If you weren't already aware, Nintendo want the Wii to be something everyone can enjoy. This has resulted in games that are generally simpler, lighter and easier to pick up than the majority of games on rival platforms. Mario Strikers: Charged Football is Nintendo and Next Level Games' effort to bring football to the masses that aren't so keen on Pro Evo and FIFA. Although what they've delivered is more than slightly similar to the GameCube original, it more or less achieves its goals.
Charged Football is about as far removed from real football as you're likely to get in a game that includes 'football' in its title. Sure, you play on something that resembles a pitch, a goal is at both ends, there's a ball and the objective is to score goals, but that's where the similarities end. In the Wii's debut footy title, the focus is on power shots, special moves, pick-ups and the MegaStrike. With simple versus play, challenges and a tournament mode, plus online play, there's a lot to play through, but is Charged Football an enjoyable football experience?
Played as a game of 5v5, your first task is to pick your team. One of the key characters from the Mario universe must be chosen as a captain, each with their own special abilities and skills, and a further 3 players must be chosen to play in the wings and in defence. Again, each squad player has different skills, so you can choose for all-round play, good attacking strength or solid defensive skills. What you can't do is choose your goalie, but you do get to handle this yourself... to a degree.
On the 'field' things move fast. Charging the ball is the core way to score in the game, with each successive pass changing the colour of the ball until it's glowing white. Unleash a shot at this stage and you stand a good chance of scoring, and have an even better chance if you fully charge the final kick and unleash a special kick - often making the shot unstoppable. These shots do feel a little cheap, but the same tactics apply for both teams, so it evens itself out.
The second way to score is to use your captain. A fully charged shot here will unleash a MegaStrike, where your player will leap into the air and fire off a series of shots dependant on the number you managed to hit on the on-screen meter. It's here (if you're defending) that you take on the role of the keeper. The game switches to a pseudo first-person perspective and you use the Wii-mote to move the keeper's hands over the balls that appear on the screen.
Against the AI this technique usually results in a flurry of goals, but against an experienced human player it's often a waste of time. It's a shame then than such a big focus of the game is on this one move, as in the more competitive games (especially online) it's simply not used. Had the striker had some say in the direction of the shots, things might have been different, but it just seems a tad too simple to be effective.
It's not that there's no skill involved in the game - a simple venture into the game's easy to set-up online mode proves that - but at times it feels like you have very little say in the outcome of a game. As a simple test we played a series of two-player versus games over the course of a few hours and the result of each was totally unpredictable, with actual skill seeming to play a very small part in the outcome. Add in the dangers of the themed pitches and you have a game that often annoys as much as it entertains.
Everyone has accepted that the Wii is little more than an enhanced GameCube in terms of power, so judged with that in mind Charged Football is a pleasant looking game, but the bigger problem is how the game could have worked almost feature complete on the GameCube. Sans the MegaStrike saving mini-game, the GameCube pad would probably have proved a better fit for the game - something the previous game in the series backs up.
If you approach the game with the mentality that Charged Football is going to be football in the Mario universe you'll find a game that is hard to get on with. If you accept that the emphasis is on flashy moves and fun over skill and precision, you'll find a game that has a place in your collection, even if it's only brought out every now and again.