For months now, I have been ironically claiming that Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is my most anticipated game of the year. When I first began hearing rumors earlier this year about a crossover title featuring gaming’s most beloved icon, Mario, and the often criticized, frequently annoying Rabbids, I thought the results would end up being disastrous. On paper, the two franchises just seemed like they wouldn’t blend well. When E3 2017 arrived and Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle was formally revealed, my sarcastic excitement became hesitant optimism. While I still had concerns about the overarching concept of mixing these two universes, I thought the gameplay looked enjoyable and the world looked vibrant.
Now, after finally completing Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, I can comfortably say that any reservations I had were quickly dismissed soon after I started. While it might not be the most complex strategy game ever made, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle consistently put a smile on my face throughout the course of its campaign.
Let’s first touch on the Rabbids inclusion in this game as I’m sure their loud, boisterous nature is a point of contention for many who are thinking of picking up Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. While in many ways the Rabbids continue to be their same obnoxious selves, I found them to be far less invasive on my eardrums while I played this game compared to some of their previous ventures. There are a couple reasons as to why I think this is the case and I think the first is due to how they play off of Mario, Luigi, and other Mushroom Kingdom friends.
The Rabbids tendency to be noisy blabbermouths matches up quite hilariously at times when compared to Mario who chooses to be quiet and observant. There are a handful of moments throughout Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle where some of the Rabbid characters were bouncing off of the walls while Mario chooses to just stand by and decide what he should even be thinking about these new companions. These scenes don’t make provide any gut-busting laughs, but I found the subtlety in Mario’s reactions to be amusing.
One of the other things I wasn’t expecting coming into Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle was for some of the Rabbid companions that you control to have distinct personality traits. This ranges from Peach Rabbid and her taking of constant selfies, to Luigi Rabbid who is awkward and clumsily trips all over the place, to Rabbid Mario who carries a certain amount of machismo with him. While some of the other Rabbids throughout the game might fall in line with what we have seem from these characters in the past, the ones who are with Mario and the gang are at least unique and have quirky traits.
Perhaps one the strangest thing about Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle was the feeling of the game as a whole. While it’s easy to think that a game like this is a Nintendo product since it does feature Mario, there’s a very obvious difference in both tone and level design when compared to actual Nintendo developed products. This isn’t a negative thing by any means and I think what Ubisoft created was a colorful world that emulated a lot of Nintendo’s other titles. Still, it was easy to see the difference between a Nintendo developed Mario game and Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. I wouldn’t be surprised if this bothered some fans, but as for me, I didn’t find it to change my enjoyment of the game.
The one thing in particular that feels different when comparing Mario + Rabbids to other Nintendo games is the writing. For the most part, I found the game’s dialogue and to consistently swing-and-miss whereas. Some jokes throughout I found to be quite funny, but many of the games larger punchlines often depended on pop culture references or other inside jokes of that nature. The writing has its moments, but they are few and far between.
To go along with this, the overall narrative in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle was just downright wacky. The game’s opening cutscene and the way in which the Mushroom Kingdom and the Rabbids become merged together is one of the strangest things I have seen in quite some time. I couldn’t help but laugh, not because it was all that funny, but more because the plot is just preposterous in all the right ways.
I also have to greatly credit Ubisoft for this version of the world that they created. The bright use of colors and the distinct feel that each of the four areas that are featured in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle were incredibly pleasing on the eyes. My favorite part of each level was searching through the background environments to see what easter eggs may have been hidden within. To bloopers sitting in a frozen block of ice in the snow covered level, to POW blocks lying half submerged in a body of water, there’s a bunch of cool little things that longtime Nintendo fans will notice as they play through Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle.
In this same vein, I adored the game’s soundtrack which was done by famed composer Grant Kirkhope. While a vast majority of the tunes within Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle were original, there are occasionally bits and pieces from other noteworthy Nintendo songs blended in to create a composition that sounded both familiar and entirely new at the same time.
The easiest example of this is found within the music of the hub world at Peach’s Castle which contains a few bars from the Peach’s Castle theme in Super Mario 64. Occasions like this kept me listening closely to the soundtrack at all times just to make sure that I didn’t miss anything recognizable. Kirkhope’s lively, joyful soundtrack really adds a lot to Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle and I can’t imagine the game having the same sense of fun without it.
