Game: Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
Consoles: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Ubisoft Paris, Ubisoft Milan
Review Copy Provided by Publisher
I don’t know what’s weirder: living in a world where Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle exists, or living in a world where the game is really, really good.
In retrospect, a Super Mario/Rabbids crossover isn’t the weirdest idea to come from the world of gaming. The Raving Rabbids franchise have made their home on Nintendo consoles since the very beginning with Rayman Raving Rabbids on the Nintendo Wii in 2006. However, the reaction to the Rabbids games have been mixed at best. So when Laura Kate Dale and other game journalists uncovered evidence of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle’s existence, many accused them of lying. After all, why on Earth would Nintendo directly associate their most beloved brand with the rude and crude Rabbids?
Well here we are, enjoying a fantastic, family-friendly strategy game that is way better than it has any right to be.
The titular Rabbids find themselves warped into another world via time machine where a young woman is working on a pair of goggles that can combine objects together. After combining the time machine and some Super Mario memorabilia (the young inventor is a huge Mario fan, you see), the Rabbids are transported into the Mushroom Kingdom which summons a rip in the fabric of space that tears the kingdom apart. Worse, a Rabbid fuses with the goggles causing it to uncontrollably fuse Rabbids with objects turning them villainous. Now Mario and co must work together with their Rabbid friends to find the goggle-infused Rabbid and save the kingdom.
The game is a series of strategy battles in the same vein of XCOM: Enemy Unknown broken up by puzzle solving and some world exploration. A team of three made up of Mario and co battle in 3D isometric maps, moving around like chess pieces and taking cover while firing back at enemies doing the same. Along the way, you’ll find new weapons and abilities to upgrade.
If you felt that XCOM: Enemy Unknown was too exhausting in its difficulty and want a more accessible yet still challenging game, this is the game you’ve been waiting for. Battles and their mechanics are easy to wrap your head around, and the different abilities combine with your placement of units allowing you to pull of some satisfying plays. In addition to abilities like healing and shields, characters can also tackle nearby enemies in their area of movement and jump over large gaps by touching a nearby teammate. However, enemies can pull off many of the same tricks and abilities as you can, and matches can often come down to the wire. Even when the odds aren’t in your favor, smart use of terrain and synergy with abilities will lead you to victory. Everything comes together to create some memorable matches, and it never gets old no matter how many different variations of maps and enemy types you go through. Add to that some fun and clever bosses and you have fantastic strategy gameplay on your hands.
I especially loved how they handled the accuracy of your weapons depending on how much enemies are in cover. In XCOM, your accuracy can vary wildly depending on where your units are on the field. Even if you’re firing an enemy without any cover, you can still miss due to a variety of factors. In Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, you have a zero percent chance to hit enemies in full cover, a 50 percent chance to hit enemies in partial cover, and a 100 percent chance to hit enemies without cover. By having more solid accuracy, it takes a lot of the guess work out of strategies which dramatically cuts down on frustration.
There are a few fights that overstayed their welcome, however, either due to loading the map with enemies or just taking way too long. One particular match involving a load of Smashers, strong enemies with crushing melee attacks that can boost their attack power and prevent you from attacking back, had me tearing my hare out (no, that’s not a typo).
Thankfully there’s an easy mode that you can activate before each match, healing any damage the heroes took in the last match and giving them 50 percent more HP. It’s a fantastic way of helping players get past tough fights while still retaining the challenge.
The game has eight playable heroes and they’re all great to use for their own reasons. It’s not like other RPGs where you have two or three characters you completely ignore. Rabbid Peach is perfect for escort missions and is great in general thanks to her healing ability and protective shield. Luigi is the token sniper and does a brilliant job of covering teammates from afar as well as moving to areas quickly. Rabbid Luigi is great for inflicting status aliments on enemies and weakening their attacks. Princess Peach not only has a devastating shotgun-like weapon but can reduce damage taken by teammates while having damage inflicted on her and heal teammates with super jumps. All of these skills combine beautifully with each other. Rabbid Yoshi and Rabbid Mario both have moves that can lure enemies out of cover making them vulnerable to the reaction abilities of Mario and co that automatically fires on any enemy that moves in the line of fire. Characters’ weapons can also combine with abilities, such as having someone cover an enemy in ink to prevent them from attacking while another character moves in and safely squashes them with a melee attack. However, I found it annoying that you’re leader is always Mario, especially since you can’t swap him out with another character if he took too much damage in the last battle.
