Title: Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
Available On: Nintendo Switch
Genre: Turn Based Tactical RPG
Release Date: August 29, 2017
Where To Buy: Nintendo E-Shop, Local Retailer
I, like I suspect many of you, turned my nose up at Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle after the initial reveal. It is safe to say the announcement did not go to plan as a number of leaks brought Ubisoft’s collaboration with Nintendo to light. What was this game? All we knew was that that Mario would be teaming up with the Rabbids, a by-product of the Rayman universe. These critters share the same audience as Dreamworks’s Minions yet when the first gameplay was demoed at E32017. Mario + Rabbids was a turn based, tactical RPG in the same vein as the popular XCOM series and although many expected a toned down experience, Mario + Rabbids does not shy away from the infamously tough genre. This unlikely alliance has surprisingly created my favorite Nintendo Switch release to date.
I’m still not sure as to why Ubisoft felt the need to build this ambitious title around the Rabbids. These mute, clownish rabbits may have an audience but among the masses, they are divisive. Ubisoft felt they needed to bring their own identity to this collaboration and although the French publisher has a number of titular franchises, they lack a mascot. Perhaps a medley of their characters could have worked bringing Rayman himself and other recognizable leads such as Ezio Auditore could have been a possibility. Regardless, the Rabbids were chosen and I’m pleased to say they do not tarnish this experience. Will I start watching the Rabbids cartoon? Probably not… However, Mario + Rabbids would be drastically different without their inclusion.
The title, the collaboration, it all seems bizarre yet the greatest success about this offbeat crossover is the commitment to the idea. Mario + Rabbids begins with a young inventive girl and her AI assistant Beep-O experimenting with her latest creation. Not too dissimilar from a VR headset, this device has the ability to combine two unique and independent components and blend them into a fully functioning hybrid. This powerful invention finds itself in the hands of the Rabbids and soon every item within the workshop, including a Mario poster, combines to make an unexpected rendition of the Mushroom Kingdom.
The inclusion of the Rabbids is not simply Ubisoft attempting to keep their identity in a universe dominated by gaming’s most recognized family. Instead, the entire game is built around the idea of combining these two entities into a disjointed and fascinating world. The title Mario + Rabbids seems like an oddly phrased title but it is actually very literal.
The hub base and first world will feel very ‘Mario’. The Mushroom Kingdom surrounds Princess Peach’s castle but with some new additions such as the Rabbids time machine which takes inspiration from Doc Brown’s DeLorean. The famous green warp pipes serve the same function of transporting our heroes however they are now white with small Rabbid ears on the entrances. The inhabitants of the kingdom are seen struggling with their new predicament as a Bullet Bill pleadingly stares at the team whilst being trapped in giant underpants whilst Goomba’s have toppled over and become stuck in yellow honey. This mishmash would not work if the developers did not have a huge knowledge and passion for the entire Mario series but thankfully they do. Mario + Rabbids feels like a Nintendo game and the utmost respect has been shown by Ubisoft.
So the game looks great and the Rabbids are not intolerable, but how does Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle play? Comparisons to the XCOM series have consistently been made and you are about the hear another one because it is XCOM. The load outs, enemy variety, and leveling systems all scream similarities to the alien RPG and Ubisoft, for their first attempt at recreating this challenging genre, have nailed it.
Each battle begins with your team of three characters which must consist of Mario and at least one Rabbid companion. The stage feels like a chess board and each team takes turns moving their characters and choosing actions. These actions could be firing a gun (yes Mario has a gun) or unleashing one of the many special abilities available to your team members. The key to survival and ultimate success is all about positioning. Obstacles can be used defensively and, depending on their structure and height, will offer either full of half cover. Higher Ground offers bonus damage and improved range. These rules apply to the enemies too and as such, positioning is vital. When firing a standard weapon, cover will offer either 0%, 50% or 100% success depending on factors such as flanking or by using particular weapons.
Once the basics have been learned, Mario + Rabbids may seem slightly slow paced at first but the game does a great job of explaining these stipulations whilst adding a new element in each successive battle. The blending of these two worlds is strongly felt on the battlefield too. Mario’s team consists of Luigi, Peach and Yoshi and 4 Rabbid alternatives which may be draped in a Yoshi hoodie or Peach’s pink dress. Each character has their own unique skill tree which can boost stats or add new abilities such as the overwatch ability from XCOM. This particular skill fires upon enemies when they move from their defensive positions and can be upgraded to provide additional damage or attempts. Each character possesses unique stats such as the distance they can travel each turn and their attack range with Luigi having the best as the sniper of the team. Being able to choose a team for each battle will become extremely valuable.
