First thought when I loaded up "Mario Strikers Charged Football" was how bad the graphics looked but then again, it was the same when I first loaded up Zelda:TP... The Wii's graphics just doesn't look that great and it bothers me a little because I know there's much better hardware out there. But as long as the gameplay's good, I can look by the half modern 3D presentation.
I started off by running through the "Strikers ABC" tutorial mode which obviously wasn't very exciting because it teaches you one thing at a time. Fortunately there was only ten of them to go through for learning the controls. As you would have expected, the nun-chuk is used for moving your characters and the Wiimote is used for performing the main actions, kicking and passing.
Since this is Mario Football, there's obviously more to it than a real life sport sim. Teams are made up of a captain who is one of the main Mario Bros game characters, and sidekicks which are mostly the baddies you're used to jumping on. Whenever you run into opponents you can wave the Wiimote quickly to hit them without a foul. A simple means of tackling someone whether they have the ball or not. Once you have the ball you have several ways to try and score.
You can pass the ball around quickly to charge up its energy and the greater it is, the easier it is to score a single goal. If that's not enough style for you then you can make use of the various abilities that your team sidekicks have. Holding the B button you can make Boo fly through people with the ball, make the Hammer Bros. attack the goalie or get Dry Bones to shock people. Lastly, you can have your team captain pull off a Mega Strike by holding the B button down and then again on a gauge to determine how many power shots you take.
As you can see, the sidekick abilities and Megastrikes require some time to pull off so you don't have to worry too much about someone spamming with these moves early on. There's usually enough time to pull off a quick tackle if you're at the right places.
Apart from the simple tackle when on defence, you can also use the familiar items you see in the Mario series of games. These are obtained randomly as you go about charging the ball and tackling the other team. You can then select the items by shaking the nun-chuk and then press C to use them. Mega Strikes are blocked as if you're playing a target practice game. It can be very easy depending on how powerful the shots are. In fact, you can try it out yourself by playing the slow version of the goalie game at the official site.
There are a few little problems. Most of the time you'll probably be too busy keeping your eyes on the ball than seeing what item you can use because the action is so hectic. Trying to switch to the right character in time isn't easy either because you have to cycle through everyone of them with the A button.
On the other hand, I've read some people were complaining about how they couldn't pass to the right person while on offence but, I didn't have any problems doing so. As long as I had the analogue stick pointing in the right direction before pressing A it worked fine. Otherwise the ball usually gets passed to the closest team member.
After going through the tutorial, I played through the first "Fire Cup" in the "Road to the Strikers Cup" mode. Matches last around 2 minutes or so and, the difficulty was actually more well spread out than I had thought. The AI actually had various levels of difficulty unlike Mario 3-on-3 where every team I went up against were way too easy to beat. The cups are actually split into two parts. First you have to win enough matches in a 10 match league before you can enter the second part, the knockout stages. Lose in the knockout stages and you'll have to restart the cup again which is pretty harsh.
I noticed there's a fair bit of loading time while you're moving between scenes. I haven't timed them but they feel longer than changing scenes in Zelda:TP.
Ah yes, the online mode that the majority of players were after. Now that I had warmed up to the game's controls and mechanics, I popped online for a few matches.
Before starting you have to pick a Mii to store your match statistics in. Once you've done that, the game logs you onto WFC and you're ready to play online. Here you can register friends, find out how many of them is online or have a friendly game with them. Besides that, you can start playing "Ranked" matches which randomly finds another online player for you to play against.
By playing these "Ranked" matches, you take part in the weekly "Season" charts and to earn a good place you have to win points. Winning matches earns you 10 points and losing earns you 1 point. Goals also count towards your points too. You have to play your opponent for 3 matches and the first one to win 2 matches ends the game. The annoying thing is you have to watch the opening cutscene everytime before each match. I don't know why they couldn't just let you move onto the next match right away. If it's for a quick break then the stat screens with countdown timers after each match are already enough.
For those wondering about lag, there wasn't much for me via my wireless router. The game actually gives you an indicator of how good the connection is between you and your opponent before a match so that you can decide to accept or not. Connection quality is rated between 1 and 4 stars. Most of the time I managed to get a 4 star connection so it all played fairly smoothly.
After playing around 30 or so matches I only managed to win 2... Most of them were very close matches. Yeah, rubbish. Mega Strikes are pretty much useless because either you get tackled too quickly or your opponent ends up blocking all the shots. Other than that, I noticed that a lot of people were more or less using the same team setup; Kooper Jr. with Dry Bones, Long Mouth and one other sidekick. I just went with random setups since I didn't know the strengths yet but now I have a fair idea...
I've enjoyed the few hours I've spent on the game so far today but, I'm going to need more practice before I can level out the competition online. Once I've played through all there is to single player mode it'll be a good game to replay now and then thanks to its online mode. Replaying single player modes wouldn't be too bad either but obviously the fun isn't quite the same with the AI.
So, if you ever play Mario Strikers online and happen to come across a Mii named "Xcomp" with blue shades, it will probably be me!
I like the character artwork in the manual.
Now, I wonder what's happened to my Wii Play... It's almost been 2 weeks since dispatch and it still hasn't arrived yet. I'll have to ask Gameplay about it if it doesn't arrive by this Wednesday. And can't wait for Trauma Centre Second Opinion this Friday!