Rabbids Here, Rabbids There, Rabbids Everywhere
Somewhere in the world, there was a person who thought it’d be a good idea to combine cultural icon Mario with the Minions of video games, the Rabbids. Well hats off to that person, because Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is one of the most enjoyable and bright video game experiences of the year. It’s almost a sobering thought that such a strange amalgamation of IPs and gameplay elements could create such an enjoyable ride. This game’s actual existence is a feat of its own; enough that we talked about it often on our own podcast, long before the game was even announced.
As much as I can go on about how weird this entire Mario/ Rabbids hybrid is, it’s more important to talk about why this game works so well. So we’re taking a trip everyone’s favorite video game getaway – The Mushroom Kingdom.
There’s A Plot?
The premise of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is very unusual – I know, shocker right? The game starts with a cutscene where a young scientist is refining her device, the SupaMerge, which allows the user to combine objects with one another. This scientist is also apparently a huge fan of the Mario franchise, because their room is plastered with so much Mario swag that I was getting flashbacks of this year’s Nintendo E3 booth. As the scientist leaves their room, the Rabbids literally teleport in on a time traveling washing machine. Now, excuse my ignorance for my lack of knowledge on the Rabbids lore, but this caught me off guard, and I admit I was overwhelmed for a moment. Through more shenanigans, the Rabbids overpower their time-traveling washing machine (still extremely jarring) and teleport themselves to the Mushroom Kingdom with their newly-made hybrid Rabbids created from the SupeMerge. They also leave a giant apocalyptic vortex that is making more Rabbid/Mario themed monstrosities.
The plot… is weird. Mario games have never been about the plot, but the story and writing in this game is by no means bad. If I had to liken it to something, it would be similar to a children’s animated movie in terms of pacing and writing. While bright and cheerful, it isn’t incredibly smart or slick with it’s jokes.
It’s Like X-Com, But With Mario
After choosing your weapons and party composition, you can now fight horrible Rabbid creatures. Each combat encounter is interesting because the requirements to win are different depending on the scenario. These range from killing all the enemies to defeating a certain number of them and getting to the safe zone. Character movement, attacks, and abilities can be done in any order to maximize terrain and efficiency. It’s standard turn-based fare, but what makes Mario + Rabbids special is how movement is done.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle really emphasizes fast and far-ranged movement when playing. An option that opens up possibilities is the ability to have characters jump off one another, allowing you hit parts of the combat area otherwise unreachable. You can also slide into enemies to do melee damage, and then have the option to move again. It is really nice that these movements feel appropriate within traditional Mario gameplay.
The game as a whole has a pretty reasonable difficulty curve, and a lot of this has to do with enemy variety. As it progresses, enemies with different skill sets and attributes are added into the mix at a reasonable pace. Later enemies will utilize CC (crowd control), abilities similar to your characters, and utilize environmental hazards. The game is a legitimate challenge, but not so much so that it would be impossible for a new player to this type of genre.
The Mario/Rabbid Hybrids Are Great
What makes the rather simple and by-the-numbers story of Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle great is how well-animated all these characters are – especially the Rabbids. The Mario characters are all wonderfully portrayed as they should be, but they are rather simple archetypes. When you combine them with their more rambunctious Rabbid counterparts, the amount of gag and visual humor present is stellar. Little things like Luigi’s expressions when huddled behind cover, Rabbid Peach’s cocky poses, and Mario’s heroic combat moves are all really cool to see during combat encounters. Luigi is viewed as a more timid version of his brother, often seeming almost cowardly. Even in-game, there are characters who view him as “Mario’s brother.” However, Rabbid Luigi views him as a heroic figure, something they aspire to be.
Upgrade Rabbid Luigi’s Rocket Launcher
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, at its mechanical core, is a grid-based tactical RPG. It uses a combat similar to game such as XCOM and Fire Emblem. And to its credit, it does enough to distinguish itself from similar games in its genre. Before you start each encounter, you can choose to go to the Battle HQ, where you can purchase and equip weapons which have varying properties. You can also choose party members who all have different attributes and abilities to help you in combat. Rabbid Peach is a more supportive character, healing and buffing others, while Luigi is more of a sniper character.
From the Battle HQ, you can also upgrade your skills from orbs you collect as you progress through the game. While I do like the amount of depth given in skill trees and weapons, the skill tree is very linear. Every skill on the tree is valuable, and rather than choosing a path, it’s best to unlock everything. It feels like the skill tree was put in place to add depth, but it is very bare bones and linear in execution.
The Beautiful Yet Janky World
If someone were to tell me that this was a purely in-house Nintendo game based on looks alone, I would believe them. This game oozes Nintendo charm from its aesthetic. Everything from quirky lovable characters and big cartoony landscapes to the visual fidelity of animations make this stand up there with the best in the Mario franchise. As much as I like the environments aesthetically, exploring them isn’t so fun. The levels are very linear, and while that isn’t a problem itself, the puzzles in the levels feel more like distractions than anything.
Despite the linearity of environments, I have a hard time thinking of one that wasn’t visually appealing. They are your standard Mario levels, but there is something appealing about seeing them as a janky mess due to the continuing chaos of the Rabbids. The icing on the cake is the amount of little animations going in the background.
These visuals are complemented by one of the best soundtracks in a Nintendo game I’ve heard in a long time. The music is more closely tied to Super Mario 64 than anything more recent. I won’t lie, when I heard the theme for Peach’s Castle in this game and it was identical to Peach’s castle in Super Mario 64, I was hit with the nostalgia feels. The biggest problem with the music is that it lacks an identity such as the epic scale of Mario Galaxy, or the jazz influences of Super Mario 3D World’s soundtrack.
A game that I laughed at for merely its concept alone has quickly become a huge surprise and joy for me. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom isn’t perfect by any means, and it isn’t the best of the non-main series Mario titles. The gameplay, visuals, joyful tone, and most of all Rabbid Peach (editor’s note: gross) have convinced me that this is a title worth owning if you have a Nintendo Switch. The game is a bright, beautiful, and truly wacky experience that proves what can be done when another studio works on a Nintendo license. Hopefully this game convinces you, as it has convinced me, that video games truly can be anything, and maybe at times should be given the chance to be anything – even if there’s Rabbids.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (reviewed); Publisher: Ubisoft ; Developer: Ubisoft Milan, Ubisoft Paris; Players: 1-2 ; Released: August 29, 2017 ; ESRB: E10+ for Everyone 10+ ; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle.