Some games release to an abundance of fanfare. Some receive none at all. Then there are those which are ridiculed and laughed at.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom definitely fell into that category. The Rabbids have been on a popularity decline for some time and the crossover with Mario and the entire Mushroom Kingdom seemed, frankly, bizarre.
Imagine mine, and the rest of the world’s surprise, then, to find that this is not only one of the best games to release on Nintendo Switch to date, but could also be deemed something of a system seller in its own right.
See, XCOM is one of my all-time favourite games. I love the turn-based nature of it, the tension of losing teammates, the upgrade possibilities and carving out a base. Even the narrative. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle does lose some of that for obvious reasons, but where it makes those adjustments to suit its styling, then makes up for in other quirky additions. Like the humour, for instance. This is a genuinely funny, laugh-out-loud game with enough variety and absurdity to actually work.
The premise starts out with the Rabbids sneaking into a Time Washing Machine in the lab of a major Mario fan. Along with her robot assistant – Beep-0 – the fan is developing a new form of technology called the SupaMerge which can fuse two objects together. Typical Rabbids decide to play around with the visor and manage to change themselves into a form of Peach and Luigi on the way to teleporting to the Mushroom Kingdom.
The resulting effect creates a vortex and corrupts the SupaMerge headset during the transportation, creating all kinds of menaces and maniacs in its wake. The key is to find the one Rabbid fused to the headset in order to save the day and restore balance back to the force. Or something.
Guided by Beep-0 – who is now cursed with a set of bunny-ears, by the way – you and your team will traipse around the vivid and vibrant Mushroom Kingdom, looking at the environment, fighting against bad-guys, collecting coins and discovering all kinds of neat secrets, like hidden chests and puzzles.
The core of the game is battling, though. Enemies can hide behind the cover of walls, move around the battlefield using warp pipes and even team up to isolate your teammates. Likewise, you can shoot them from out of cover, use team jump to get to further parts of the map, and even slide the legs out from underneath them. There are also various different enemy types, including Hoppers and even boss types.
Battles require you to move your characters around the battleground, depending on how many squares of movement they have and defeat everyone they see. You can even use a Battle TactiCam to get a feel for the flow of battle first before jumping in headfirst, planning strategies accordingly. This can show you how far forward you can move, what your shooting range is, what abilities each character has, and the nearest cover locations.
Once you win a battle, you get gradings – and in true Mario style – different coloured trophies based on how effective you’ve been. For instance, how many turns it took you to win, how much damage you took etc. All incentives to keep doing better.
Eventually, you’ll be able to visit Peach’s castle and meet all the Rabbids you’ve defeated in battle who then work on developing a Battle HQ. There, you can spend all the coins you’ve collected on new weapons and armour as well as explore a museum with all the bonus items you’ve found, like viewing concept art and listening to the games’ soundtrack.
You can also get detailed statistics on each of your team-mates and switch them out for other characters. You might find Mario’s mid to close range attacks a bit limiting and area of movement too short, so prefer someone attacking from long range? Team-mates can even have secondary weapons in addition to their blasters and BWORB’s.
You’ll even get to learn how to perform other abilities later on in order to explore the map fully. For instance, pushing boxes out of the way to access hidden areas as well as new weapons and gadgets which open up other possibilities. And did we mention boss battles?
The most startling thing about this is just how much like a Mario game this feels. The quality of the graphics, the beautiful soundtrack and arcadey sound effects. Even the feel of the controls and the nature of play. Ubisoft has nailed a Mario experience and latched it onto a genre that Nintendo is yet to explore with the red-clothed plumber.
There are some frame-rate issues which particularly noticeable if you try to go against the grain in the pursuit of secrets. Likewise, the transition from gameplay to cut-scene does throw up some juddering. I also noticed some of the text overfills which made some dialogue hard to read. There’s also a noticeably stiff difficulty curve in the game. Even before you’re off the training blocks, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle wants to punish you.
There’s also a noticeably stiff difficulty curve in the game. Even before you’re off the training blocks, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle wants to punish you. Fortunately, you can always knock the difficulty down before each battle, adding health boosts to your characters.
The short and snappy nature of battles, as well as the progression system in Kingdom Battle really suit a pick-up-and-play style that makes for a perfect marriage on Switch. The Rabbids also bring out the most absurd side of the Mushroom Kingdom population. You’ll find Rabbid Peach taking selfies of herself and Luigi playing on his fears, being overly ridiculous. It’s such an over-act of what you’re used to with Mario, but it blends so beautifully and effectively.
What Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle proves is that, just because something shouldn’t work on paper and may not be the most popular choice among hungry, ‘die-hard’ fans, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be designed in the first place. It also proves that Nintendo can trust third parties with their precious IP to produce something quite special.
Ubisoft has achieved the impossible, they’ve not only given Mario his own XCOM game, they’ve created a third-party franchise that should remain a Nintendo staple in years to come. A franchise that features Rabbids.
+ Great combat and combo system
+ Gorgeous graphics that hold up well on Switch
+ Motion controls that work well!
– Some frame rate issues
– Monotony in battle does set in quite quickly
– Disconnection issues prove frustrating
– Online already appears to be a dead zone.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
8.5 out of 10
Tested on Nintendo Switch
Based on Ver 1.1