Mario and Rabbids are two properties that I never imagined would ever fit together, nevermind work this damn well too. If you missed out on the not so surprising reveal during Ubisoft’s press conference last week, you might be wondering how the plumber with a red hat and Ubisoft’s own shot at creating something more annoying than those yellow minions actually works in practice. The answer, in a weird fashion, is XCOM – with the colourful worlds of Mario playing host to a turn-based strategic affair that’s, well, pretty amazing.
You explore this new world with what I quickly came to call the “Mario Roomba”. The mechanical device acts as a leader to Mario and your team of Mario themed Rabbids, with the demo allowing me to hardly veer off a strict path ahead of me. Taking in the sights and sounds of this world was sorely limited to some quirky interactions with other misplaced Rabbids. Their unmistakable speech peppered with humour text set up a pleasantly charming atmosphere, which Nintendo themselves would likely be proud creating.
The real kicker is the combat though. When you enter specified zones, Mario+Rabbids: Kingdom Battle turns into a fully fledged turn-based strategy game, with nearly identical mechanics to the XCOM games they so clearly drew inspiration from. Instead of actionable points, each one of your characters has two action phases – movement and attack. A border shows you your limitations of movement, while cover peppers the battlefield to provide half or full protection. Attacks use your position and line of sight to calculate hit rates, although this information is smartly well hidden from the player. Mario and Rabbids is an attempt to make this sort of game accessible, and so I found myself hitting more impossible shots more than often.
That doesn’t mean it throws strategy out of the window entirely. Good movement turns and flanking are still key to sucking out the most of your team, and a sure fire way to rid the space of crazed Rabbids. But it’s the way that the game iterates on these existing frameworks that is the most fascinating. Movement, for example, can be stacked between friendly characters. End a turn on an ally and you’ll be rewarded with an additional turn. You can launch Mario onto the other end of the field like this, making for some strategically enticing ambush opportunities. A far more brisk pace to fights when compared to XCOM.
Attacks are similarly empowered too. Should your movement turn end on an enemy, you’ll be able to deliver a swift melee attack before getting the chance to move onwards to cover. Closing the distance between you and your foes is emphasised through this, and it allowed me to quickly close down stragglers in emphatic fashion. Having my Luigi dressed Rabbid provide covering fire while my Princess Peach one moved in for the hand to hand finisher felt incredibly satisfying and made me as a player feel smart for being able to pull it off.
The demo showcased some different enemies too, but none seemed to tuned to offer that much of a challenge. Changes to the rules of engagement did keep me thinking on my toes though. One encounter near the end of the demo shifted the win condition from kills to simply getting from A to B. Using green pipes to rush across the large space felt good, but the game adapted to my rapid forward advances with large hulking Rabbids for me to deal with. Dealing extraordinary damage, getting around these foes quickly flooding the map was a new type of challenge that made me well aware of the many new enhancements to movement that Mario+Rabbids: Kingdom Battle injects into this style of gameplay.
Like I said – it shouldn’t really work. And it certainly wasn’t something I expected to work this well. But Ubisoft has tapped into something extraordinary with Mario and Rabbids: Battle Kingdom. And not even I expected it to be one of the games I’m most excited to play more of coming out of E3.
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Last Updated: June 21, 2017