I never played the Gamecube version of Mario Strikers, but the Wii game - Mario Strikers Charged Football - was one of my absolute favourites growing up. It's been so long since it was released back in 2007 that many of us didn't believe the series would return.
But still, the dream is not over. Like a last-minute equaliser, Nintendo announced Mario Strikers: Battle League Football, and it's being pitched as something of a mid-point between the structure of the original and the wacky hijinks of Charged.
I got my hands on the game for an hour or so, and so far, it's good news.
The High Press
This is a football game that's fun and understandable to people who don't watch football regularly and haven't a care in the world about EA losing the FIFA license. Don't worry, though - Mario Strikers: Battle League Football has a surprising amount to consider when you're playing.
The cast is pretty much what you'd expect - Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Bowser are accompanied by your Toads and Yoshis. The signing of Waluigi must have been a real coup - Smash Bros FC seem to have failed at that the whole way through. I'd like to see a wider roster come at a later date, as it's easy to see the current selection getting a bit dreary after a while. For launch, though, it's perfectly adequate.
The controls are pretty simple to start with but start adding on various technical bits to keep you on your toes and separate the Premier League talents from the Vanarama National. You can time your passes a bit better to ping them around tiki-taka style, hit beautiful first-time volleys, or strategically use items to set up space for a special power shot. Even off the ball, there's a lot you can do. Cancelling tackles to bait out dodges, bashing your own teammate into the opposition to pull off an exquisite challenge, and even putting Donkey Kong's giant torso in the way of a shot you don't trust your keeper to stop mean there's a high skill ceiling both in and out of possession.
My squad consisted of the big lads, captained by Waluigi. Alongside my talisman, I played Wario, DK, and Bowser. A fantastic squad on paper, and one I could see dominating in the Championship.
Each character has different stats, and as you might have guessed, a team of Yoshi, Rosalina, Toad, and Peach are going to have a yard of pace on all of them. That's where the gear system comes in.
You can kit out your character with a helmet, shirt, boots, and gauntlets. Just like in real football. Each of them can boost one of your stats at the cost of another. So, maybe you want to dump a stat in favour of speed for Bowser. He can be my tricky wide forward - a Jack Grealish type. I can then bung a giant strength helmet on Wario. He's my bruising centre-back. He also carries the ball in his hand because he just does not care.
The gear options offer a pretty nice level of customisation; although, like the character roster, it'd be great to see more in the future. At the moment, there are only a few options for each character, and they're all functionally the same. A piece for each body part per stat. Imagine a world with unique gear options for each character - what a world that would be.
A Classy Touch
One other thing I have to mention about Battle League is the presentation. The personality is all there. From Toad being hoisted in the air by a host of other Toads during a goal celebration to Donkey Kong dejectedly eating a banana after conceding, it's clear that Battle League is having fun with the setting.
It's Mario characters playing football. The aforementioned Wario holding the ball in his hand thing is just one of the delightful bits of personality sprinkled throughout. Waluigi, ever cocky, swaggers around like Connor McGregor and pulls out that iconic rose from the other sports games he's competed in, Toad slams the ball in with his head from a hundred feet in the air for his charged shot, and my guy Yoshi tackles tongue-first.
It's looking like Mario Strikers: Battle League Football absolutely knows where the goal is, and I'm looking forward to getting absolutely destroyed once online multiplayer opens up. There's going to be a Pro Clubs-style mode. Come sign for my team.