RPG elements are minimal with heroes getting stronger not by leveling up after a few matches by by collecting coins after a series of battles or in the overworld as well as getting an HP boost after beating a boss. Coins can be used to purchase and ever growing and ever strengthening selection of weaponry offering different status effects and stats, meaning that you have to figure out not only what weapons to invest in but who to buy them for. The constant drip feed of cool new weapons is great, but it can be a bit disheartening to buy a weapon only to unlock a direct upgrade of the same weapon shortly after. It’s kind of like buying a new iPhone.
There are also skill trees offering incremental improvements to different skills with a much appreciated ability to reassign your skill points at any time. However, the skill tree could have been a bit more interesting with more skills rather than just the same upgrades for the same skills over and over again.
While the puzzles are the same sliding block puzzles and laser redirecting puzzles you’ve played in countless other games, they are still fun to solve as they are surprisingly involved and rely more on combing the area for clues and tinkering with different solutions. One puzzle has you solving a smaller puzzle over and over again to activate certain blocks that block the path of a sliding block. Another had you rotating a column of platforms to point you in the right path. Puzzles also combine with skills you learn throughout the game to keep things constantly interesting. You can even go back with your extra skills to solve puzzles in past stages for hidden levels. Throughout the environment you’ll also find cannons blasting you to special stages where you try to collect coins as fast as you can while solving smaller puzzles. Both exploration and puzzles can reward you with extra weapons, skill points, and even the game’s music tracks. However, you’ll mostly be collecting concept art and 3D models which I barely count as a reward. I honestly would have preferred a box full of coins as that has a tangible effect on the game.
Also, it kind of bothers me that Mario and co are famous for their jumping abilities but they’re constantly being blocked by small ledges. I know it’s a nitpick, but it’s still kind of silly even in such a cartoony game.
The game is one of the best looking and sounding games on the Switch. The in-game cutscenes are so beautifully animated that they’re nearly indistinguishable from the pre-rendered cutscenes. While the game isn’t technically as polished as other games on more powerful hardware, the devil is in the details and the environments are chock full of tiny touches that make them feel so alive and energized. It’s wonderful to see an upcoming battle map in the distance complete with enemies and everything. There are even drums and other objects that move in time with the music. Speaking of, the music is composed to perfection by the legendary Grant Kirkhope, and his signature whimsical style is able to shine through thanks to the breathtaking environments.
Did I mention that this game is really funny? The game is filled to the brim with great jokes. While it’s mostly random, silly gag humor, it’s not pandering guff like you’d expect from the Rabbids. The majority of jokes can be enjoyed by everyone and I got a lot of laughs out of it. I especially loved reading the descriptions of each weapon you collect. For instance, the description for the Bwah Blaster, a blaster in the shape of a Rabbid, reads “Like Van Gogh, Rabbids often practice their craft with tortured tributes of themselves.” Even the toilet humor is really funny.
Oh, and you haven’t lived until you’ve seen the third boss.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is better than it has any right to be. Ubisoft could have just banged out another low-effort party game and raked in the cash from console launch hype just like they’ve done with the Raving Rabbids franchise for years. But instead they took the time to craft an engaging, strategic adventure that can be loved by the whole family. It honestly belongs up there with the other great Mario games, which is especially welcome since we’ve had a drought of good Mario RPGs.
Seriously, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is that good.
- Challenging yet accessible combat remains enjoyable and strategic throughout
- Every character is useable and there’s a lot of satisfying synergy with their abilities
- Easy mode is a blessing
- One of the best audiovisual experiences on the Switch
- Filled to the brim with hilarious jokes
- A few grueling battles sour things a little bit
- Skill trees aren’t that interesting
- Many of the rewards for puzzles are just useless concept art and 3D models
- Mario always being the leader of teams can be annoying