When internal images and documents surrounding the marketing of Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle leaked, I shuddered a little bit. From the core concept of mashing these two franchises together, to the corporate speak used to make the game sound cool, I had my concerns that this had disaster written all over it. Then E3 happened and perceptions changed again. Taking these two franchises and putting them in an XCOM-style turn-based strategy game made the product even weirder, though it also looked like it had potential to be something special.
In a year where Nintendo has continually surprised us, they, along with Ubisoft, surprise us yet again. Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is a great game.
Through a mix-up involving a failed robbery of prototype technology, the Rabbids have invaded the Mushroom Kingdom. It’s up to Mario and his human/dinosaur/Rabbid friends to restore the world to its original state. Players will do so by trekking through the Mushroom Kingdom, squaring off against enemy groups of Rabbids and other mutated Mushroom Kingdom baddies in turn-based strategy levels.
On paper, the mash-up of two kid-friendly franchises in an XCOM gameplay engine sounds like a terrible fever dream. Thankfully, Ubisoft and Nintendo put in an extensive amount of work to ensure that every element of the game made sense. Is it weird initially to see Mario shooting with a blaster? Yes. But the comical weapons that everyone uses will quickly win you over and work within the context of this kind of game. Besides, you can give Mario the ability to jump on baddies heads.
Beyond that, every element of the game works within the context of the game and the source material. The Rabbids both work as enemies you’re gunning down or as silly allies in Super Mario cosplay. The graphics and gameplay fit the lighthearted humour of both, with a few particular nods to the potty humour that is key to the Rabbids experience. Even within the adventure areas between levels, where walking is your primary function, there’s still a healthy amount of puzzle-solving and secrets to uncover through Mario-esq exploration.
The true star of the show is its stellar gameplay. At a root level, the core mechanics are easy enough to pick up for any gamer, as they’re greatly simplified and explained very well. However, there’s still a lot of depth and challenge for players of all skill levels to explore. For one, each level provides some sort of new challenge, from a new enemy type, to new environmental hazards, to different win conditions. From there, you actually have a ton of flexibility for customizing your team, from the tons of weapons you can purchase, to the myriad of skills you can unlock for each of your characters. With all of the different possible combinations, there’s a ton of room for exploration and customizations to fit your tastes in combat.
On top of getting the core tenants of turn-based strategy down, the game even introduces a few new elements to the mix. For example, characters can boost each other up for extra-long jumps, giving players extra mobility or attacking power when you land on an enemy’s head. Players can also slide into their foes in mid-sprint before retreating for cover elsewhere. It’s a cool hit-and-run element that can really make a difference.
In a year full of surprises from The Big N, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is yet another pleasant addition to the world of gaming. An idea that on paper should be a disaster has come together into a masterful strategy game with mass appeal. Tactics fans are going to eat this up, but if the genre hasn’t been your thing in the past, this might be the best way in.