Previews

Mario Strikers Charged Football

Preview: Hands-on impressions of Mario's arcade kick-about

We usually take one look at cartoon- or arcade-style football games and run a mile. Disney Sports Soccer came and went unnoticed, and FIFA Street, while doing well in the charts, was so bad it was almost offensive.

But, apart from the fact that Mario Strikers Charged Football stars Nintendo's big mascot, it also warrants your attention because it marks a few of firsts for Wii - it's the first football game and, more importantly, the first online multiplayer game for the system.

The start of online gaming is an exciting prospect for Nintendo fans, and we will of course bring you a full report on how that handles once the servers are flooded with gamers next Friday, when the game launches.

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The single-player mode is where we've been getting our boots dirty, and getting to grips with the controls is more challenging than we expected. Despite it being the first football game on Wii, don't expect it to demonstrate how the Wii Remote can revolutionise football games because it barely uses any of the Remote's functions.

You play using a combination of the Wii Remote and Nunchuk controllers. You move with the analogue stick, while passing and shooting is done with the A and B buttons respectively. When you're on the defensive, the A button selects the nearest player to the ball, B slide-tackles and shaking the Remote slightly activates a sort of barging tackle. Not the most interesting use of the motion controls, we must say.

But things get a lot more interesting when it comes to shooting. What we noticed very quickly in MSCF is that it's near impossible to score with a simple shot. And that's where the selection of crazy shots come in. As you may already know, each team is made up of four characters: a captain (Mario, Boswer, Peach or any of the main characters); and sidekicks (like the Hammer Bros, Koopa, or Shyguy).

If you hold down the B button as you approach the goal you make your character charge up an extra powerful shot. Charge it fully (which is tough because you remain still while you charge, leaving you open to be tackled) and your character will unleash a special move depending on who it is.

A fully-charged shot with a sidekick sees them perform a unique special move before pelting the ball - the Hammer Bros. throw hammers to batter the keeper, Boo teleports behind the keeper to shoot (cheater) and Drybones charges the ball with electricity before shooting.

On the other hand, fully charge a shot with a captain and a bar appears over their head. Hit the shot button twice to stop the marker at the right points (like hitting a shot in a golf game) and you'll execute a super shot in which the character smashes the ball high into the air and jumps up with it with a trail of flames, then, somehow, the one ball becomes multiple and the attacking player launches a series of rocket-like shots at the keeper in an action-style cutscene.

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The keeper then has to save them all which - if that keeper is being controlled by a human - is done with the Wii Remote's pointer functionality. A pair of gloves appear on the screen which you move around with the Remote's pointer, hitting A when a ball appears on your screen to save the shot.

Yes, it's completely off its head, but that's just what we expected from a Mario-themed football game - along with the Mario Kart-style items system implemented. Every time you take a charged up shot you're rewarded with a random item which you use against your opponent.

You can blow them up with bombs, smash them away with mushrooms or trip them up with bananas. Just as in Mario Kart, it makes a fast-paced arcade game even more hectic, particularly in multiplayer.

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