It is easy to see why Mario Strikers Charged was severely overlooked on its release in 2007. Nintendo pumped out sports game after sports game (all featuring Mario and co.) during the 2000s for the GameCube, Wii, and Nintendo DS. Games like Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour, Mario Sports Mix, and Mario Hoops 3-on-3 were drowned in a sea of Mario sports titles, and are essentially only remembered today by hardcore Nintendo fans.
Nintendo covered just about every mainstream sport in that decade from tennis, to baseball, even to the Olympic Games, and though most of these sports games are indistinguishable from one another and forgettable (in terms of Nintendo just taking a sport and adding their own flair), Mario Strikers Charged was undeserving of being lost in the crowd. For I do not say this lightly: Charged is one of the best video games I have ever played — let alone one of the best sports games.
So why exactly does Nintendo’s typical sports game formula work tremendously well with Mario Strikers Charged than any other Mario sports title? For one thing, Charged has a distinct personality that separates itself from the pack, which can be seen long before one even touches the game.
The art style is the first immediately noticeable indicator that Charged is a relentless and unforgiving gauntlet of intensity and grit, in which fouls are entirely nonexistent. It is incredibly stupid how a new Fifa title releases and sells every year when MSC exists. Fifa, with its real-life emulation, wishes it could be as half as radical as Charged.
A few more noteworthy, standout traits of MSC are the balanced character and team dynamics, the uniquely gimmicky fields, and its perfectly fitting soundtrack. Each and every character — including sidekicks — sports (ignore the pun) their own set of balanced stats and unique, quirky abilities to truly make the player put thought into their team dynamic. Each compact field is designed wonderfully and each have their own, special gimmicks, with each field being of a different atmosphere and containing a respective song to simultaneously match the nature of the game and the field’s environment.
The individual games themselves never fail to be vigorously intense. Charged executes a perfect fusion of an immensely intense soccer game (more indoor than outdoor, with such a small field) and the application of goofy antics in the Mario universe (items). The A.I. are some of the most intelligent I’ve ever encountered while playing a game, but minor weaknesses can also be discovered in their programming, creating a fair balance. Facing A.I. on the hardest difficulty is so genuinely fun: complete focus is a must when facing the CPUs, for they are quick, clever, and ferocious. Wins feel like such an important triumph, while losses feel equally devastating and heartbreaking.
The mechanics of MSC are all flawless: the smooth passing (with its ingenious “lob” option), the shooting, the slide tackling, the character movements and switching between them, the use of not-too-overpowered items, the fluctuating energy in the ball; every function in this game is useful and purposeful. The mechanics are built so flawlessly that it creates supremely smooth and slick gameplay. One of the most interesting choices in Charged is the way players are rewarded with items. Taking a solid, powerful shot can earn you items, but unjustly hitting and slide tackling your opponents will reward them instead, which is a choice I can’t help but respect.
Even with the weird, avant garde Wii remote and nunchuk, the controls work terrifically. They are consistently responsive for such a fast-paced game. At times I questioned the motion controls (or rather motion control): whether I found them dated or not. It turns out they are quite fine and are legitimately fun to use. The distinguished pointing function of the Wii is also put to great use in an inventive and crucial fashion.
One aspect I had myself questioning on this recent revisit was the goalies. It feels as though sometimes the goals scored are completely up to chance, but I don’t think Nintendo could have programmed it any better. Each goal scored for and against you feels finely fair and earned.
Mario Strikers Charged is an undeservedly overlooked video game that unfailingly wins me over every time I revisit it. It evokes such an essential childlike emotion within me I’m practically immune to hating it. Seriously — the worst time I have with this game is when my ancient controllers fail to work mid-game. I love the heart-racing intensity of its gameplay, the impeccable design of each and every character, field, and characteristic, and the masterfully realized controls and mechanics. The “road to the striker cup” mode will always be my favorite with its league-style structure that displays the stats and standings of your team and the opposing teams to give the mode a lifelike quality. Charged will forever be a personally satisfying and special game to me.