As of now, I’ve spent all this time talking about some of the ancillary portions of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle without actually bringing up perhaps the game’s best quality: the combat. I’ll state up front that I don’t consider myself an expert within the realm of strategy RPG’s so I’m unsure of how Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle might stack up when compared to other games within the genre. That said, I never found myself disliking the gameplay at any point throughout the course of the campaign.
I think what may have surprised me most about the gameplay was the sense of depth that it offered. Coming into Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, I was expecting the strategy gameplay to be a bit dumbed down as to make it more accessible to children. For the most part, each of the eight characters found within the game have their own unique abilities which allow you to mix and match and cater your current team to the challenge at hand. There are a variety of different objectives that you’ll run into ranging from the simplicity of killing all enemies, to instead making it to a set marker on the battlefield. There’s also a handful of escort missions throughout which, surprisingly, I also really liked. Objectives change quite often so that you aren’t doing the same thing over and over. This consistent rotation really kept my attention and made each battle feel fresh even if it was an objective I had done in the past.
The most enjoyable of any of these combat scenarios were easily the game’s boss battles. While there are only four in total, I really loved how unconventional they were compared to the other encounters in the game. Specifically, the opera singing ghost Rabbid within the horror themed world was one of the funniest fights I have had in a video game in quite some time. This is one of the moments from Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle that I think people will really talk about after they play it for themselves.
As for those who might expect a challenge in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, I didn’t find the game to be overly difficult but it sure kept me on my toes. Strategy RPG’s are sometimes known for being unforgiving and I wondered how Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle would begin to scale the more I played. While I don’t think I ever reached a point where I wanting to throw my Joy-Cons against a wall, the enemies are definitely smart and know how to make your battles difficult. That said, I only reached a game over screen a handful of times while I played.
Each character in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle also has their own specialized skill tree and weapon set. You’ll gain orbs throughout your adventure which will allow you to add new skills to each of your characters and will help you determine how you’d like them to play. There’s a good amount of variation between the way each character plays ranging from someone like Rabbid Mario who is a tank dealing heavy amounts of damage while others like Rabbid Peach I used in support role to heal and avoid combat directly. My only real complaint was that certain characters that I really enjoyed using weren’t unlocked until far too late into the campaign which led to me having less time to experiment with them.
As for the weapons, in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, they all felt more or less the same. The design of all of the blasters and other secondary weapons within Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle looked unique, but as I progressed I found that the better weapons I was unlocking were virtually the same as the current one I had equipped with some higher stats. I would’ve liked to see some greater variation between each of these weapons, but it wasn’t something that overly bothered me.
In between battles, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle also contains a fair amount of exploration and puzzles that are used to advance you to the next area or chapter. For me, the puzzles typically were bland and became more of an annoyance after awhile than anything else. Each of the four worlds in the game are also riddled with collectibles ranging from new weapons, concept art, music tracks, and character models that you can unlock and view back in the hub world. As a collectible junkie, this added an entirely unexpected layer to Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle that I didn’t expect.
Additionally, each level in the game contains a secret area that you can typically only unlock after acquiring a certain special ability that the game’s robotic guide, Beep-O, utilizes. These bonus areas contain more combat encounters as well as a fair amount of rare collectibles. I returned to each world more than once to continue my search for both these hidden areas and new collectibles as I felt compelled to find them all.
If there’s anything that surprised me with Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is was the amount of replayability that it offered. Not only did I feel prompted to return to each world to find all of the collectibles and secret areas, you also unlock new challenge battles that will truly test the skills of your team more than any of the story encounters in the game. If you end up loving the combat in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle like I did, then you’ll almost certainly keep coming back to give these challenges a shot once the credits have rolled.
Worth mentioning is the co-op mode in the game that I only spent a bit of time with. While there’s definitely a good amount of content within this area of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, it didn’t carry the same amount of fun as the single player. Turn based strategy games often don’t work quite well when playing with someone else, and I found the same here. Still, its inclusion will at least give players the option to take advantage of the Switch and play with their friends if they decide to do so.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle has a special charm to it, which is something I didn’t expect to say when first hearing about the project. While the allure of these two franchises coming together may be the draw for many, the surprising depth to its combat and the replayability that it offers are the real highlights. The fact that Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle turned out as well as it did makes me hope to see Nintendo work with other developers again in the future to utilize their beloved characters in new, unique ways just like this.