Release Date: 29/08/2017
Format(s): Nintendo Switch
Let’s be honest, I think almost everyone was wincing at the idea of Nintendo’s beloved Mario franchise crossing paths with Ubisoft’s zany Rabbids when the rumour of the game’s existence was originally floating around. When game art got leaked depicting characters with ‘blasters’, the concern levels really went up a notch at the thought of the strange concoction that might be about to grace the Nintendo Switch.
Then E3 happened. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle was officially revealed to the world, but instead of being this bizarre and anarchic mismatch that people had predicted, it instead looked like a charming little strategic adventure that embraced both the wonder of the world of Mario as well as the craziness of the Rabbids in the most impressive of ways. Now I’ve actually got to play the full game, I’ve been completely won over – Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is one of the Nintendo Switch’s stand out titles. Sometimes miracles do happen.
I’m going to be honest, I found myself a bit lost with Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle’s narrative, with the Rabbids coming across a device that allows them to combine two objects to concoct some odd creations. Somehow though, they manage to combine their world with the world of Mario, sending hordes of them to the Mushroom Kingdom to play hijinks and cause a fair bit of destruction. The ensuing chaos separates Mario from his friends, with the only way to save them being to team up with some Mario-themed Rabbids to find a way to restore order and vanquish the Mushroom Kingdom of the Rabbid horde for good.
Whilst the premise (and the actual existence of the game) is utterly bizarre, it’s actually utilised in a really effective way. The mish-mash of universes really works and whilst the Rabbids are at the forefront as far as the humour goes, the way that it utilises so many different elements of the Mario Universe is perfect. You’ve only got to look at the roster of characters to realise it’s a lovable kind of silliness, with the Rabbid variation of Donkey Kong proving to be one of the picks of the bunch.
One thing that’s obvious about Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle from the moment you start playing is just how stunning it looks. It’s been questioned in the past whether the Nintendo Switch could offer the same visual clout that Xbox or Playstation gamers have been used to, but if Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is anything to go by I think it’s easily going to hold its own.
Each of the game’s worlds are perfect representations of the Mario Universe, whilst all the little zany touches that the Rabbids bring to them make them feel distinctly unique in their own way. Actually exploring these vibrant worlds in-game though is impressive, with the bright colours and creative designs looking fantastic on both the big screen and whilst playing in handheld mode. Ubisoft deserve praise for the stunning showpiece they have crafted, with Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle never failing to impress on a visual basis.
Taking a slightly unconventional approach to both the Mario and Rabbids franchise, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a turn-based strategy title that puts you in showdowns against the menacing Rabbid invaders. Think something along the lines of X-Com, though without the permadeath and ultra-violence. You’ll take turns to plot out strategic actions against your enemies, incorporating a swift mixture of attacking, movement, and taking cover to protect yourself from impending counter attacks.
Whilst the X-Com comparison might be intimidating to some gamers (especially those who aren’t well versed in the strategy genre), Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle actually offers a much simpler experience. All of your actions are easily performed with their success rate determined by fixed percentages, with the game making it pretty clear how effective your attacks or defensive locations are going to be – there are no overly complicated stats or strategies to bear in mind, but rather a streamlined experience that’s easy enough to just pick up and play. Strategy veterans might be put off by the simplicity it offers, but I actually found it an absolute joy to play; the simple nature of the game worked effectively in providing an experience that just about anyone can get to grips with immediately, all whilst maintaining enough of a challenge to keep you completely engrossed in the adventure.
Despite its simple nature though, the game doesn’t stop varying things up. There were always new mechanics to be wary of as you progressed through the game, as well as all new objectives to follow. It’s not always just a case of defeating all of the enemies around you either, with different scenarios like reaching specified locations or protecting the lovable Toad popping up all the time. It ensures the whole game stays varied and keeps the player entertained from start to end.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle actually has a few distinct ideas of its own too, with the movement of characters and the interactions they share with each other emphasised on the battlefield. Traditional strategy games typically just see you moving characters around by simply having them run to different locations, but in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle you’re able to use your team mates as spring boards to reach high areas, use pipes to travel across the map quickly (it wouldn’t be a Mario game without an abundance of pipes, after all), or dash through enemies to inflict damage on them on their way to reaching each location. These might sound like small things to simply read about, but actually performing them in-game is incredibly effective and adds a whole new element to think about outside of simply attacking. At the same time though, these manoeuvres never over-complicate things; they allow you more flexibility as far as movement is concerned, but never at the expense of the overall accessibility of the game.
