August 9, 2007

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Mario Strikers Charged (Wii)
Nintendo, July 30, 2007
By Glenn Given production@hippopress.com

Fat guy, skinny guy, medium guy. The sweet simplicty of old-school NES Ice Hockey is reincarnated for the Wii in Mario-themed soccer chaos.

Astute readers will know that the best video game ever made is 8-bit Ice Hockey for the original NES. For quick pick-up hockey with a hint of customization to layer a bit of strategy on your thumb-aching button-mashing and slapshot-inspired smack talk, you couldn’t beat it. Plus, it had superfluous pixilated Zamboni asides. Genius. Until last week I would still load up my emulator for a few periods of flickery slap-and-check action.

But Mario Strikers Charged has unloaded my dubiously legal ROMs in favor of its waggle-tastic soccer brawl. Charged gets it right. Players choose teams from within the Mario canon, each captain and teamate bringing a different balance of power, defense, speed and ball control to the field. You’ve got the option to customize your four-man club to your play style, be it finesse, brute force or stonewall defense. These tweaks provide the foundation of your playstyle, but a lot of that gets lost in the frantic play that relies as much on well-timed use of character-specific skills and signature kicks.

Charged advocates a fast-paced passing game with rapid-fire shots on goal and places a premium on alley-oops and assists as chipping the ball upfield or passing “charges” the ball, making it harder to block. Piled on the intensity of movement that the charging mechanic brings is the array of power-ups (turtle shells, bombs, giant roaming monsters, explosive shockwaves or booby traps, etc., etc.) you earn by shoulder tackling, stealing and shooting. Unleashed on the defense, these can clear the path and provide a brief window for shooting on goal. Winding up your kick also adds some punch to the ball through electrical blasts, waves of hammers, or in the case of team captains a golf-game-style swing meter that launches you into the air to rain down multiple shots on goal. Should you be subject to such a soccer salvo (and in later games you undoubtedly will as the AI gets wickedly deft) you can use the Wii-mote to block the incoming fire.

With both exhibition and tournament play, four-player (including co-op) games and a handful of unlocks like stadiums and new captains, Charged makes the offline and party play superb. What brings it over the cliff is its online play. Wii owners can connect to friends over “the internets” or participate in best-of-three matches against similarly skilled opponents in ranked play. Online opponent matching is chosen according to the integrity of your connection, though even a four-star sync will produce some slight flickers of harmless lag.

My gripes with Charged are minor. The Wii-friend codes are cumbersome, but tolerable in exchange for the stellar online play, and the later stages can be frustrating, as single elimination tournaments against such speedy teams can toss a few nunchucks to the floor. But even when Bowser is stomping you out of the final round in the finals of the Striker Cup you’ll be having fun. AGlenn Given