If you've ever thought football was a little bit boring and have compared it to watching paint dry or even cutting grass with scissors then Mario Strikers Charged Football is your type of football game. Picture this; Australia against Greece in a semi final match, off comes Kewell and on comes Mario. Mario then uses a MegaStrike and scores six goals and Australia win the match. The thought of this type of soccer match will either entice you or puts you off soccer for life, if it's the latter then back away but if it's the former then welcome to Mario Strikers Charged Football.
Mario Strikers Charged Football is a noteworthy title in that it is the first Nintendo Wii game to feature online play. Games like Excitetruck and Wii Sports seem perfect for online play, but Strikers Charged is just as good of a match. The bad news is that the game uses friend codes. When you first log onto the Wifi connection (which is remarkably simple) you'll need to choose your Mii, after you've chosen your Mii you'll be assigned a friend code and you're ready to play. Your online profile is assigned to your Mii, so you'll need to make sure you don't delete your Mii or you'll lose your stats.
Once you're online you'll be presented with the Nintendo WFC central menu. From this menu you can choose to play either a ranked or unranked match. If you're playing a ranked match then you'll get ten points for a win, one point for a loss and a point for each goal. From the WFC central menu you can bring up your friend roster and view their stats or invite them to a game. There is also a leaderdboard option with season rankings, friend rankings and season leaders. From the main menu you'll also be able to view the daily leader.
Once you've selected what sort of match you want to play you can jump into a match rather quickly, it's possible to see your opponent's connection rating before accepting a game and each game goes for three minutes. Every ranked online match has three games and the person who wins the most out of these three matches is the winner. Whilst we're pleased with Nintendo's online service, it is a little bit "light" on features at the moment. There are only a few customisation options (such as skill level, series length and game type) with no options for turning off items or MegaStrikes. However, the net code is sublime with very little lag and even though the friend codes return, it's very easy to jump into a game. Occasionally players will drop out after a loss in order to preserve their own statistics, this won't penalise you but it also doesn't appear to penalise them, if a player drops out several times then it should be noted on their profile somehow.
If you prefer offline play then there are only a few options and none of them are particularly deep. Firstly, there is the Strikers ABC mode which is a training mode that is just about essential for beginning players and returning players. There is also the dominator mode, which lets you choose a team, some sidekicks and a stadium and play in a single match. The striker challenges mode features twelve challenges which range in difficulty from novice through to legend. The striker challenges put you in an assigned scenario that you'll have to complete. Rounding out the single player modes is the Road to the Striker Cup. In the Road to the Striker Cup you'll compete in a few tournaments (such as the fire cup, crystal cup etc..) and try and take your team to victory. Unfortunately though that's all the single player modes that the game features. Since none of the single player modes are that substantial, Strikers Charged is most definitely targetted towards multiplayer gamers.
The gameplay has gone through a few changes in comparison to its predecessor. The controls of course have been reworked and you'll use both the nunchuck and the Wii remote. Those hoping to use the classic controller should prepare to be disappointed, as the game doesn't support the use of the classic controller at all. The nunchuck is used to move the players and to utilise items. The A button on the Wii remote is assigned to pass and to switch to another player and the B button is for shooting, charging shots and for lob passes. The controls overall are very impressive, you're only using a few buttons so using an item, then passing off to your captain and shooting for goal becomes second nature very quickly.
Team selection is crucial this time around, you'll need to select a captain and two sidekicks who will make up your defence and a sidekick who will be the playmaker. Each character has a special move and unique attributes, Boo's special move for example, allows him to vanish and reappear down the pitch. The captain can pull off a Super Strike which shoots several balls at the goalie. If you're the goalie on the receiving end of the shot then you'll need to use the Wii remote to stop the balls from going into the net. You do this by directing the on screen hands towards the ball and pressing the A button. Adding to your worries on the soccer pitch are powerups, which are gained by tackling or pushing another player. All of this may seem "cheap" but results in an incredibly enjoyable game. You'll need tactics too, as you may have a powerup which makes Mario huge but if you use it at the incorrect time then you've wasted it. For a game that's so extremely chaotic it's surprising how often tactics come into play; much like real soccer.
Graphically the game isn't exactly pushing the Wii but looks okay. Strikers Charged has only seen minor visual improvements from its Gamecube predecessor. Most importantly though, the frame rate is very steady which results in a very fast paced game of football. The sound is rather impressive too, with typical Mario tunes given a remix. At times the crowd will start chanting for one of the captain's too, which is sure to make you crack a smile.
As you play through the single player mode you'll unlock new captains and stadiums. The stadiums are rather varied and range from a pretty standard soccer pitch through to a mudpit. Multiplayer is where players will spend most of their time. The offline multiplayer is addictive and online play should keep you hooked for weeks. There are plenty of leaderboards so you can see where you're ranked and compete against your friends.
Mario Strikers Charged Football is a game that is very easy to recommend. If you're a serious football fan then wait for FIFA 08 but if you love Mario and friends and want to have a bit of fun on the soccer pitch then you won't be disappointed by Strikers Charged. As the first game to utilise Wi-Fi there are still improvements to be made but overall it's a very respectable debut for Nintendo's foray into online gaming for the Wii.