Some of you will remember Mario Smash Football on the Gamecube, Mario Strikers: Charged Football simply builds on that original concept, adding a few new features and ideas but is generally the same game updated for Wii. One of the big additions that has been heavily promoted by Nintendo is online play, you can now fight it out with friends all over the world.
This is no ordinary football game, for a flavour think of Pro Evolution mashed with Super Smash Bros. and you'll be somewhat in the right mind set. This is based on five-a-side footie, four outfield players and a goal keeper. You'd probably presume that the gameplay is extremely simple but you'd be wrong. Charged isn't one of those football games where you can throw a controller to a friend and explain the controls with a simple button map.
The usual suspects are all here, characters such as Mario, Luigi, Bowser, Wario and Donkey Kong all appear as team captains. During the team select stage your first pick is one of these well known captains, each come with different attributes of movement, shooting, passing and defence. Typically Mario is an all rounder whilst someone heavy like Donkey Kong is good at shooting but weak in movement, you get the idea. After that you choose your three sidekicks that make up the rest of your team, these are made up from other popular Mario characters such as Koopas, Shy Guys, Boo's and Hammer Bros. Sidekicks also have different attributes and skills allowing you to mix and match them into your own personal playing style.
When you finally take to the field you'll soon realise that this is no ordinary game of footie, it's a super charged, action packed, battle to the end. One of the most noticeable parts of the game is the Megastrikes. A ferocious powershot where your character blasts into the air and fires down an almighty blast at the opposing keeper. When your team captain charges a shot for long enough you'll trigger a golf style swing meter which defines first how many balls your Megastrike will have and secondly how hard you'll hit them. Getting the swing perfect will produce a super hard shot with six balls. This means you can quite easily score six goals in one shot, pick that one out!
It's not only the team captains that get a special powershot, your sidekicks also have what's called "Skillshots" these are again triggered by charging your shot to the max, unleashing a individual special power and a shot on goal. For example the Hammer Bros. will fly up into the air unleashing a fist full of hammers knocking out everyone in their path before blasting the ball at the goal.
If that wasn't enough, there are a whole host of power ups that get awarded to your team for a variety of reasons. These include items from the classic red shells, b-bombs and classic banana skins. This all adds to the gameplay that at times can become extremely frantic and exciting. Additionally, some of the stadiums also have on-pitch obstacles such as thwomps and larva bombs!
Surprisingly with all this violence and power ups you do actually get rewarded for playing good football, this is called "charging the ball". Making a sequence of good passes between your team-mates will cause the ball to slowly change colour and begin to glow more and more as the power "charges up". Why bother with the beautiful game? Because with a "charged" ball you become much more likely to score when you finally shoot.
Like most football games the amount of different game modes is relatively shallow, but better than most. Firstly there's a bog standard "domination" vs mode that allows you to setup a single match, a "Strikers ABC" training mode allowing you to learn the ropes, Nintendo WiFi mode for online play, "Striker Challenges" that give you familiar scenarios to complete and finally the more meaty "Road To The Striker Cup" which is effectively the single player "adventure".
Charged has employed a somewhat unorthodox control scheme that to be honest doesn't feel totally natural at first, but it grows on you. Obviously we've always had doubts of how more traditional control schemes might map onto the Wiimote & Nunchuck. The controls aren't bad, but they does take a little getting used too, once your fingers can remember all the buttons it seems to flow quite nicely.
The analog stick controls the movement of your player. When in control of the ball, the button will pass between your players, trigger acts as shoot (holding this charges your shot), trigger gives you a small chip or cross whilst using the D-Pad will perform a special trick to skip past opponents like Cristiano Ronaldo. When you're in pursuit of the ball, will change player, D-Pad performs a slide tackle and finally "Shaking" the Wiimote causes a Hit/Deke which totally knocks out your opposing player. Throughout the game you have the button that activates your power up.
There is also something new that only Wii can bring to the table, when your opponent successfully charges a Megastrike you're put in control of the goal keeper and get to make a "Megasave". Your Wiimote pointer turns into a pair of hands which you have to move into position of the incoming shot and hit the button to save. Depending on the players Megastrike you'll need to save between 3 and 6 shots, this is actually pretty cool and really adds some excitement to multiplayer.
This control setup works pretty well, but it's not something you can work out for yourself like most football games. It's almost essential to complete the tutorials to fully understand the controls. The only real use of the Wiimote in standard play is the "shaking", which doesn't really add anything to the game, it can even get tiring. It's pretty safe to say that Charged would work just as well, if not better with a standard controller.
The game plays rather nicely and is actually extremely easy on the eye, the graphics have been improved over the Gamecube original and whilst it might not showcase the Wii against say an Xbox 360, it's certainly one of the best looking Wii games so far. Coupled with this are excellent sound-effects and a decent soundtrack. Next Level Games have also done an excellent job with the menu system, it's clear to see that they really have an eye for presentation, Charged is well polished and oozes of Nintendo quality. The only minor let down is that there are a couple loading screens that I'm sure could of been avoided.
With Mario Strikers: Charged Football the developers have created an exciting, frantic, arcade footie title for all ages. It clearly improves on its predecessor in all areas of the park and even adds a few new ideas into the mix. Whilst understandably lacking any depth in single player mode, it truly shines as a multiplayer party game for you and your mates. Well worth your consideration.