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Mario Strikers Charged (or Mario Strikers Charged Football for those of a European persuasion) was the first Wii release to provide online play proper. In fact, those on Commonwealth shores could more or less lay claim to getting the game a good month before the US or even Japan. They cut their teeth sharing friend codes or picking up random matches whilst the rest of the world look on as Nintendo took its new console into those notoriously sharkey online waters.
Once the game finally got its worldwide release it achieved pretty good scores on the likes of MetaCritic and GamesRankings. But dig into a lot of these reviews and you discover that some of the more nuanced aspects of play go unmentioned. All this doubtless made many gamers pass over Mario Charged Soccer, assuming it to be a quick knock off of the equivalent Mario Charged GameCube game. It was not until the majority of reviews had hit the inter-tubes or been pressed into print that many of its buried features started to be discovered. As new and imaginative play techniques and strategies hit the likes of GameFaqs, various fan sites gathered around to fill in some of the holes in the community features not found in the game itself setting up tournaments, leagues and tactical advice centres.
But before we dig into to these communities and forums in detail, let's remind ourselves how the game plays. We'll leave the basic running around and shooting controls in the hands of existing reviews and guides, but one area that demands mention relates to the 'Charged' part of this game's name. How charged-up the ball is has an effect on every aspect of the game and has become key for success. Charging the ball is described in the tutorials by pressing A to pas it from one player to the next in quick succession. However, it recently emerged that you could charge the ball much quicker via the B shoot button; hold down B then milliseconds before the shot would be released tab the A button to pass. This results in an instantly charged white hot ball, ready for super shots or powered offensive moves.
Novice or younger players could happily tootle around with just a few buttons, although it must be said that some of the demon eye'd super strike animations unsettled our kids somewhat.
Once you have a charged ball, you are much more likely to score a shot, provided you are in the opposing team's half. However, again unmentioned by the tutorial, a charged ball also powers up your player's offensive abilities. When a character has a white hot ball at their feet and presses the D-Pad, their attacks or evades suddenly have more power and range. The quick witted among you may have already spotted where this simple fact takes most players: teleporting. Characters with a special move such as teleport or jump can now zap forward much further and even teleport or jump their way right past the keeper.
It is depth of play such as this that is giving Mario Charged Strikers such a reputation as a slow burning hit. Early in the life of the Wii this is a game that first established the console as a proper gaming machine for the masses. We could go on to talk about other trick plays that can be learnt, moves such as chipped shots, goalie jumping and one-two's with the wall but we won't rehearse here what can be found elsewhere. It's because of these extended plays that so many are willing to devote hours of practice in hopes of progressing through their league of choice. The XLeague.tv channel for instance has Strikers right at the top of its online leagues with a GBP 400 cash prizes. These competitions have the heady feel of the beat 'em up competitions most popular in the 90's, exhibiting not only their own language for different playing styles and techniques but even a detailed etiquette of the style of play that honourable players will use (not to mention the physical fighting aspect of the game). In fact, so powerful are some of the advanced techniques there has even been talk of leagues outlawing (and disabling) certain aspects of the game.
Once you add team selection features to the subtle play and community support and you have a recipe for much forum chatter and deliberation. For instance, XLeague.tv' forum or the Press Start To Play comic strip. What is the killer combination of characters? Some opt for an out and out offensive force, relying on sheer goal scoring ability whilst others look for a more defensive, or balanced approach. Most interestingly however are the group that look to make special combinations of player characters, that can team up to string together what are effectively killer combo moves. The super-fast Toad for instance can in one move recover an attack and pass a fully charged ball to a Hammer Bros, ready for a killer blow firing the ball through the back of the net.
All this can be wrapped up and tied to your own personal Mii profile that enables you to create a friend roster and track their progress on the ranking leader boards and gauge their performance against others in the community. Nintendo themselves seem to understand the calibre of game they have on there hands here and say they are looking "to build a community that is accessible and friendly to new players, yet also rewarding for more advanced players".
It turns out that Mario Strikers didn't push its finer points on the player. Rather, it took time before it would give up some of the more engaging features. Novice or younger players could happily tootle around with just a few buttons, although it must be said that some of the demon eye'd super strike animations unsettled our kids somewhat. Never the less, for more experienced players Strikers delivers that tell tell Mario gaming moment. When you discover a new move or location it not only gives you a thrill but encourages you to search deeper for more undiscovered features. I'd not be surprised if there aren't a few more hidden gems still to find in Mario's finest footballing outing. It's reassuring to know there is a strong following and community to share and enjoy this knowledge. For this reason more than any other, Mario Strikers is a slow burner game that you really should give a second chance.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
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