It'sa me, Rabbid Mario!
When Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot and Shigeru Miyamoto took the stage this past E3 to reveal that the Mushroom Kingdom would be infected with the unhealthy dose of Rabbids, few were surprised as the title had been leaked nearly seven months prior by video game journalist, Laura Kate Dale, who has been at the forefront of many leaks denied by countless publishers, even just weeks before an official release. Despite the leaks, the title had a bit skepticism about it as the Rabbids franchise, much like that of Despicable Me's Minions, who can come off as a bit too annoying, could easily have gone very wrong, and thankfully, it went very right.
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is at its core, a kid-friendly version of X-Com, complete with cover-based combat where you'll move Mario and his companions into combat positions and then submit your turn and allow your enemies to then unleash their attacks in retaliation. It has surprising depth, wonderful humor, exciting combat, gorgeous animations, and it even manages to make the Rabbids themselves come off as very charming, it can also be a very challenging game.
The Rabbids are infused into the world of Mario when a secretive sci-fi gadget merges both worlds and causes chaos all throughout the Mushroom Kingdom. It's not long before Mario is joined by Beep-O, a small Roomba designed robot that seems to have the general idea about what is going on, and who you will control as you explore around the merged Kingdom. Your initial team is that of Mario, Rabbid Peach, and Rabbid Luigi, and eventually, throughout the course of the game's four worlds, you'll unlock the real Luigi, Peach, Yoshi, and Rabbid versions of Mario, and Yoshi.
The combat is mostly single player, however; you can play some of the game via couch co-op multiplayer, once you unlock it, that is and is surprisingly well thought out. It does, in many ways, feel like a lite-version of the more recent X-Com games with its turn-based cover designed combat, but without the permadeath mechanic that X-Com is well known for, because can you imagine the look on a child's face should Mario die?
Each combat arena has multiple paths, Rabbid ear'd warp pipes that will speed you along the map, as well as vertical platforms that can give you the higher ground, and the bonus damage that goes along with it. There are objectives such as disposing of a certain number of foes, completely wiping the field clean of them, or simply reaching the end goal before you are wiped out. There are a few escort missions as well and surprisingly, they aren't awful.
Characters can move a certain number of spaces and this can be increased through leveling up or using other character's buffs to increase your movement, and I'll go further into those mechanics shortly. You can hide behind cover that will mostly protect you but as is the case with returning fire, enemies can use cover as well and the ability to hit them becomes a game of 50/50. When you select to attack an enemy it will give you either a 100% hit chance or a 50% change, due to the just mentioned cover system, and should you be totally behind cover, then 0% is also an option. Cover can also be broken apart if it is made of stone or ice, and in the case of some instances of said cover, they can hide deadly traps within them, causing your character to become set on fire, become frozen, or bounce off the map entirely, causing a great deal of damage.
While it is somewhat weird to see Mario and company wielding guns, it's not as violent as you would think. Each weapon is designed to be goofy and a bit off as they are mostly comprised of laser beams that can cover enemies in honey, turn them to stone, or set them on fire, each causing various methods of limitation on movement. Characters are also granted a secondary weapon like Mario having a large hammer, Luigi sending out an explosive vehicle, or Peach throwing an elemental rubber ducky. The whole aspect of gunplay can feel very Looney Tunes and fits well within the feel of a Mario title.
Earning these weapons are as easy as discovering them in hidden treasure chests, completing each of the 4 worlds you'll adventure through, and you simply need to pony up the coin amount to purchase them. You'll earn coins from collecting them around the Mushroom Kingdom or from defeating enemies and completing combat arenas. Weapons will have various damage increases as well as several types of attacks ranging from covering an enemy in honey so they cannot move, or covering them in ink so they cannot see.
Characters also have skill tree's and these allow you to grant extra health, more movement options, more combat attacks like sliding into enemies, jumping onto them, or boosting your team jump, which allows you to catapult your character further by having another companion assist in their jump. Upon completing combat scenario's or also from the hidden chests around the world, you can earn the upgrade orbs needed to increase these skills and make each character far more effective on the battlefield. Also, should you stumble upon a blue warp launcher, these will lead to special stages where you can also earn some new items.
Each of the eight characters that you'll take with you on this journey to set the Mushroom Kingdom back to its natural order has specific skills that can make them essential in combat. While Mario is required in each arrangement of your three-person team, as in one Rabbid character, you may end up creating a team based on their special abilities. While characters like Mario and Luigi can buff their entire team to hit harder or move further, others will heal those around them or cause enemies to run in terror. When you play co-op with another friend, this increases your team to a squad of four, adding in one more additional character where each player will control two of.
Kingdom Battle is a turn-based affair where you will expend the abilities and movement of your character and then end your turn, allowing the enemy to then take theirs and then return play back to you. Each character can accomplish three tasks per turn; attack, movement, and ability, with attack and ability, comprised of two options each. Let's say I select Mario, I can have him shoot his laser blaster or attack close range with his hammer. I can have him move to a new location as well as either boost the nearby allies with extra damage or set up an attack that automatically triggers should a nearby foe move within range. The movement portion of the turn allows me to position a character either behind cover or where I can deal out the most damage to an unsuspecting foe. Should I have the ability unlocked, I can also have Mario slide into an enemy, causing damage, and then continue his movement to wherever I had planned on originally moving him.
