What is white, fluffy, takes on different shapes & sizes, and creates a storm? If you’ve answered “clouds”, sorry… your rabbit princess is in another castle. (Also, I love storms).
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle takes a daring approach in fusing arguably the most iconic video game mascot of all time with a franchise that found a home on Nintendo platforms since Wii. The Rabbids franchise is one whose image had its ups and downs with the general gaming population often not welcomed into their homes while a portion have been quite accepting to their yecchy humor. If you fall somewhere in-between and are unsure then you owe it to yourself to give this game a chance. If you’re someone who lands more on the negative side, you also owe it to yourself to give this game a chance. Take any qualms you’ve had with the Rabbids, flush them down the toilet and go in with an
open lid erm, open mind. (Sorry?)
The game begins with a beautifully rendered opening cut-scene of a young girl working on her newest invention in her room. Without the need to spoil everything going on in the scene, we come to see how the two universes of Mario & Rabbids combine into one. It’s an idea that ultimately ends up working well enough and explains itself. All you need to know is the two franchises get warped into another dimension; Simple enough that it won’t take a Rabbid scientist to figure it out! The entire cut-scene sets the tone for what the rest of the game holds, being full of charm, funny, fun and not taking itself seriously.
Diving straight into the game you will immediately notice how clean and vibrant the game looks. This is partially due to the game being created with the Snowdrop Engine, a powerful engine that Ubisoft’s massive multiplayer online game, The Division, also uses. Ubisoft Milan pulls no punches here implementing various shaders for grass, fur, water and more. A particularly strong point of the graphics is its lighting and the first world you’ll be playing through makes wonderful use of it as well transitioning from broad daylight to a warm sunset as you make progress. Clouds cast soft shadows over the land (maybe clouds was the correct answer after all?), objects, particle effects & character models pop and not a single thing looks muddy or out of place. Each world has its own identity and they all create an atmosphere that stays fresh and varied within them. Elements of the worlds move with the game’s music, Mario lore you’ll recognize are scattered throughout, and the Rabbids are always up to something. I never once got bored walking through the game’s world and found myself with a huge grin and even laughing out loud at times. Segments of each world are all seamless with no load times, with the exception of cannons that warp you to places such as bonus rooms to collect coins which you must complete within a time limit (don’t worry, you can try these again if you don’t get it the first time). Movement might confuse players at first. You begin the game with 3 characters and end up with total of 8 by the end of it. You always have a party of three at any given time on the world map, plus Beep-0, a little talking round robotic device with bunny ears. Your party follows Beep-0 around who leads the pack. At first you’ll wonder why you have to follow a sliding cursor around, but it makes sense. Your characters may be crowding an area, but your trusty Beep-0 tells you exactly where you’re going and what you need to activate. Beep-0 also comes equipped with a headlamp providing an easier waypoint of the direction you’re facing. You might be wondering, “How does Mario even mesh well with the Rabbids?”, for which I will answer: There must be passion for both franchises. The development team knew how much weight the Mario brand holds, being fans themselves, and the quality shows. Every inch of the game has detail. The world is animated and doesn’t feel static despite its mostly linear approach. It’s apparent that the developers worked very hard to get the Mario feel right. All the characters have their own animations for any situation and they’re very fluid like a cartoon. The animators have created something very polished. It’s very easy to mistake this game being developed by Nintendo themselves. Fantastic work here. The writing is so good that you can’t wait to see what new weapons you unlock to read its name and description. There’s fan-service and plenty of wit to be found. The weapons themselves are creative.
One thing I would like to mention is something that resonates me personally. I grew up with the original Super Mario Bros. on the NES and saw every game in the series since then release. One feeling that all retro gamers can share is endless imagination. Something that older technology certainly encourages in young players. I absolutely adored the world maps in Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World. They gave me a sense that I was travelling through these worlds and had an overview perspective of something larger once you played each level. In Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, I got the same feeling walking through the worlds. I felt like I was similarly walking through Super Mario Bros. 3 world maps, but in 3D. To the regular player, these maps may be seen in any positive light. It just may come as a bonus to older gamers.
In order to reach these worlds, you traverse through Peach’s Castle that serves as the game’s central hub. There are a few secrets to find there as well as serving points to the game’s other features such as a Museum which displays the collectibles you’ve found during your play-through. These collectible come in the form of concept art, music tracks, figurines of all the characters found within the game which you can zoom in on and rotate along the x-axis, and tarot cards which display some humorous Rabbid art. Peach’s Castle also has more elements from the game added to it the more you make progress, making the hub feel somewhat constantly renovated. It’s not a game-changer, but it’s a nice touch.
