by Paul Davies
Relax, everyone; this works. Mario meets the Rabbids in a Real Time Strategy shakedown might’ve seemed a little too off-the-wall for a lot of Nintendo diehards, but we all loved turn-based shenanigans in Paper Mario and Super Mario RPG. Also, we have to say that the Rabbids make for some welcomed light-hearted comedy moments that we haven’t seen since Koopalings.
Don’t expect an easy ride though, as it seems like Ubisoft has devised a game that we really must learn to play in terms of basic control and whatever-the-heck you are required to do. Unlike Mario Galaxy and Super Mario 3D World that build on the tradition of exploration, using abilities to bounce, swim and swoop to the end of a grand adventure, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle needs you to knuckle down and learn some serious team-oriented tactics.
While Ubisoft’s claims that this landmark collaboration with Nintendo remains accessible first and foremost, there are some unusual hurdles standing in the way of all the fun. This starts with the fact that Mario + Rabbids is a team-based game, meaning that most success or failure rides quite heavily on party composition before you start. Also, this is a primarily combat-oriented experience unlike the jolly dreamlike hikes that Mario is most famous for.
Five hours with Mario + Rabbids left us wanting more, which is all that matters. And this is owing to everything feeling mechanically so tight, boosted by presentation that brings the many and varied battle situations to life. Yes, you are required to look hard before leaping, but when the action eventually kicks off it can be spectacular. Mario, Luigi, Peach and Yoshi are great company, with their personas cleverly adapted to suit a complex strategy template. Their Rabbid alter-egos, Rabbid Peach in particular, are genuinely funny while adding even more depth to your three or four-person squads in Story and coop modes respectively.
Similar to Final Fantasy Tactics, XCOM and its ilk, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle combines the core capabilities of opposing teams with environmental opportunities and hazards to bring its combat scenarios to life. Your protagonists each receive one turn, during which they may move a set number of spaces and perform at least one action. To liven things up a little bit from the get-go, sliding attacks and Team Jumps (bouncing off the shoulders to gain extra distance and height) are part of the basic skillset for all heroes. For example, Rabbid Luigi can slide-dash into an opponent before Team Jumping off Mario and then duck into cover from where he can fire his Hell in a Shell weapon that might deal bonus Bounce Damage.
As the story progresses, worlds become richer and more mysterious in terms of their hidden features, shortcuts and oddball obstacles. Objectives are varied too. You may only need to place one of your heroes in a Safety Zone to complete the level whereas in the earlier stages the focus is more on defeating all enemies. In every case, the key to winning is balancing your team set-up, to combine special abilities such as luring groups of enemies toward one spot with Luigi’s Magnetic Dance, then walloping them all with a huge hammer.
Despite being trickier than most pure Mario games to get into, the lure of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is sure to be its depth. Beyond the array of weapons, tools, Primary and Secondary Techniques, each hero has a Skill Tree to develop that boosts movement, attack power, general technique and ‘other’ such as maximum health points. Hub worlds are worthwhile exploring too, following familiar Mario-style treasure hunts to unlock mightier weapons which include the intimidating Brünnehilde cannon.
It feels like a Switch game too, albeit without touch-screen controls, owing to the excellent coop mode that plays just as well on tiny Joy-Con Controllers. We’d love to say that this is a joyful, bonding experience for siblings or parents with their beloved children. However, we fear it’s just as likely to cause squabbles over who was responsible for victory…or failure!
Clearly, we have only scratched the surface of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, but honestly now looking forward to spending limitless hours with the game when it arrives August 29th.
Last Updated: August 1, 2017