The enemy types in Mario + Rabbids mostly consist solely of Rabbid hybrids both big and small. You'll have smaller Rabbids that can fire off long-distance attacks or teleport in and out of cover, to large overbearing Rabbids that carry large stone blocks to smash you, or giant shields to block incoming attacks from the front. The wide variety of Rabbids is really well planned out and can create some tense situations where you may require a restart of the match once you figure out where you may have gone wrong once an army of giant Rabbids trounces your allies. The large stone block enemies also come closer to you when you attack them, however; you can slide into them upon moving and this won't actually trigger their 'your turn' advancement, making it a fantastic strategy to chip away at their health.
Certain enemies usually will pack certain firepower and you can use it to your advantage as well. I had a round where Mario needed to go quite the distance to get to a pipe to reach another platform and there were just too many Rabbids in the way. I noticed that a nearby Rabbid had used the bounce ability via his weapon just a round prior and decided to use that to my advantage. I positioned Mario next to the gap between platforms and allowed that enemy to shoot Mario and it bounced him over the platform and onto the next one, saving me a round or two of movement. It allowed me to finish the round under par as each level has a required amount of turns needed to boost my rewards.
The game also features some incredibly fun mid-bosses like a piranha plant Rabbid hybrid or a fire and ice tag team of Rabbids that you'll take on in one single match. These encounters are rather enjoyable and each of these sub-bosses forces you to slightly change up your game as they can have drastically more range on their strikes than a normal foe. The real treat of Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle are the actual level bosses who are so insanely fun that they can almost overshadow some of the other encounters.
The first boss is a giant white gorilla that is designed to be the Rabbid Donkey Kong hybrid, I mean, he's wearing a red tie after all, and he will heal himself upon eating a pile of banana's that are in front of him. The mechanic to stop this healing is to drop the platform that holds the banana's on each of the platforms that he can jump to. It's a hugely entertaining boss battle and they only get better from there.
The best encounter by far is the Opera Rabbid called Phantom. He's a spotlight-hogging singer who has some actual singing dialogue during the encounter, spoofing off everything from "Your princess is in another castle", the blue shell in Mario Kart, and even wondering what Peach even sees in the plump little plumber. The songs are fantastic, pitch-perfect, and is such a wonderful encounter that It really makes me hopeful that we get a sequel for some more encounters like this one. The final encounter can be a bit predictable but offers a great deal of challenge, so much so that I beat it with 12 health left on my last character while surrounded by several enemies.
Between many of the actual battles during your 20+ hours with the game, you'll be treated to many puzzles that can involve gaining access to healing mushrooms, additional chests, or simply needed to be solved to progress throughout the game. These usually work around swapping pipes or platforms around to solve the puzzle or combining that with small statues that you can pick up and place on colored platforms. Several of these can be rather difficult and some can easily be solved by just guessing, as was the case with several of them for myself. After completing each world, you will granted a new ability like pushing blocks or digging into lava rocks on the ground. These will unlock new pathways to treasure, or the ability to access secret stages.
Mario + Rabbids is probably one of the most visually impressive games currently on a Nintendo console. Its rich use of color and style is gorgeous and each and every character model in the game feels directly lifted out of a Nintendo title, despite being made entirely by Ubisoft. In fact, during the initial pitch, when Ubisoft showed off the game to Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto, he was curious how they gained access to their own character models, and had to be told that these were made from scratch via Ubisoft. He was impressed. The game looks rather impressive via the handheld or on a big screen tv. The game runs at a steady 30fps and is 900p docked and 720p when played portable.
While the game features very little in the ways of voice acting, apart from the musical boss and the "wahooo's!" of Mario and company, the music is absolutely tremendous and it is the work of BAFTA-nominated British composer, Grant Kirkhope. While the name may not ring any bells, this is the man who composed some of the most iconic music for Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64, GoldenEye 007, Viva Pinata, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, Civilization: Beyond Earth, and Perfect Dark, Each song oozes the Nintendo charm is so incredibly fitting, you'd be surprised that Nintendo themselves didn't produce it.
There are a few issues that do present themselves during the game and the game's camera is easily one of them. It can be restrictive during much of the exploration, and while It may be designed around keeping certain chests hidden, it can be a bit frustrating not having the ability to look around. The camera can also be a bit of a pain during combat as it can be a bit too close and can require a lot of moving around the map to see where you need to go when the objective is to reach your goal. There are many instances where an attack animation is blocked by the background when the camera is, for some reason, behind a pipe, or even inside it.
The grind to earn more coins can be a bit much and while there are tons of bonus challenges to complete that will earn you move coins, I would have preferred a way to sell my previous weapons, like with maybe a Rabbid NPC vendor that would take in my previously used guns for some coin. Lastly, the movement system can be a bit finicky and can jump around a lot when moving around raised and lower platforms and often I would select to slide into an enemy and it would move slightly and have me click to move just next to them, thus leaving me vulnerable for close range hit instead of the slide-by attack I had planned.
I also found it rather odd that you control Beep-0 outside of combat and not Mario. This created some confusion when navigating special stages and anything timed as I would always focus on Mario and not Beep-0. It's a minor nuisance, but one that did have me needing to reattempt a few special stages.
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is an absolutely fantastic example of collaboration between two studios and a concept that needs to be explored again. The often annoying Rabbids are charming here, complete with a Rabbid Peach that consistently takes selfies, even one during the fall of the white gorilla that made me chuckle quite loud. The turn-based combat works well, the cover system is wonderful, and the weapons can get incredibly silly and their effects can be very satisfying. The story is really well told and while predictable during the later stages, it is one of my favorite Nintendo adventures since Mario RPG. Ubisoft nailed the Nintendo charm and hopefully, the season pass content, new weapons, challenges, and story content, will further enhance the game and not feel tacked on. This is a must-have for Switch owners and a solid entry into a hopeful franchise.