Hey folks, I’m a bit late on this one. I meant to get this post published a few days ago, but I’ve been swamped with the beginning of a new semester, as well as the usual day-to-day tasks that have to be taken care of. I’m hoping to get my next review out sooner. Anyway, here’s my thoughts on Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle for the Nintendo Switch.
It’s difficult for me to write my thoughts on a new Mario game, because I’ve spent nearly my entire life playing these games. I’ve been playing Mario Bros. video games since I received my first gaming system, the Gameboy Color. On that system alone there were a number of games featuring Mario as the protagonist (Super Mario Land 1 and 2) or as a side character (Game and Watch Collection 3). Our favorite Italian and former-plumber in video games has had some wacky trips, such as those times he went to space, or grabbed an extraordinarily large turtle by the tail and threw him off of a circular platform three times; apparently, those adventures weren’t enough. His clash with the rabbids in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle may be his strangest game yet.
As a big fan of the Mario franchise but very little interest nor knowledge of the Rabbids series, the beginning of Mario + Rabbids was a lot for me to stomach. The Rabbids arrive in a young inventor’s room through the use of a time-traveling washing machine, and that inventor’s room happens to house a set of virtual reality goggles that can manipulate two items to become one, so one of the Rabbids decides to steal it and combine the Mario and Rabbids worlds into one world, which causes total chaos within the Mushroom Kingdom to break loose, causing many Mario enemies and decor to fuse themselves with wacky inventions the Rabbids have created. That was a long sentence, eh? Well, the beginning of this game is exactly how it’s described above. It’s a wacky, odd introduction that is completely different than what we expect from a Mario game. Learning that the production of this game was handled by Ubisoft Paris and Ubisoft Milan helped me understand the bizarre introduction sequence a bit easier, and it helps explain later antics the Mario + Rabbids crew find themselves in.
The story isn’t too deep, but there are a couple of plot threads and interesting ideas sprinkled throughout that kept me wanting to play more. I won’t spoil them here, but there are a couple of character introductions that genuinely made me laugh. It’s a Mario game, so we don’t necessarily expect a complex narrative, and here, it works well enough to keep things moving. Speaking of character introductions, I think this is something that I (and many others) were worried about before the game’s release – how well would the denizens of the Mushroom Kingdom mesh with the Rabbids? Well, I’m pleasantly surprised to admit that the formula works well. The Rabbids are constantly messing around in the Mushroom Kingdom, and most of its citizens like Mario, Luigi, and Peach all give off looks that tell us, “Yes, this is exactly as weird as it looks. Just go with it.” And I really do think that this combination works. Rabbid Peach was the first character of the game to develop a large amount of scrutiny, perhaps thanks to her frequent usage of her phone to take selfies. In practice, she doesn’t actually take selfies too often, and when she did, I found it somewhat endearing because it wasn’t as forced as I initially expected it to be. Plus, the battle tactics she brings to the table are useful for many situations. Rabbid Luigi, another ally you partner up with early on, also offers a unique advantage on the battlefield, thanks to his ability to lower enemy damage output. I went into this game expecting to never want to partner up with any of the rabbids, but Ubisoft did a great job giving each rabbid its own unique traits and abilities. Plus, they restrict the player from selecting more than two Mushroom Kingdom citizens to bring into battle at once, oddly enough, so you always have a Rabbid by your side in combat.
Many news outlets have jokingly described Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle as an XCOM spin-off title, and while this sentiment is obviously not true, some of the gameplay systems from recent XCOM titles can be found in Mario + Rabbids. The game is a turn-based tactical RPG that incorporates hit percentages and damage numbers, where character and enemy placement is crucial to success. Also, it features guns, which means Mario fires a gun at Rabbid foes. That part is pretty great, and speaking of which, I really enjoyed buying new weaponry for each of the characters you run across. Collecting coins is crucial throughout the experience because new weapons provide higher damage and unique elemental effects on a successful roll. Some of these elemental effects are wholly superior to others (stone beats out honey in every way) but the variety is good to see. Battles play out well enough, with an appropriate number of enemies lining up to fight in the early stages. After a few battles, when you’ve gained more of your character abilities, the game offers a lot more potential than what is initially shown. It turned from basic, perhaps too easy combat, into a decent challenge that required me to restart certain battles a few times.
Boss battles are easily the most difficult part of Mario + Rabbids, featuring large enemies and solutions to a puzzle that is unique to that boss. I wish I could say that every boss is a home-run, but they are not. There are four main bosses, one for each world, and a couple of mid-bosses in each. Two of the main bosses are exceptional fights, one is fair, and the last one is downright boring. I found world one’s boss, Rabbid Kong, as the most fun and interesting (listen to that soundtrack! It’s awesome!) with world three’s boss at a close second place. Both of them had some interesting ideas at play, where the other two bosses don’t have similarly engaging solutions to the problem. Unfortunately, I did suffer a game crash during the first boss fight, and it was about halfway through the battle, but it was only a minor setback. That’s really the only glitch that I encountered during my playthrough.
Before I cap off this review, I wanted to mention the great score composed by Grant Kirkhope. Once again, this man delivers on the musical beat. There’s a few tracks that stood out especially strong, such as Rabbid Kong’s boss track, but everything from the battle music to overworld themes is strong and feels right at home in a Mario + Rabbids universe. The only time I felt disappointed by the music was during certain sections of roaming around World 3; the music matches the environment on display, but felt too slow at times, causing some drowsiness. Overall, Kirkhope and team have done a great job at bringing two different musical styles together in a way that feels just right. Mario and Rabbids are two very different properties, but the music in the game feels like a great fit.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a game that should not work. It’s a concept that is crazy enough to never have a chance of success – and yet, Ubisoft and Nintendo have proven us wrong. When the game’s title and art were leaked earlier this year, I was among the many skeptics that questioned Nintendo’s decision to partner with Ubisoft. They worked together to create a game that combined many people’s favorite gaming hero, Mario, with.. Many people’s least favorite gaming heroes, the Rabbids. By the end of this game, I actually enjoy the Rabbid’s on-screen appearance in this game. I hope Nintendo and Ubisoft take note of the lessons learned during this production, and continue to trust strong third parties with their brands; I’d especially like to see more of Nintendo’s franchises take interesting, unexpected turns like this one.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading my review. Right now I’m playing Destiny 2 on PS4, as well as Metroid: Samus Returns on 3DS. I almost can’t believe a brand-new Metroid game starring Samus released a few days ago; I didn’t think I’d see it happen in my lifetime. All kidding aside, both of these games are pretty great so far. I’ll probably write up something for Metroid. Anyway, hope you all have a wonderful week!