When Ubisoft officially announced that they were working on a Mario and Rabbids crossover, they were the laughing stock on our staff and other publications. But once E3 rolled around, those laughs eventually turned into genuine joy. It felt like Ubisoft and Nintendo had a winner in their hands, and now that the game is finally out, we’re happy to report Mario + Rabbids is a strategy game that’s both engaging and enjoyable.
What Is It?
The story is a little bit out of left field as it surprisingly isn’t about saving the princess. Instead, we start off in the workshop (or corner of a bedroom) of a kid making what looks like a VR headset, but it ends up being a machine that can fuse objects. The kid is a Mario fan, so aside from the scientific stuff at his desk, he has nothing but Mario stuff in his room.
All of a sudden, a rabbid gets its hands on the device, and merges itself along with other rabbids with various objects in the room, and we end up in the Mushroom Kingdom where it’s Mario and everybody else’s job to regain order of Mario’s world. Directing Mario and the few rabbids that would listen is Beep-o, a rhumba-looking device actually linked to the machine wreaking all the havoc, who’s capable of more than just causing oblivion in the kingdom.
Why Should I Care?
A crossover between Ubisoft’s Rabbids and Nintendo’s highly valued former plumber leaves all sorts of possibilities on the table. But instead of taking the easy route and making another minigame collection, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is a turn-based strategy game that’ll draw plenty of comparisons to XCOM, and the game’s overall flow does a fantastic job easing players in, making them understand the intricacies of what’s actually a pretty deep turn-based strategy game.
While the XCOM comparison isn’t farfetched, the gameplay in Mario + Rabbids isn’t very far off from other Nintendo properties Fire Emblem and Code Name S.T.E.A.M., both of which developed by Intelligent Systems. Battles primarily consist of your party of three against a number of enemies that can be both finite and infinite. Winning depends the mission’s overall goal, whether it’s ridding a stage of enemies or having your characters get to a specific point on the map. No matter what it is, knowing the ins and outs of combat are essential.
Aside from obviously shooting enemies within attacking range of your gun, there are all sorts of situations to consider. What kind of cover is the enemy behind? Are you behind cover? Can you actually go up to your enemy and attack him in your movement phase before ending your phase with an attack? It’s all typical stuff you see in this kind of game, except you’re limited to three of your own units. The first few levels are a cakewalk while the game continues to be easy as you progress, but once you start exploring new worlds, the difficulty ramps up to the point where you might actually start missing the game being hilariously easy.
There will be times where you’ll be aggressively taking out every enemy in your path, and there will also be times where you’ll want to be conservative with your movements as you can easily be flanked by your opponents. There will also be times where choosing not to move or stray away from your trio is the best strategy, and it’ll absolutely suck when you make a wrong decision.
Early on in the game, I’d choose not to progress if I had a single character die. I wanted to have them all survive while finishing each level before the turn limit (which for some reason isn’t show before or during a battle) so I can get a gold trophy, but that became less of a priority the further I got into the game. Eventually it gets to a point where there are too many kinds of enemies to keep track of, and the fact that it their actions were almost unpredictable just added to the game’s insane spike in difficulty. While it’s not a complaint, if Ubisoft intends on this game being a series, a little bit more focus needs to be put into teaching players about the various defensive strategies the game has.
Battles aside, Mario + Rabbids also has its fair share of exploration. Everything virtually takes place on a hub that’s more than just your extended Mushroom Kingdom, and each area has puzzles to solve with coins to collect, chests to loot, and secrets to uncover, but while they’re well thought out, the act of simply navigating is harder than it should be thanks to the fact that you’re actually in control of Beep-o, with every other character lining up to follow each other. Throw in the fact that a lot of the set camera angles were awkward, and you have a game where bonus levels in which you have to collect coins within a certain time limit just ended up being harder and more annoying than they had any business being.
While the Mushroom Kingdom hub and the map exploration had its moments, a lot of the puzzle solving seemed unnecessary. As stated, there’s a slew of chests to uncover, but most of the time they’re filled with art that most players won’t even care to look at in the game’s museum. The primary thing you’ll be searching every nook and cranny for are coins, and the best way to get them is actually be fighting battles you’ve already fought before. Going through the same battles a second time often feels like a drag though, since when you’ll actually want to take part in them, your party will probably be too powerful.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
You can say what you want about the Rabbids. Even I agree that most of their games are throwaways, and they’re just a cheap knockoff of the Despicable Me minions, but despite its shortcomings, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is a joy to play and is one of the most charming releases of the year. It’s a far cry from what Super Mario Odyssey will probably be, but Kingdom Battle is another key release in what’s looking like a continually stacked Switch rookie lineup. We just wish there was more replay value.