by Marty Demarest & r & & r & Mario Strikers Charged

Rated Everyone 10+; Wii & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & never imagined I'd be throwing an old-fashioned hammer at the goalie's head during a soccer match. But here I am, watching the hammer's heavy clawed head tumble over its flimsy handle as it spins towards the goalie's face. I know soccer can be a violent game, but there's something bracingly adult about players running around with construction tools, taking swipes at each other.

Flinging hammers feels satisfying. A simple squeeze of the Wii remote's trigger button -- as simple as firing a gun -- and my little onscreen player begins charging up power. As soon as he turns blue, I release the trigger and kick the ball into the air, jump after it, and unleash a rainbow of hammers that ends at the goalkeeper's helmet. On my way back to the ground, I send the ball into the net with a tennis-swing of my hammerin' arm.

The Hammer Brother -- of the goalie-pounding hammers -- isn't even the strongest player in Mario Strikers Charged. He's better than the koopas who simply shock the goalies with turtle shells. But he lacks the invincibility of the moles that burrow underground, leaving only a row of earth to track their progress towards the goal. And the Hammer Brother is nothing compared to one of the team captains. Mario can grow huge, stomping every player on the field. Peach, with her princess's vanity, can temporarily stop players with a photograph. And Wario, Mario's evil twin franchise, farts clouds behind him.

The matches in Mario Strikers Charged grow to outlandish proportions, rendering necessary the judicious use of ricocheting turtle shells, slippery banana peels, and exploding Bob-ombs just to gain an edge. Most of the scoring, though, is accomplished by the captains, who each have the ability to launch a "Mega Strike" -- the easiest way to score goals in the game. Leaping high into the air above the fantastic stadiums, they send volleys of balls toward the goalie, blasting past him to score half-dozens of points at a time. It makes throwing hammers look like child's play.

THE GOOD: Most soccer videogames make the players resemble Barbie dolls running around on rectangles of drab green Astroturf. In Mario Strikers Charged, everything is unique, and looks that way. Boo is a semi-transparent blob bobbing across the field. Bowser's orange bulk, dotted with white spikes, sticks out everywhere it lumbers. And the stadiums are full of textured turf with shadows raking across their surfaces. Leave it to Mario to finally make videogame soccer look good.

THE BAD: When Nintendo revealed the remote controller for the Wii, they explained that its design was an attempt to simplify the control mechanism for videogames. In order to play Mario Strikers Charged, however, I had to plug a nunchuk controller into the ordinary remote. Then, using combinations of the two tethered controllers' six buttons, one joystick, two separate motion sensors and single infrared pointer, I attempted to take command of a game of soccer. Whatever else Nintendo has accomplished with the Wii, they've failed to simplify videogaming.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Apocalyptic and innocent at the same time, Mario Strikers Charged is a goofball videogame of furious future soccer.

3/5 Stars

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