Enemies are all Rabbids which for the haters out there may bring some satisfaction but again, the developers love that the Mario franchise allows for some varied and unique foes. The range of enemies is impressive and as the game progresses, makes for some very challenging encounters. Healers can recover allies health whilst attacking you with a ranged grenade. Shielded foes can only be flanked from a narrow-angle whilst wielding a powerful shotgun, obliterating obstacles with a shot. Bosses make an appearance in each world and are genuine combinations of the two franchises. Rabbid Kong recovers health from bananas and delivers a stage shaking attack whereas a Rabbid and Boo combination creates a teleporting singing boss dropping rap and opera ballads.
The biggest difference between the XCOM battle system and the one seen in Mario + Rabbids is the flow of combat. Although both encourage defensive play, there is a pacing to Mario + Rabbids which can make the system here even more complex. For example, Rabbid Luigi can perform a vampire Dash technique which allows enemies within a range to be physically damaged and have their health drained. Levelling up this ability can allow more foes to be hit in one turn. Mario could follow Rabbid Luigi’s turn and physically attack one of the infected enemies. After this attack he could leap off of a teammate and whilst striking his iconic block punching pose, land atop another enemy. Continuing this momentum with a final leap, Mario could reach higher ground and position him up for a perfectly angled shot on yet another foe.
As if these stipulations were not enough, the game continues to add more. A number of status effects can be inflicted by weapons and different stages may have alternate objectives such as escort missions or variables such as a giant, aggressive Chain Chomp. Mario + Rabbids is not ‘Baby’s first XCOM’ and is legitimately challenging. When you do finish a grueling encounter you are ranked on the amount of moves taken, heroes who survived and rewarded adequately. The lure of reaching a perfect rating and acquiring more coins to purchase better weapons had me replaying every stage again. The added bonus of my leveled up team retaining their newly acquired abilities made battles easier a second time.
When not in battles, exploring the four worlds is perhaps the weakest aspect of Mario + Rabbids. The levels themselves look beautiful as you journey through deserts, frozen worlds or haunted mansions where Boo’s have been trapped in chains but still shy away as you look upon them. The real issue in these areas is the navigational controls. The team is lead by Beep-O yet actions are typically taken by Mario who is second in line. A lot of puzzles in these worlds require directional movement of objects and time and time again, I would move them the wrong way due to this strange setup. Special stages require you to quickly collect as many blue coins as possible and although the puzzle would be decipherable, the controls would prevent my triumph.
Exploring is encouraged and although sometimes the puzzles can feel tedious, they typically reward you. Sadly these rewards are not always worth the time spent attaining them. Power orbs or new weapons are a great prize but all too often a soundtrack or an art model makes the time commitment not worth it. Aside from these riddles, new challenges and secret areas with new battles are unlocked once the world has been completed. After completion of the game, I still craved more battles and these skirmishes were perfect. The downfall is that the reward of coins and rare weapons from these battles were not needed as I had already completed the game.
The music and graphical presentation compliment the gameplay perfectly. The music is an original score but hugely inspired by the Mario series. Familiar tunes which are beautifully orchestrated make exploring the overworld a charming experience. Amazing music accompanies boss fights with the Rabbid Kong battle channeling classic Donkey Kong vibes. Aside from the graphical performance being superb considering the amount of chaos which can be ensuing on screen, the cut scenes themselves are brilliantly animated. Mario, Luigi, and the Rabbids are all mute yet they are full of personality due to the stellar work was done by the animation team. Small details such as Rabbid Luigi grabbing a rocket launcher from his cap or Luigi cowering behind cover is a level of detail not really seen in Nintendo games.
When the campaign and additional challenges have been beaten, multiplayer is available through both cooperative and online multiplayer. The cooperative mode allows for four team members and each player controls two of the combatants. This mode can easily be played solo and as the battles are new, is a great way to play additional content and the inclusion of a larger squad may change your tactics.
Verdict: Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, in my opinion, is a must play for Switch owners. Do not allow the Rabbids or the niche genre prevent you from experiencing this great collaboration. Ubisoft has created a challenging and rewarding game worthy of Nintendo’s high standards. Do not be fooled into thinking this is a game for children as at times, Mario + Rabbids can be extremely challenging. Similar to games such as Splatoon, the design choice is not indicative of the gameplay, it merely allows a larger audience to experience it and I hope that will be the case here.