Since the mid 90’s, Nintendo hasn’t always had the strongest support of third-party publishers and developers as the Nintendo 64 and Gamecube both suffered from vastly limited catalogs of titles to choose from in comparison to competitors like Sony and Microsoft. Things seemed to turn around a bit with the success of the Wii, but only weakened once again with Nintendo releasing the Wii’s follow up – the Wii U. One of the few publishers to remain relatively faithful to Nintendo and continue to support their consoles is Ubisoft. The level of goodwill between the companies became apparent when a crossover title was announced featuring Nintendo mascot Mario and Ubisoft’s mischievous Rabbids, first introduced as part of the long-running Rayman franchise.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle was officially announced at E3 2017 and was released later that summer on August 29. The game is a crossover of Nintendo’s mustachioed mascot with the Rabbids as Mario and company battle their way across Mushroom Kingdom in a turn-based strategy setting. I was cautiously intrigued, Mario has appeared in many different genres of games ranging from traditional platformers to sports games, even a few RPGs, but a turn-based strategy? The game sounded just weird enough to work, and it absolutely works! Many have since compared the combat to the sci-fi, and more serious XCOM games.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle’s story begins with the Rabbids crashing their Time Washing Machine(yes that’s right, a time machine built into a laundry appliance…not a hot tub) into the studio of an unnamed Mario fan and their robotic companion Beep-0(who looks simply like a Roomba). The Mario fan has been working the SupaMerge, a VR visor with the ability to merge two objects or creatures into one. As they run amok in the studio, a lone Rabbid uses the contraption to fuse two separate Rabbids with drawings of Mario and Princess Peach, creating Rabbid Mario and Rabbid Peach.
The Time Washing Machine soon malfunctions and sucks the Rabbids into a vortex and transporting them to the Mushroom Kingdom where we come across Mario and the gang. Further chaos ensues as the Rabbid with the visor fused to his head, now dubbed Spawny, runs away frantically as the visor causes further disruptions across the land. The Rabbid is soon discovered by Bowser Jr. who abducts Spawny, sending Mario and the Rabbid doppelgangers off to rescue him.
The game takes Mario and friends through Mushroom Kingdom, consisting of four worlds – Ancient Gardens, Sherbet Desert, Spooky Trails, and Lava Pit. Each world contains 9 battles, which vary from simply defeating the enemies within it, to others such as escorting Toad across the stage or boss battle. Between each battle you will traverse the world with some light puzzles in blocking your path, others off the beaten path will reward you with additional weapons or concept artwork. There are plenty of things to come back and discover as some obstacles are unable to be completed until you acquire the skill later in the game.
After emerging victorious in battle or simply defeating enemies you are rewarded with coins that can be used to purchase weapon upgrades with improved perks such as Honey, which renders an enemy unable to move from its current position, or Burn, causing additional burn damage along with causing an enemy to come out from behind cover as they frantically run around to extinguish the fire. You also acquire skill points to upgrade the stats and abilities of you and your teammates.
Each character essentially corresponds to a traditional “class” in other strategy or role-playing games; Mario is an all-around offensive character, scaredy-cat Luigi is the long-range expert best kept out of the fray, and Peach(and Rabbid Peach) are traditional healer-types with the ability to raise shields and generate additional HP lost in battle.
The game’s visuals are vibrant and colorful, nicely complimenting any game containing either Mario or Rabbids. The character animations during AND outside cutscenes have a special humor and charm to them, familiar to anyone who has played any of Ubisoft’s prior Rabbids games(Raving Rabbids TV Party being one of my favorites). There’s an abundance of sight gags involving the Rabbids as you make your way through the Mushroom Kingdom like Rabbids playing with a rubber duck in a giant toilet or a Banzai Bill suspended in midair, trapped by a pair of giant underwear; at this point Beep-0 will add anything from witty remark to full-on “dad joke”.
