While sitting amongst the excited crowd at Ubisoft’s E3 Press Conference earlier this summer, the visual of Ubisoft’s CEO Yves Guillemot sharing the stage with Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto to introduce Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle was something special to behold. Watching these two industry giants awkwardly express their joy for a new game born out of this collaboration brought a smile to my face. This would be a new direction for both franchises and a fresh experience that had me very excited. We have seen the Mario franchise appear across many different genres including platformers, racing games, fighting games and many more, but turn-based, tactical RPGs are relatively uncharted territory for Nintendo’s plumber. Well, I’m happy to report that Ubisoft has successfully transitioned the franchise into yet another genre, as Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle joins the list of excellent games on the Nintendo Switch.
Mario + Rabbids is a deep and engaging game of turn-based tactics wrapped up in a wacky story. The Rabbids steal themselves an augmented reality helmet called the “SupaMerge”, which allows two random objects to be merged into one. The machine malfunctions and sends the Rabbids through a vortex to the Mushroom Kingdom. During the chaos the Mushroom Kingdom is torn apart and infused with items from the Rabbids universe. Mario finds himself separated from his friends and is forced to team up with the newly merged Rabbid Luigi and Rabbid Peach. The group is guided by a Roomba-like artificial intelligence device called Beep-O as they set out to find Mario’s friends and restore the Mushroom Kingdom.
While the story is ridiculous, it adds something new and engaging to the standard Mario formula (in other words, it’s more ambitious than “Bowser kidnapped Princess Peach … again”). The selfie-loving Rabbids characters add some much-needed comedic elements and open up some interesting possibilities in both the story and gameplay departments. Believe it or not, the merging of the Mario and Rabbids worlds works surprisingly well.
While it would be easy to write this game off as a more casual version of X-Com, I was pleasantly surprised at the level of depth and challenge provided throughout the game. Though the X-Com comparison is fitting, Mario + Rabbids also has roots in another turn-based tactics game developed by Ubisoft, the fantastic 3DS launch title Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars. The game is divided up into four worlds consisting of nine chapters each. Gameplay consists of an exploration phase and a combat phase. During the exploration phase, you use Beep-O to guide your squad of three characters (always Mario and two others) through the overworld collecting items, solving puzzles and searching for friends. The overworld does an excellent job of connecting the combat areas in a seamless transition and unlike X-Com’s disconnected maps, the combat areas feel like they’re part of the surrounding world. I found that leading the party through the overworld with precision could be difficult at times, which made some of the puzzles more difficult than intended.
The combat phase is where the game really shines. It may seem easy at first but by the second world you’ll be planning your moves much more carefully. The game does a great job of slowly introducing new mechanics, weapons, and enemy types during its early stages. I rarely felt overwhelmed and always felt like I was ready for the next stage of the game. When I failed, I knew it was because of an error in my tactics, not because I wasn’t prepared. After entering the cordoned-off combat zones, the player uses a combination of movement, attacks and special abilities to defeat enemies and complete the level’s goal. The level goals feature some good variety including; defeating all enemies, escort missions, reaching a designated area or defeating a boss/mid boss. Mario + Rabbids has a good number of weapons and special attacks that keep the game from becoming stale, as each situation could be approached in several ways. The game could have done a better job of letting the player know how each attack and special ability will affect the enemy, as I found that there was a little bit of trial and error involved. The combat and movement feel intuitive and satisfying, although I did struggle with the camera from time to time. Thankfully, during the combat phase you can hit the X button either before or during a battle to zoom out and get an overview of the map and enemy locations. The combat places a heavy emphasis on character movement, allowing for some really interesting combinations of dash and jump attacks, chaining these moves together with the help of other characters is infinitely satisfying. Throughout the game you will collect power orbs in order to progress through each character’s skill tree. The skill tree does a decent job of differentiating the character abilities in your party, but it’s far from a class system. I appreciated the ability to reset your character’s skill tree and rebuild it to suit the situation. I found that the game does an excellent job of balancing the exploration and combat areas, and neither became tedious.
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle’s campaign provides 20+ hours of content and provides some good incentive to revisit completed levels. After completing a world you can go back to search for the secret chapter, as well as attempt challenges, which usually consist of beating chapters under various conditions. Once a world is completed you also unlock the co-op campaign, which we were unable to test due to Ubisoft only providing one review copy. On the technical side of things, Mario + Rabbids runs in 900p, 30fps while in docked mode and 720p, 30 fps while in handheld mode. The game runs on Ubisoft’s Snowdrop engine, the same engine used to power Tom Clancy’s The Division. I noticed some minor framerate issues when there were multiple enemies in the frame but overall, the game looks beautiful and runs very well in both handheld and docked mode. I found that due to the way the game is broken up, it lended itself very well to quick 10-15min gaming sessions on the go. I also need to mention that the fantastic soundtrack was composed by BAFTA-nominated British composer, Grant Kirkhope, who was also responsible for some of gaming’s most iconic scores including Banjo-Kazooie, Perfect Dark, and most recently, Yooka-Laylee.
When Ubisoft’s collaborative project with Nintendo was leaked ahead of Ubisoft’s E3 press conference, many (including myself) wrote Mario + Rabbids off as another ill-conceived cash grab in the vein of Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games. Instead, what we got was a deep and engaging turn-based tactics game set in a strange but entertaining universe. Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle isn’t without it’s faults, but is a game that’s worth playing and an excellent addition to the Nintendo Switch library.