While around 1/3 of the game revolves around exploring, the latter chunk are all about the battles. Battles take place in the same world space as the map so you won’t see any major transitioning. This also leaves the destruction of the warzone visible even after the battle. As on the world map, you have party of three during a battle. Mario is always the front man, with only one other non-Rabbid character of your choosing along with a Rabbid; or you can choose a Rabbid variant for both. Basically, you must always have at least 1 Rabbid in your party. Movement on the battlefield is shown by grid spaces also known as “cells”. Each character can move a certain amount of cells in an area and additional movement spaces can be earned through spending points you’ve earned in the Skill Tree. You may reach a further destination on the map by performing a team jump with an ally. A team jump happens when you align your cursor with an ally within range and confirm you want that action to take place making your ally giving you a boost to reach a few extra cells from where your ally is currently positioned. Each member has a Primary Weapon which can be used on any turn (not prevented by a status ailment) and a Secondary Weapon that has a cooldown. Primary Weapons varied by character are either short range, medium range or long range, while Secondary Weapons are either up-close and personal or help you target behind enemies and/or blocked by cover. Each member of your party all have unique traits that only belong to them, such as Mario’s ability to head stomp enemies after performing a team jump or Rabbid Peach’s ability to provide health to teammates within range. All characters can also dash through enemies while they make a move causing damage to them. The number of dashes and type of damage done varies between characters. There’s plenty of flexibility here that you can go about a battle in a number of ways. Your control over your party’s actions aren’t limited to any specific order. This means if you want to move with one character, but hold off on performing an attack so you can move another character and then attack with your previous character, you can. You’re allowed to perform movement and actions separately from each other. It’s a good idea to mix & match your party to best suit your play style. It’s fun trying the different combinations; especially since not all battles are the same. In some battles, the requirement to complete it is to take out all the enemies, while other battles require you to escort Toad through the map without him taking too much damage. It’s these variations, along with brilliant map design and new enemy introductions that have you change your strategies as you play. Unlike the world maps you traverse, the camera in battles are in a fixed position that rotate on 90 degree angles. This may bother some looking for full control, but I never felt that it hindered my experience. At any given time, you’re welcome to hit X to bring up a tactical view panning across the map at your leisure checking individual enemy stats and how many cells they can travel. You can also lock onto any character by pressing Y and it will display their travel distance even while you look around the map. It’s definitely useful if you need it.
Being as it is a Mario game, the difficulty is one you normally see in any mainline Mario title: A “one size fits all” approach. You will genuinely learn the ropes and will experience a gradual increase in difficulty as you progress. While there is no difficulty meter, you are granted an option for Easy Mode before each battle, in-case you need a little boost to your overall health. This is an option that is always asked so there’s no worry about it being permanent. More skilled players will appreciate completing a battle under the required number of movements to obtain that “Perfect” score. This encourages players to find the best strategy in maximizing the distance of their moves and damage dealt to enemies.
Each world has 9 chapters, a mid-boss and a boss. Within each chapter there are multiple battles to go through. There are an additional 10 challenges and secret chapter that unlocks per world once you’ve completed it. Those looking for a challenge that can feel like a puzzle should partake in them. Once you’ve completed the game, there are 4 ultimate challenges that will test everything you’ve experienced in the game. On top of the extras, there is a co-operative mode that plays like the single player, but with one other buddy. I haven’t had the privilege to try this mode, but the general buzz from others is that it’s fun and even provides a little competitive aspect. A sizable single player, the option to play with a friend, secrets to find, collectibles for eye candy & ear candy, and additional challenges make this feel like a very complete package. There is one desire I have that isn’t here: A player-vs-player multiplayer mode. This game is so fun that an inclusion for that would make this a hefty package. There is a season pass for 2 DLC’s coming in the future for those interested. Fingers crossed for that kind of mode!
Anyone looking for a deep story with major character development won’t find it here. While there is a central goal to achieve, it’s mostly the character interactions, the writing and charm that is its constant strength. The game’s goal is meant to have you smiling from the moment you press ‘Start’ to up until the credits. Mario + Rabbids is all about personality and the Rabbids in your party are full of it. Rabbid Peach enjoys selfies and struts about with confidence regardless of what anyone else think of her looks; very admirable. Rabbid Luigi reminds me of a member from a gangster mob who might be a maniac. Rabbid Mario is a laid back plumber who enjoys cuisine and the fine arts of seduction (don’t ask). Earlier I mentioned the quality of the animation Ubisoft Milan has created; they shine through these characters. That same quality applies to every character, enemies or other, you see in the game. The game makes use of Switch’s HD rumble. You can feel every coin you pick up, every warp-pipe you go through, every shot you make with your blaster. It feels pretty good and not as an afterthought.
If I had to address the rabbit in the room, it’s the soundtrack. Veteran video game composer Grant Kirkhope delivers a dynamic and magnificent score. The best way of describing it is that it’s something you’d likely hear in a CG animated movie. If you’re no stranger to RPG’s, you’ll know that variety of tracks tend to suit different emotions during particular sections of the game. The themes range from whimsical, spooky, intense, tranquil, and adventurous. You’ll hear familiar Nintendo tunes as well. Peach’s Castle is a rendition of the theme found in Super Mario 64 with the flavor of Grant Kirkhope. To give an example of dynamic, Peach’s Castle theme is mostly cheerful, but you can find about 15 seconds worth of a serious military vibe somewhere in there before going back to how cheerful it is. There is a trifecta here: Nintendo franchise, the game’s Creative Director Davide Soliani leading his team in Milan, and Grant Kirkhope that just works. If you’re familiar with Grant Kirkhope’s past work, you’ll know Banjo-Kazooie’s music is often mentioned. He has a certain style that just works for this game. He’s no stranger to comical characters with googly eyes. In Banjo-Kazooie, you come across a statue that looks like Banjo as The Great Sphinx. There’s a moment in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle that just clicked with me. You also see a particular statue and Kirkhope’s score is accompanying your travels. It’s a moment that felt all too familiar and one that I was missing. This might be one of the top scores he’s done. Personally, it’s my favorite score he’s done.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a very polished game that was created with heart. If Ubisoft Milan slapped two brands together for the sake of it this game would have been stuck in a development loop or halted altogether. The team has proven that they can handle the Mario brand so well that it truly feels like Nintendo pumped out this gem themselves. All of this has me raving: Can Ubisoft & Nintendo work together forever, pretty please?