Mario Strikers: Battle League launches in a few days. But before the game is made widely available, Nintendo allowed people to download and play the game over the past weekend. During set times, you could jump in and play online with other random players. After a couple of hours of fooling with the game’s tutorial and playing about a dozen matches, I think there is a pretty fun game here.

Super Specific Play Times

In a typical Nintendo move, you could only play Mario Strikers: Battle League‘s Quick Battle mode during pre-determined one-hour blocks. Yes, you could fool around with the tutorial whenever you wanted, but if you were eager to play a game with other people, you had to do it during one of the six available time slots. In my case, I got to play online twice – once on Saturday and then for an hour on Sunday.

This move was weird, even if it’s something Nintendo has done in the past. The windows weren’t exactly prime gaming times. On Friday, there was one slot between 8 and 9 pm PT. Saturday had three sessions: 4 to 5 am, 12 to 1 pm, and 8 to 9 pm. Sunday’s two sessions repeated the 4-5 am and 12-1 pm slots. I only managed to play on Saturday night and Sunday lunchtime because I was actually around and remembered those were the available slots.

While I understand the need for them to test online servers, these time slots aren’t when you’d expect most people would play games. The two evening sessions are fine for those on the West Coast of North America, but it’s approaching midnight on the East Coast. Meanwhile, the morning slots are way too early for West Coast players, and not ideal for East Coast players either.

The Tutorial is Incredibly deep and helpful

Before I jumped online, I spent a good chunk of time learning the game. In all honesty, this was my first time playing a Mario Strikers game. Yes, I used to own a GameCube and a Wii, I just never got around to playing the first two games. It’s a bit disappointing considering the amount of soccer gaming content I post on this blog and my general interest in sports games.

Thankfully, the tutorial is incredibly deep and was a good way to practice before playing with and against others online. The basic controls are easy to grasp, but the advanced controls definitely take time to learn. Yes, I was able to do the tutorials in the control environment. But once they ask you to complete a short match and perform all the actions within the time frame, I couldn’t get them done.

Specifically, the advanced tackling and combo attacks gave me the most trouble. Defending can get really messy with so many things happening on the screen at one time. As for the combo moves, a lot of it is timing-based. You need to time your button presses, and it always seemed as though I was either too early or too late. I was constantly struggling to get it right.

Building your team

For this demo, there are 10 characters available to build your team around. Each has points distributed across five categories: Strength, Speed, Shooting, Passing, and Technique. As you’d expect in a sports-themed Mario game, there are characters who excel in one area over others.

Bowser, Donkey Kong, and Wario all have high Strength points but suffer in Technique. Yoshi is strong in both Shooting and Passing but low in Strength, Speed, and Technique. Waluigi is pretty good in Strength, Speed, and Technique but his Shooting and Passing are weak. Mario and Luigi are balanced but don’t really stand out in one category and don’t really suffer in another.

The key it feels is to build a squad that is ultimately balanced. You’re not going to get it perfect, but I had some interesting match combinations when playing online. If you play with another person, then you’re each selecting two characters. It’s pretty important to see what your partner chooses and pick a squad that will work best for both of you.

Limited Online customization

The only option online is Quick Battle where you are being paired with another random player. Again, you each pick two characters, but you will each take turns controlling them all on the pitch. The person who gets to be captain is able to pick your kit (which determines your team name), and the look of your half of the pitch. Other than that, there are no real customization options except allowing characters to wear gear, which didn’t seem like it made any sort of difference.

In most matches, we almost always had a strong character like Bowser, Wario, or Donkey Kong. I also noticed a lot of people picking Roselina or Peach. After that, people would mix it up with Mario or Luigi and Toad or Yoshi. I didn’t see too many add Waluigi to their teams even though he’s got decent Strength, Speed, and Technique stats (15,16, and 14 out of 25).

It looks like there are a lot of customization options available in the full game. That must mean that you can improve characters to get them to how you want them to be. As it stands for me, if I’m building my own team, I’m leaning towards including Mario, Donkey Kong, Waluigi, and probably Rosalina.

There’s a lot happening on the small screen.

Since this was my first experience with the series, I didn’t realize just how frantic matches can get. There is a lot going on, and it can be tough to keep tabs on everything on the small screen of the Nintendo Switch. You’ve got the standard Mario-game items that you’ll need to collect and use to your advantage. There will be times when there are multiple shells, players getting tackled and other things happening that you can easily lose track of the ball and what is actually happening on the pitch.

Charged shots are hard to pull off, and I even found it harder to perform the Hyper Shot. Those are near impossible-to-miss shots that you can perform if you collect the necessary orb and charge your shot before it wears out. These little sequences are a lot of fun to watch, but they don’t happen too often. During my first session, I only had one match where someone took a Hyper Shot. My second session had them happen more frequently, but it still was only about once a match.

Also, the pitch feels too small even if this is just a 4-on-4 match. You can’t really play the game like a traditional soccer match. It’s hard to pull off a string of passes and the only time you’ll have a breakaway is if everyone else has been taken out by a shell. Because you’re playing with another person and there is no good way to communicate with each other. You kind of just have to hope for the best. In all, I probably broke even with the number of games I won or lost, which is probably expected.

I want to play more

I was really disappointed with Mario Tennis Aces, which lead to me never touching Mario Golf: Super Rush last year. Although I was excited for Mario Strikers: Battle League when it was first announced, I was also very concerned that the game would be another underwhelming Mario Sports game. Sure, I’ve only spent about a very short period of time with the game, but I had a lot of fun. I am seriously considering getting this when it launches in a few days. If the single-player content is solid and the other online components are strong, then I’ll be a very happy soccer gaming fan!