It's not even half time at Nintendo's Slough HQ and already England are trailing Germany 3 to 1. "Just like real life!" quips my Berlin-dwelling opponent, after landing his third strike passed my inferior ball-juggling skills. Thanks to the Wii controller's convenient wrist strap "accidental" pad-to-the-face violence is off the cards, instead a quick tactics change to 'repeatedly-headbutt-his-star-player' at least minimises further goal embarrassment. Final score: 4-1.
Obviously this chap was cheating, seeing as his day job includes play-testing Wii games in order to crush visiting British journalists, but it's still typical of what you can expect from Mario Strikers Charged - the Wii-powered sequel to last years' moderately-successful Gamecube predecessor.
In case you missed it, 'Strikers has you leading a team of four footy wannabes with your choice of moody-looking Mushroom Kingdom celebrities. Action plays out in a typically-arcade style, with the charged, mechanical ball homing directly to your feet and headbuttings openly accepted anywhere on the pitch.
Sporting some mildly-tweaked - but noticeably improved - graphics, 'Charged - like a nightclub toilet attendant - attempts to 'freshen up' the footy genre - and you don't even have to leave a quid on your way out. Once you've picked your captain and hopped into the game, controls are essentially the same as its GameCube predecessor; A passes the ball and changes characters, while B shoots. However, this time around a swing of the Nunchuck adaptor initiates a tackle - which is also useful for smacking your real-life opponent.
The nunchuck tackle is a welcome addition to the control scheme and feels intuitive, although I was hoping for something a little more radical in the realm of shooting and passing. To be fair, it's easy to get to grips with and certainly does the job, but give me ten minutes with some paper and crayons and I'm sure I can come up with something that utilises the Wii controller more effectively (controller-flick passing? Cursor-action?).
The other big addition to Mario's footy outing is the power shot. After holding the B trigger for a few crucial seconds your character triggers a shooting mini-game, where you're able to fire-off several balls towards the goal and your opponent, controlling a pair of gloves, has to scramble with the Wii controller to save them. Consequently, this is the only way Germans game testers can win at Mario Strikers Charged.
For as much variety and originality that this feature brings to the game, I couldn't help but feel that it was a little tacked-on and - perhaps unsurprisingly, considering I got my arse served on a plate - cheap. Maybe with a little more practice the significance of being able to fire off four shots at once will become a little clearer, but for now I'm unsure how well this feature will meld with the core footy action.
Overall though, Mario Strikers Charged is as frantic and fast-paced as its GameCube counterpart and undeniably offers some fantastic multiplayer bouts. However, I'm not yet convinced that it takes advantage of the Wii's unique controller as well as it could. Still, I'm looking forward to trying out the final product, and online multiplayer alone will guarantee my hard-earned dollars will go towards a purchase.