As you make your way through the game you’ll be able to improve your character’s abilities by unlocking new skills in their Skill Tree. Each party member has their own unique skillset that allows them to play a specific role – for example, Peach is great as a healer, Luigi has a more powerful set of de-buffing skills, whilst Mario is good at buffing up characters and fighting up-close. The Rabbid variations of each character typically follow the same skillset as far as roles are concerned, though each also has their own unique abilities that still helps makes them stand out.
Working out which combination of characters suits you the best is vital to progress through the game. You typically won’t want to go in without a healer for example, though some scenarios do play out better when you rely simply on brute force instead. Fortunately, the Skill Trees are flexible enough for you to cater each character to suit your playstyle, whilst you can also re-allocate your points if you find something doesn’t particularly work that well for you. Character customisation plays a big part in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, so if you don’t keep on top of it you might find yourself falling over and over again to the menacing Rabbid threat.
You can also purchase new weapons by spending the coins you collect, though you’ll have to find the hidden blueprints of each one before they become available. It’s a worthwhile endeavour though thanks to the various abilities that each different weapon brings along with it – there aren’t just stat upgrades, but instead new powers that actually have a major effect on the battlefield. It might be something as simple as inflicting some elemental damage on a foe and seeing them erupt in flames and manically run around, restricting their attacks by blinding them with ink, or even something more strategic like using honey to stick them to the ground and restrict movement. Whatever silly abilities you choose, they always compliment the tactical gameplay and are also a lot of fun to use.
It’s a good job that you’ve got plenty of different skills and weaponry to use, because Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle has a rich variety of enemies on offer that each pose a different threat. Some might simply be more agile than others, some might be armed with shields that protect them from specific angles, whilst others are equipped with a powerful arsenal – the game is constantly throwing some vicious new Rabbids your way that will put your skills to the test. Some of the boss battles even introduce small puzzles into combat, challenging you to think outside of the box if you’re going to take them down.
You shouldn’t be deceived by the cutesy look of the game, because Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle can be incredibly tricky at times. Whilst the gameplay itself is simple in design, enemies will always provide a stern test for the player. There were plenty of instances where I got completely destroyed, be it through intelligent design on the enemy’s part or through sheer incompetence on mine; you’re never allowed to switch off, and one wrong move can be the difference between winning or losing a fight.
Whilst the bulk of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is made up of showdowns against enemies, there are also brief moments of adventuring between battles that’ll actually allow you to explore sections of each world. Don’t get me wrong, you won’t be partaking in any old-school Mario platforming, but it is still pretty neat to venture through the game’s incredibly attractive worlds. It’s all generally pretty linear in design, but players who venture off the beaten track a bit might be able to find hidden treasures and collectibles. There are plenty of puzzles to be found in between battles too, ensuring the player’s brain is also put to the test outside of combat scenarios.
The core Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle experience is a single player one, though there’s also a multiplayer mode on offer that allows you to tackle specifically designed maps in local co-op with a friend. Each of these maps emphasises co-operative play, with them carefully designed to cater for more than one mind at work – in this sense, team play is imperative if you’re going to survive. They’re a fun little endeavour for when you’ve got a friend around, though it wasn’t a mode I stuck with for too long; the simplistic strategy elements were fun for a while, but I found they were better suited for a solo experience.
Fortunately, there’s plenty to see in the game’s single player mode, with the campaign easily lasting around ten hours or so for a single playthrough. You’ll also unlock new Challenge Maps as you progress through the game, giving you extra challenges to play through which often feel a lot more punishing than those found in the main campaign. Those who want to improve on their previous efforts can re-play any battles found in the campaign too, allowing you to better your scores and unlock more coins and upgrade points. There’s plenty on offer in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle to keep you playing for a long, long time.
Who would have thought that a crossover of Mario and the Rabbids would be so damn fun to play? I thoroughly enjoyed my time venturing across the Mushroom Kingdom and taking part in tactical battles, with the accessible nature of combat proving to be entertaining even for newbies to the strategy genre.
Add to the that the stunning visuals, the constant introduction of new mechanics, and the challenging yet fair difficulty curve and it’s hard not find yourself totally absorbed in Ubisoft’s bizarrely brilliant concoction. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle offers a fresh and unique experience that stands out as one of the Nintendo Switch’s best titles.