Mario and Rabbids are two IPs that only someone who is crazy or a genius would put together. Strangely, the game is both things and fans of either series will likely be surprised that they work well together.
You know as soon as you start the game that the developer hasn’t taken it too seriously. A game that combines two completely unrelated properties like this would run into instant pitfalls if it was positioned as a feasible universe. Instead, the idea is that the Rabbids accidentally crash-land in the basement of a scientist who is working on a prototype of technology that combines two things together. When this scientist leaves her latest invention and her assistant Beep-0 in the basement while she takes a break, the Rabbids arrive and chaos ensues.
Okay, now you’re wondering where Mario comes in right? Well, this scientist has figurines and posters of Mario and his friends all over the walls – clearly a fan. So, in a strange twist of fate the Rabbid and Mario kingdoms are combined, Beep-0 is merged with a Rabbid and a new team of superheroes (half Mario and friends, half Rabbid versions of Mario and friends) must team up to save the Mushroom Kingdom.
The combat and gameplay mechanics are very polished. When I first heard about this game I was excited but expected a short, fun and ultimately shallow experience. I’m so pleased to have my expectations blown out the water by the interesting and relatively complex gameplay loop that Mario and Rabbids Kingdom Battle has. Admittedly my experience with turn-based strategy games is limited (think Pokémon Conquest super fan and that’s it) but the mechanics are introduced to you slowly (a little too slow at times) and there’s a fair bit of handholding to get you through the more complex aspects. There’s something really exciting about seeing Mario as a brawler and Luigi as a sniper – who ever expected to see these characters like this?
In the battles, you typically have two types of objective. The first and most straightforward is to destroy all your enemies, the mutated crazy Rabbids. These battles get progressively harder as you move through the game, as you’d expect, and will require some serious thought to take them down in the right order and right way by the end.
The second type of battle is one in which you need get to a ‘safe zone’. In these battles, you can still fight enemies but they’ll keep respawning so you must try to take them out in a way that opens a route to the safe zone. I enjoyed both types but found the ‘safe zone’ missions much more difficult than the straight up deathmatch. The game never presents you with anything you can’t (eventually) do, but as someone inexperienced with this gameplay I just found the strategy needed for these maps came a little slower to me.
When you first start playing the game appears very simple but as new elements are introduced it begins to get much deeper. After a few hours, you’ll have gained multiple different enemy types which need to be countered in different ways, additional party members all with their own strengths, an upgrade tree for your party’s abilities, and new weapons that boost damage and add new effects. These variables mean that there is a play style for every person out there.
If others play like I did then you’ll find yourself spending more time with the characters you like to play with rather than the characters you probably should be playing with. For example, once I’d unlocked Luigi I couldn’t bring myself to remove him from my party. His sniper damage, combined with ridiculous movement passives and fun special abilities meant that I couldn’t contemplate playing without him.
Outside of battle, your party, led by Beep-0, explores different parts of the Mushroom Kingdom. This typically involves walking a relatively straight path and picking up coins as you go. The best thing about these sequences is that they introduce puzzles once you’re a short way in. None of these are particularly complex but they’re fun. Certain areas offer unique cannons that transport your party to time trials in which you need to pick up every coin within a set time to unlock a collectible or weapon.
Other puzzles need to be solved to progress with the game, with new mechanics added every time you unlock a new world. Over time you’ll gain the ability to push boxes and giant ice cubes, move statues around to remove road blocks and that’s not all. These provide a welcome little break from the combat and I often found myself looking forward to them. These puzzles also add a fair bit of time to the game as you’ll find yourself backtracking to complete puzzles that you didn’t have the skills to solve the first time around. That, paired with the ability to redo chapters with new characters, means you’re getting fair bang for your buck throughout.
The story? Well, like I said, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It ultimately means you’re hopping from area to area to fix Mario’s world without any plan or idea how you will do the fixing. You spend most of the game chasing down a Rabbid who has accidentally combined himself with the combining machine, using the combining machine. It goes without saying that this could have been improved but in all honesty, I didn’t really care that much. If ever a game lived by the mantra ‘gameplay is king’, this is it. I wanted to keep battling on to unlock more moves, fight new enemies and get more collectibles – not to find out where we were headed next.
I know it’s a running theme here but the fact that it doesn’t take itself seriously also makes the game look cohesive. Each of the areas you’ll visit on your quest have a distinct feel, with completely different colour palettes used to convey change when you move on. Everything looks clean and well-rounded (both in handheld mode and when docked) with no noticeable impact on performance. The cutscenes are exceptionally well animated and are bursting with character. The only thing I can say I would have liked for them to be fully voiced – simply because it would have been nice to have conversational sound to counterbalance the rabbids’ constant noises (you know the ones I mean). That said, they rarely genuinely irritated me throughout as their ‘voices’ are used sparingly.