Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. See, I loathe the Rabbids, and yet Ubisoft has made working alongside them tolerable – fun, even. So, Ubisoft deserve the prize for proving it is possible to work alongside those we hate – even if they are bug-eyed, deranged idiots with the charm and wit of a piss-soaked rag.
Ahem… apologies to any Rabbids fans out there.
Mario + Rabbids amalgamates the worlds of its two titular characters into one absurd, whimsical, and surprisingly endearing adventure. The developers made the wise decision to have the Rabbids fall into the Mario world instead of vice versa, and as a result, the game feels 80% Mario and only 20% Rabbids, warping something we know and love into something new and bizarre.
The plot is as strange as the concept. The game starts with a young person in the real world developing a headset which combines any two items into an amalgamated one. The Rabbids, using their time machine, discover the headset and combine themselves with the plethora of Mario merchandise around the room. The headset gets stuck to a Rabbid's face and so Bowser Jr. uses it to go on an amalgamation rampage through the Mushroom Kingdom, turning everything into a half-Nintendo/half-Rabbid abomination.
Despite my deep-seated dislike of the Rabbids, I have to admit the combo works surprisingly well. The whole concept is so off-the-wall, it is hard to not be charmed by the sheer ridiculousness of it. Sure, there is still the odd cringe Rabbid-esque joke where they pull a dumb face or fart, or whatever. But for every one of those, there are a handful of fascinating new designs that exist only because of this bold partnership.
The best example of this is the game’s first boss, Rabbid Donkey Kong, a mad-looking, fluffy white gorilla/rabbit, that looms over the characters as he guards his pile of bananas. Looking at this strange beast, I had to admit just how cool it was to see beloved characters expressed in such a unique and comical way.
The gameplay itself is something new to Nintendo’s catalogue, as for the first time, Mario’s got a gun. In an interview at E3, Miyamoto said his only restriction in lending the IP to Ubisoft was Mario not jump, as Mario platformers are his thing. So, in one of the most surprising hodge-podge’s in gaming history, Ubisoft combined the Mario world with XCOM style turn-based strategy combat.
Equipped with arm cannons, your party is made up of either Mario universe characters or their Rabbid counterpart (ie. Rabbid Mario). At its simplest, the combat involves taking turns manoeuvring between cover in order to shoot enemies and not get shot. However, Ubisoft has implemented a number of mechanics that make combat more nuanced and difficult than many expected.
Some of these mechanics have been lifted straight from XCOM, such as overwatch-type abilities allowing you to shoot at enemies when they move. More innovative are mechanics taking inspiration from classic Mario, such as the incorporation of jumping. Your team can use one other as a springboard to propel themselves across the battlefield, allowing you to easily reach higher ground or perform a long-range flank. This level of manoeuvrability opens up layers of tactics that I haven’t seen in the genre before, making it worth a look for any fan of turn-based strategy.
What cheapens the combat, however, is the simplistic way accuracy is determined. Unlike XCOM, in which many variables including shot angle determine your chance of hitting an enemy, here there are only three percentages: zero percent if the target is behind full cover, 50 percent if behind half-cover, or 100 percent if there's no cover or if they are flanked.
Sure, this system makes the game much more accessible for younger players or those new to the genre, but it also makes Mario + Rabbids feel like a light version of a turn-based strategy game. Which is a shame, because otherwise it could have stood shoulder to shoulder with many of the best games in the genre.
When not in a fight, you are exploring an over-world using the Roomba-esque AI who acts as your avatar in this outrageous world. The maps themselves are broken up into four areas themed after places like Boo’s mansion and Bowser’s castle. Zones are stylishly represented with an aesthetic that manages to be distinctly Mario while also feeling like a unique visual take. Plus, they are great for sightseeing, with heaps of quirky Easter eggs and oddities.
Where the exploration falls down is in the content of the maps. Between arenas there are stretches where you need to solve puzzles to proceed or unlock items. Unfortunately, these puzzles are downright uninspired, mostly consisting of simple grids in which you need to push boxes on to switches. Exasperating this are the banal rewards, which are most commonly collectibles like 3D models and soundtracks. These factors make exploration feel like filler, which consistently undermines the high calibre of the combat sections.
Despite this, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle remains a marvel to behold simply because of the implausibility of what it is. Who would have ever thought there would be a Ubisoft developed Mario game in which he teams up with Rabbids to shoot abominations in turn based combat!?! On the merit of this wonderfully bizarre concoction alone, this is a game worth playing. So despite some flaws in its combat and its half-assed exploration mechanics, it also succeeds in presenting a fun new addition to the turn-based strategy genre as well.