Reviewed on Nintendo Switch, copy supplied by Ubisoft.
Mixing Nintendo’s flagship plumber with Ubisoft’s annoying mascots was a questionable choice on paper, however in execution Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is one of the best titles to hit the Switch to date, and that’s saying something. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is an engaging, charming and addictive strategic RPG, however the highest feat it manages to achieve is making the Rabbids endearing characters.
The rabbids and Mushroom Kingdom are combined in a cutesy way involving an accident in the laboratory of a young Mario obsessed inventor. A new invention that can combine any two objects falls into the hands of the rabbids, who use it and their time travelling washing machine to enter the Mushroom Kingdom.
Once the rabbids invade the Mushroom Kingdom and start causing havoc, Mario teams up with a rag tag group – consisting of cosplaying rabbids, a floating robot named Beep-O, and his usual allies – to save the world from a looming catastrophe in the sky, which is linked to the two worlds being forced together. To fight this menace requires equipping weapons and taking a more direct approach to combat than we’ve previously seen from Mario. It’s zany and riddled with silly lore, which the game embraces with tongue in cheek humour.
Look, I know this comparison will be floating around a lot, but this game really does take a leaf out of XCOM‘s book, in that Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a sometimes brutal tactical shooter with RPG team building elements. During each battle the player moves three heroes around a grid-like layout, taking refuge behind mostly destroyable objects that provide varying degrees of cover. If you hadn’t already figured, flanking enemies is a key strategy, and the almost tabletop nature of turn based play makes it a fun endeavour.
The combat itself is surprisingly intricate, with different effects coming into play depending on weapon choice and the heroes you’re using. Each hero will have some form of dash attack and a team jump ability, which can be best used under different circumstances. For example, Mario can jump onto the heads of enemies, dishing out a spicy level of damage, and Peach can put out an area of effect heal when she lands from a team jump.
Each weapon beyond the basic starters will also have a chance to deal additional special damage, which varies based on the hero using it and weapon type. For example, with certain weapons Mario has the chance to push enemies back or glue them into place with honey.
Special damage isn’t just restricted to weapons, chaotic weather patterns, invisible boos, or hidden boxes underneath cover have the potential to put the clamps down on you. Weather types/boos have no affiliation, so when they move across a map they have an equal chance of ruining your game as much as the enemy’s. Whilst you can predict where a boo or lava will strike from, some random events will be a total wildcard and mess with your hard laid plans in an instance.
Positioning and varying enemy types constantly keep you on your toes as you battle it out. For instance if you maneuver your squad poorly you’ll find Rabbid Mario’s weapon is virtually useless, as shotgun types deal friendly damage, or you’ll find Rabbid Peach’s heal abilty isn’t spreading to all your team effectively. Thankfully a tactical view let’s you stop, breathe and take in the battlefield, where you can look at your opponent’s field of vision and see where each of your team can run to or hit with their weapon. It’s a great feature for the tactically minded and adds an additional layer to the already exciting action taking place.
Adding to the strategy is the fact that each hero has a primary and secondary weapon, as well as two special abilities with cooldowns. Using these effectively to complete your goal is easier said than done. Poorly timing a hero’s special will waste the move and leave you without until it regenerates. On the flip side when you nail a combo move you feel so damn powerful. Of course that feeling rarely lasts, as these games have a tendency to destroy any shred of optimism you have when a full enemy team all land critical hits and shred your squad before your eyes.
Depending on objective you’ll want to carefully select your team. There are a handful of different rules to net you a win, consisting of: the traditional eradicate all enemies, kill X number of enemies, escort the civilian, reach an objective point, and boss battles where you can ignore the minions and gun solely for the big kahuna if you’re brazen enough.
Certain heroes will be better at certain objectives or versing specific enemies, so experimentation is key if you find yourself failing, which you will be doing so a lot in later stages. If losing constantly is all a bit too much you can toggle an easy mode at the beginning of fights, which grants you additional HP and heals any damage from previous battles. Another neat feature that you can toggle is fast forward during enemy moves, keeping the action moving at a quicker pace.
Naturally these zany battles all work to progress a plot, and it’s probably best to mention that you’re not obliterating cute little rabbits when you shoot them pointblank in the face, they disappear into the sky vortex – which only exacerbates the threat of it destroying the world by making it grow larger (I’m sure there’s a good analogy for war in there somewhere).
As you traverse through the game’s four worlds – which include your standard starter grasslands, a frozen Sherbet Desert, a spooky haunted land, and the big bad lava realm – you will have a set of puzzles to solve between fights. Sometimes it can be hard navigating around, as the camera can be a bit wonky and unmanageable with limited angles, but a breadcrumb trail of coins usually sees you right. The puzzles themselves are a welcome break in gameplay, keeping the game fresh, and they are surprisingly challenging in places to boot.
When not shooting up the Mushroom Kingdom you can customise your squad with new weapons, and upgrade their skills via a skilltree. If you’re not too keen on experimenting with this, or you’re actually a young child – first of all, congrats on reading this by yourself if you are a young child – the game can auto fill it for you.
A common positive throughout the game is an abundance of character, which shines through as you encounter bosses and watch the whimsical cut scenes. Some of the moments may be cliché, or overplayed, but the way the game handles them is a real pat on the back for the developers. For instance, you consistently have to escort Toad and Toadette as they keep getting split up, something which Beep-O finds astounding.
A swearing robot isn’t the only adult joke, the game is full of pop culture gags that will soar over the head of younger generations, and in general the dialogue is a pleasure to read.
Aesthetically the game is bold and takes on a cartoony style Mario fans are accustomed to, which is a welcome thing indeed. Even the soundtrack riffs on tracks that are so ingrained into Nintendo fans’ brains it’s hard not to smile. The game looks incredibly crisp in both handheld and docked modes, with only a couple of noticeable stutters in handheld as the game processed certain actions, but these were extremely rare.
When it comes to replayability, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle has more than enough going for it to keep you coming back. A co-op multiplayer mode allows same system play, with each player controlling two heroes and coordinating to tackle objectives. It’s a fun addition, although I don’t see it being a major selling point As for replayability for those into gaming alone, puzzles that were previously inaccessible unlock once you clear a section, giving you plenty of reason to backtrack and replay fights. Also, considering this is a Ubisoft game – and Ubisoft is Ubisoft – there are a tonne of collectibles scattered around that will be enticing for completionists.
Ultimately Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a virtually faultless title, in fact there’s nothing to criticise coming to mind, aside from the already mentioned occasional camera unwieldiness. I enjoyed every second of my time in this game, which I’m sure is helped out by the fact I really wasn’t expecting much from it in the first place. If you’re a fan of fun and own a Switch, go and buy this game.