Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle: The Kotaku Review – Kotaku

 In Technology
Mario’s power as an icon is defined by his versatility. The plumber doesn’t just jump: he fights, he drives, he plays sports, he parties. He does it all, really, without ever looking out of place. And yet earlier in the year, the announcement of a Mario and Rabbids mash-up was met by some skepticism on the internet. Could an XCOM-esque strategy game full of weird rabbits and the Mushroom Kingdom actually work? Actually, yes. Mario + Rabbids is way better than it has any right to be.

Mario + Rabbids is a Nintendo Switch exclusive created by Ubisoft Paris and Milan. It is a turn-based tactics game similar to, say, Fire Emblem or Advance Wars, except unlike most games in the genre, Mario + Rabbids combines humor with hardcore strategy. There is a story that involves a time machine and a device that can merge different objects together. That premise is an excuse to justify worlds clashing. It sets things up and never matters again: you are here to see the many ways in which the mischievous Rabbids wreck havoc, spark hijinks and impersonate your favorite Mushroom Kingdom characters. Mario and friends are just along for the ride, though, weirdly, they’re packing guns.

The game’s zones are numbered similarly to Super Mario Bros.’ in that there are worlds sectioned by levels—1-1, 1-2, and so on. Each area has its own Pixar-esque landscape, all themed in the most video-gamey way possible. Fire and ice world! Lava world! Obligatory starting-area-basic-forest world! It all seems crafted from clay. I don’t think I saw a sharp edge throughout my adventures; that cartoon aesthetic, combined with the top-down camera, made me feel like a kid mashing together dolls from different sets.

You can poke and prod some stuff around the overworld—there are some light environmental puzzles, and coins to collect—but just looking around is a joy. The haunted world, for example, is dotted with Boos, pipes stuffed with candles, and turbulent waters squeaking with rubber duckies. You move through these worlds controlling a party of three characters. I would run through everything and watch in awe as Mario stuck his arms out at top speed, Rabbids trailing behind him maniacally. The characters’ animations oozed so much personality that, dozens of hours in, I still stopped to appreciate them.

As you run through each world, you pass flags that mark the threshold to the next battle stages, where three of your heroes can fight enemies. Mario, who cannot be swapped out of your roster, is more of an all-rounder: he carries a blaster, a hammer, and can stomp on his enemies. Other characters, like Rabbid Peach and Rabbid Yoshi, bring a larger assortment of skills into the field, such as remote-detonated explosives, mini-guns, and even a shrill shriek that makes enemies run away.

Early on, I wanted a good mix of long-range, close-range, and mid-range offense, as well as some healing and defensive capabilities. I also felt wary about the new faces, so I mostly defaulted to the most boring choices: Mario, Luigi, and Peach (once I had unlocked the latter two, who aren’t available at the start). They are characters I already knew and felt comfortable with, so can you blame me? Rabbids initially doesn’t do a great job of telling you why you should include imposters, like Rabbid Mario and Rabbid Luigi, but with time, I grew to love their antics. Rabbid Peach is vain and can’t do anything without commemorating the moment with a selfie. When Rabbid Peach is critically hit, she has to stop and readjust her luscious blonde wig. Rabbid Yoshi wears a cute dinosaur hoodie and can barely contain his madness. I adored all of it.

Once on the battlefield, your team is placed on a grid. Each stage has a win condition, such as defeating all the enemies, escaping to the other side of the map, or most annoying of all, escorting someone to the end of the level. Complicating things further, some stages introduce environmental dangers, like Chain Chomps that run after you, or fireballs that rain down from the sky.

Like similar games in the genre, you take turns with your enemy to maneuver around the field, attack, and take cover. As with any Mario game, running and jumping are key moves and give the game more of an action feel. The first major mechanic is that you can use jump on allies to extend your range, with some characters able to Team Jump on multiple allies in a row. Every Rabbids character can also “dash” through enemies for some extra damage. You are never locked into doing things in a particular order. You can attack first, then move around, and then trigger a special. Or you can trigger your special first, then move, then attack. All of that, combined with Rabbid-ized Mario pipes that teleport you around the map, make for elaborate turns with multiple phases. I felt like a genius whenever I orchestrated complicated turns.

You might, for example, tell a character to dash through one enemy, go into a pipe, dash another enemy in the midway zone, enter another pipe, team jump, and then stay put on the other side of the map, far from the active warzone. That character’s turn isn’t even halfway over—you haven’t officially attacked yet—and they’ve already damaged multiple enemies and trekked the entire board. Many attacks come packed with additional “Super Effects” that influence the action, too: you can ink enemies so they can’t attack you, or honey them in place so they can’t move.

Lead

Back of the box quote

Bwah bwah bwah!

Type of game

Turn-based Mario impersonation

Liked

It’s a hardcore tactics game that manages to be cute and funny.

Disliked

Environmental puzzles grow boring midway through, very occasional lag on early worlds.

Developer

Ubisoft Paris and Milan

Platforms

Nintendo Switch exclusive

Played

Completed the campaign, a few challenges, and found some secrets in about 30 hours.

Framing all of this is the cover system, which offers two types of protection: partial cover, or full cover. Some cover is permanent, while some cover can be chipped away and eventually destroyed, leaving characters vulnerable. Sometimes, what appears to be full cover chips away to reveal a box underneath that explodes on impact, thereby burning, inking, or pushing any schmuck standing next to it. Curiously, the likelihood of connecting an attack is mostly dependant on cover. Being very far away from your enemy doesn’t influence how likely you are to hit them, unless they’re entirely out of your range. Otherwise, you only ever contend with 0% chance (you can’t see them at all), 50% chance (they are behind partial cover) or 100% chance (you are flanking them.) Distance will not decay your hit percentage, though being on higher cover will add a bonus to damage.

Enemy types add another wrinkle. While there are stock adversaries, there are also foes that can heal themselves, phantom-types that can move regardless of terrain, heavies that move toward you after you attack them regardless of turn, and more. As you get further into the game, turns are about prioritizing threats, and recognizing that just because you can damage something doesn’t mean you should.

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