One of the highlights of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is the soundtrack and effects within the game. The soundtrack is conducted by former Rare composer Grant Kirkhope and compliments the feeling of the game perfectly. The quirky, yet spirited score will instantly sound familiar to anyone who grew up playing the catalog of great Rare games on Nintendo 64. The sound effects used in the game generally lean more towards those found in other Rabbids games than what we’ve come to expect from any game starring Mario. You can expect lots of “Bwaaah!”s as you make your way through battle areas.
I found the controls to work near flawlessly and just as intuitive to use, particularly for someone who usually points to strategy-type games as my biggest weakness. The blue grid that appears on screen during movement and understanding the advantages of switching between movement, attacks, and abilities within any given turn proved to be very easy to pick up and play. I also like the fact the movement and overall controls in Mario + Rabbids aren’t more difficult or less responsive depending on whether I’m playing my Switch in handheld mode or docked.
It’s Super Effective!
There’s lots to love about Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle: the gameplay works flawlessly and there’s an interesting variety of enemies to overcome in this colorful strategy mash-up. The Grant Kirkhope sountrack is wonderful and only makes the game seem in ways like a callback to some of Nintendo’s colorful, cartoony creations of previous generations. I have stated previously that I’d like to think I’m adept enough at nearly any genre of games, but would have to point out strategy games as being my weakest genre to play. Mario + Rabbids is a wonderful way to be introduced to the genre; playing through this along with later completing Fire Emblem: Three Houses has provided me more experience, and dare I say confidence, to seek out other strategy games(Into the Breach is another I’d like to try).
Interestingly enough, I found myself wanting to return to the Rabbid-ridden Mushroom Kingdom to retry battles or solve puzzles not long after finishing the main story. After completing, Mario + Rabbids provides plenty of battles to replay or puzzles to solve, there’s also a number of specific challenges to be completed, with many more released as later DLC.
I loved all the characters in the game, but selfie-taking diva Rabbid Peach is probably my favorite character in the game, along the explosive-enthusiast Rabbid Yoshi. The furry gargantuan Rabbid Kong was humorously entertaining and easily my favorite enemy…along with the malevolent duo of Bwario and Bwahluigi.
It’s Not Very Effective…
My biggest complaints about Kingdom Battle is that around two-thirds of the way through the main story the difficulty level seems to spike significantly, with it only taking a couple turns before a group of enemies can wipe out your entire group. Some of the enemies you face, especially in later worlds like Spooky Hills and the Lava Pit, have some devastating(and kinda cheap) attacks. I’m willing to chalk up some of this to not being the most experienced at strategy games, but even after coming back to the some of the stages after playing through Fire Emblem: Three Houses and some of the worlds pose enough of a challenge. You do have the option before beginning a battle to press the Y button and receive an additional 50% health boost to get your through to the end. I used this a few times and still barely made it to the end of the battle.
My other negative feeling about the game is it perhaps, could have been shortened by an area or two. The game only contains four main worlds, but each world comprises of up to 9 separate battles, along with other puzzles or obstacles in your way. The main story took me 30-35 hours to complete and while that’s still not a LONG game by today’s standards, it felt like a bit of a slog once you finally make it to the latter battles of Spooky Hills. I feel the game could have been condensed down just a bit, especially when combined with the difficulty spike mentioned above.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a very solid crossover, that despite a few drawbacks provides a very enjoyable and unique experience. I wholeheartedly recommend the game to anyone, fans of Mario or strategy games alike. I feel my critiques of the game are the kind of issues that can be easily ironed out should Ubisoft decide to make a sequel to the game. Ubisoft has supported the game since its release with a Season Pass that includes additional challenges to complete as well an expansion – Donkey Kong Adventure. I began by noting what seems to be a good working relationship between Ubisoft and Nintendo as they showed enough trust to lend their iconic character to another studio to create an experience rather unique in Mario history. Also worth noting, is the fact Nintendo granted Ubisoft permission to add the Star Fox characters and missions into Starlink: Battle For Atlas. I still hold out hope for another return to form adventure for Star Fox, maybe Ubisoft is the studio to accomplish this?
Thanks for reading!