes of Exhibition and Tournament where this style works best, most specifically in multiplayer. When playing with a friend there are plenty of laughs to be had — at least while the experience is fresh — while an extra player without much skill can also join in as a coach. While two players can play in co-op, or against each other, anyone with a Wii Remote can point at the screen and create areas to recover vital TP (Technical Points) for pulling off special moves, or waggle the remote to make special moves even more powerful. The main control options are equally accessible, with Wii Remote and Nunchuk, Wii Remote only and the Classic Controller all supported; on screen button prompts also help players along. With the fun of experimenting with co-op special moves and different levels of these skills, all while someone else can help from the sidelines, this game does a good job of enabling a group to have some old-fashioned fun.
It's not all great in multiplayer, however, with the five Mini Games on offer being rudimentary at best, with any gold medals for performance seeming like an impossibility. They normally involve tapping buttons in time, quickly or in co-ordination with a team mate, but they're not particularly enjoyable or effective. It's unfortunate that these same activities count as Training in the career mode, just one issue with the Club Room.
While the Club Room mode does its best to introduce elements from the full adventures — such as items, scouting for players and bonds between team mates — the experience ultimately falls down due to the fact that it's basically a trudge through consecutive tournaments. That's common in many games, of course, with the idea that you gradually improve your team to move up to tougher opponents, but the gameplay doesn't have enough depth to sustain interest for a number of consecutive matches.
Playing this title alone is significantly less fun than in co-op, simply because your attention is focused on the shortcomings of the game design. The special moves become a blessing and curse, as they're the most interesting thing about the matches while also becoming repetitive and relentless. There'll be occasions where special moves, on either side, are activated every few seconds, and on each occasion you have to sit and watch the same old animation sequence. It breaks up the flow of play to an excessive degree — especially as scoring normal goals is such a rare occurrence — and matters aren't helped much by having to listen to the same screams of "THE TOWER" or "THE WALL" over and over again.
Of course, this repetition and compulsion to shout repeatedly truly shows that this is a video game for children, which struggles to find a balance to keep older gamers equally interested and, well, not in a state of irritation. It takes away the age-group unifying depth of the DS entries and opts for the simplistic approach, so anyone of a certain age coming into this expecting a similar experience is likely to be surprised, initially charmed, and then bored.
Inazuma Eleven Strikers has some undeniable strengths, specifically when two or more players gather with the express intention of enjoying some mindless fun. Kids and big kids alike will get a kick from the cheerful visuals and bombastic special moves, making it a game of football as imagined by hyperactive five-year-olds. The charm struggles to last, however, with older gamers likely to become more irritated than excited as the hours drift by. Younger gamers may have more patience and enjoy it for longer; it really depends how much you like tornado shots and giant god-like goalkeeping hands, over and over again.