Preview

Mario Smash Football

Bliss: not a Russian billionaire in sight...

Set for a Christmas release, Mario Smash Football is Nintendo's answer to FIFA and Pro Evolution, and the latest in a flurry of sports titles featuring some of the company's best known characters including Donkey Kong, Koopa and Princess. Rather than trying to match the realism of these highly successful football titles, Mario Smash Football (originally titled Super Mario Strikers, but renamed by Nintendo Europe for release here), is brought to you by the developers of the brilliant Sega Soccer Slam and relies on simple controls and gameplay 'with a difference' in the hope of luring football fans and non-football fans alike.

Just as Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour and Mario Tennis bring you sporting games in a quirky and nonsense-filled manner (bereft of 'rules-of-physics'-related hardships), Super Mario Strikers aims to do very much the same for the football world. By adding a sprinkle of Nintendo magic that includes exaggerated leaping, special moves, power-ups and tackling abilities to the proceedings, Nintendo want you to be replacing those Chelsea team posters with that of Princess Peach standing proudly in her full kit. Gameplay is suitably uncomplicated, then. Each team has five players consisting of one well-known Nintendo character, while the rest of the team is completed by four other familiar faces to make up the numbers, typically enemies such as the Koopas or the more friendly Toads. Of course, the game's main objective mirrors the real life sport - to hit the ball in the back of the net.

The control system is also pleasingly undemanding. The analogue stick is used to seamlessly direct your players, whilst managing your abilities in other ways depends upon whether you are in a defensive or attacking position. In attack, the A and B buttons are used to pass and shoot respectively. Combinations of these buttons with L shoulder button provide further options, including volleying passes and chip shots. In defense, the A button allows the option to switch between players in order to cover the most appropriate area of the playing field, while instead, the B and Y buttons allow for differing strengths of tackle, both tame and more ferocious in vigor. Mario Smash Football

Special moves are executed by pressing the X button, whether you are attacking goal or defending your own. Of those revealed, we already know of giant Koopa shells and bombs, each with the clout to knock a whole team down. Others reportedly to make an appearance include freeze attacks and Chain Chomps, which can, we imagine, only contribute to the continuing mayhem erupting on the pitch.

From demo previews and the colourful videos, Super Mario Strikers looks to contain a surprising amount of depth to its gameplay, with both individual skill and the co-operation of players contributing to the scoring of some potentially spectacular goals. Imagine finding the time and space for striking a fiery ball into the top corner of the net past a helpless goalkeeper, or hitting the perfect cross to be met with a slow-motion Matrix style volley by one of your teammates. The scope for amazing, riling and just plain-beating your friends is palpable. Watch out FIFA, then.

A range of features are available from the offset, which include Grudge Match (just for a quick game of football for when the feeling takes you), as well as competitions for the chance to win trophies at steadily increasing difficulty levels. To top this off, there is also an area where you can view (and prove) your achievements in true trophy cabinet style.

Graphically, the game is looking just as you'd expect. Each character is brightly coloured and well animated, particularly during the introduction of each match. Plumes of dust rise from the ground as the players bolt around the pitch, groups of stars spark up when a collision takes place and replays allow a glorious alternative angle on each moment. As only early versions of the game have been demonstrated thus far, there are some obvious elements that need tightening-up and pressed with the proverbial iron before the game's release. These include a couple of frame rate problems, particularly in the cinematic cut scenes. More noticeable still is the quality of some of the famous Nintendo voicing, which is sounding muffled and really not on a par with the standard we have come to expect in the age of digital television and audio. Mario Smash Football

Super Mario Strikers could be on target to put the Geordie 'oot!' back into 'football' with end to end action and gameplay that anyone can get to grips with in an instant, like a Nintendo Virtua Striker, if you will. Due to the quality of recent Nintendo sports games, it would be a lie to say we're not excited about this one, then. It may not appeal to the die-hards of sporting realism and accuracy (PES is in a league of its own, there), but if you're one of those who want a game you can have a quick blast with on a rainy afternoon or a fun-filled multiplayer evening, Super Mario Strikers could be the one to top your Christmas list.

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