Version tested: Wii
It's easy to imagine why Mario Strikers came to be. There's a GameCube prequel for a start but on a deeper level, we know that Japan loves football almost as much as Britain. Japan also loves Mario and the combination is a match made in, well, Shigeru Miyamoto's liver spotted super brain. But then this isn't a game made in Japan, it's made in Vancouver - a short drive away from FIFA developers EA, where team FIFA are working on perfecting David Beckham's new hairdo and debating on how much Wayne Rooney's bottom lip should wobble when things really kick off. Next Level Games have no restrictions of realism to hold back Mario Strikers from becoming the strangest take on the beautiful game we've ever seen. Forget ball physics, just ask yourself how do you make a save while a giant turtle shell is heading towards your testicles. It's a question Barthez never had to seriously consider outside of his surreal nightmares but here, it's all part of the fun and strategy of playing football with the plumbers and the princess.
On the face of it, Mario Strikers could be a simple football follow-up to Wii Sports. A FIFA Street for the pre-school generation. In fact, for most casual observers it is exactly that. The thing is, it's actually complex. Not complex like arranging the attack and defence pointy arrows in Pro Evolution Soccer 6 but there's more strategy here than we're used to in Mario spin-offs. Yes, it might feature the usual selection of Mario heroes and villains, but there's more to Mario Strikers than waving the remote for five minutes and then passing it to someone much younger than you, along with a jammy dodger and a glass of milk.
In a typically American NFL style, you can select who will make up your 'defence' and who will be the 'playmaker'. The koopas and boos make good defenders, while Mario is the best all rounder as usual. Other character traits are evident too - the Princess is good at running but rubbish at masculine things like, er, hitting the ball really, really hard. The special attacks are what makes Mario Strikers all the more tactical - boos can vanish and reappear perilously close to the goal, while other characters can shock, dig and generally pummel the opposition. The captain can unleash a Super Strike too, holding down the shoot button triggers a Super Smash Brothers style screen spasm of light and a power barometer which needs to be stopped at the right time, just like a golf game. If you play as Mario, a Super Strike will involve leaping 50 foot into the air, turning the sky black and your eyes red before launching shots like hot rocks towards the keeper.