Gamer dad who loves the classics, indies, racers and the occasional shooter. Have been in the industry for well over a decade and am as enthusiastic as ever! #4theplayers
Read our latest review Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle; why you ask? Well, the unlikely combination of franchises from different publishing houses having a digital baby doesn’t happen often, but when the result is as wacky and fun as Ubisoft’s Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, it makes you wish the Japanese gaming giant Nintendo did it more often.
Review Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
Beautiful, weird and unexpectedly complex, there is at times a deep reverence for gaming’s most famous brand here, and at other times an overwhelming urge to pull it apart and make fun of it. At the same time though, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle sets itself apart by avoiding the running and jumping that made its main character famous, focusing instead on an impressive strategy shooter design that would have been great on its own but is made even better with the addition of Nintendo’s familiar properties.
In a complicated and very Ubisoft premise, Mario and pals are sucked into a land that blends Nintendo’s own familiar Mushroom Kingdom with the world of the Rabbids (for the unfamiliar, think grotesque, shrieking French Minions), which is itself an absurdist, toilet-humor-heavy representation of our ordinary reality.
The mishmash works well in providing a unique world and an unending parade of sight gags, but the real draw of the game is it’s satisfying, strategic and polished battles. With the deep weapon customisation and turn-based movement of a strategy game like X-COM, plus the communicative visual style and accessibility of a Mario title (and a heavy dose of humor and unpredictability), the scenarios offer a stiff but not insurmountable challenge.
On your turn, each of your three characters (Mario plus two others) can move, attack and use one special ability, in any order. The scenarios start simply, as you only have three characters to choose from and only a few basic rules to learn. For example, if you can move to an ally you can spring off them to make it a bit further afield, and be hiding behind full cover will make you untouchable to enemies in front, while half cover leaves you with a 50 per cent chance of being hit. By the time you’ve played around with the basics and learned how to route and avoid enemies, however, the game is ready to get a lot deeper.
Each character — including Mario, Luigi, Peach and Yoshi plus twisted Rabbid versions of the same — represent a different class of fighter with their own strengths and abilities. Luigi’s a long-range sniper for example, while Rabbid Mario’s more of a fire-drawing tank and both Peach and Rabbid Peach offer their own very different takes on the health-giving support class.
Each has a huge array of skills to suit their personality — which you can upgrade by spending points in each character’s unique skill tree — and unlockable weapons that let you tailor their style to suit your own. Add in various status effects like honey (the enemy can’t move), burn (the enemy leaves cover and runs randomly around), freeze (the enemy can’t use abilities) and several others that come with certain weapons and abilities, and there’s a lot to keep track of.
A diverse collection of enemies are similarly well-equipped, and — especially early on — make such good use of the cover- and warp-pipe-filled battlefields that players must learn by example or be constantly flanked. Frequent boss battles and stage-specific obstacles or win conditions keep things fresh and force the player into thinking creatively for a brilliantly fun twist on established strategy scenarios
Some of the most fun comes when abilities, actions and stage hazards come together to form massive chain reactions, either planned or otherwise. For example, you could have Luigi train his Steely Stare over the battlefield, then have Rabbid Mario whip out the ukulele to lure an enemy out of cover with Magnet Dance. Luigi will take his shot as soon as the bad guy’s in range, even though he’s already had his turn. Smart use of abilities can have your team cleaning up swathes of enemies in a single turn, although enemies themselves are pretty adept at chaining special moves together too.
The complexity can actually be a bit intimidating at first, and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to remember all the skills at my disposal, but luckily the user interface during battle is smart enough to help out with that.
Not only does your menu of abilities change subtly over time to remind you of your options, but a mode called Tacticam lets you zoom around the battlefield to analyse everything from your weapons’ effective range to enemy stats and abilities, meaning failure is most often down to a lapse in your planning and not an inability to know what’s happening.
The best thing about Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is the way it takes the things I love about X-COM — like managing all your squad’s ability cooldowns, choosing between defensive or high-risk high-reward strategies after crunching the probabilities, moving from a shotgun-sniper combo to an all-defense squad as the need arises — and streamlines it.
Upgrade points are spread across the entire team for example, so I don’t have to worry about strengthening one soldier at the expense of others. And while there are many times you have to fight consecutive battles without healing — meaning switching up your team to avoid going in wounded — it’s impossible to find yourself without a member of a particular class since there’s only one of each and they don’t die. When you’re not fighting your crew roams several worlds filled with light puzzles, unlockables and hidden bonuses, some of which can’t be uncovered unless until you come back later for a second pass, meaning there are dozens of hours of play on offer.
Bringing it all together in Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is a beautiful soundtrack from Grant Kirkhope (composer of Rare’s Nintendo 64 titles including Banjo Kazooie and GoldenEye) and a striking visual style. The animation, in particular, deserves a special mention, drawing a chuckle-inducing contrast between the preposterous Rabbids and straight-laced Mushroom Kingdom folk, while also keeping battles readable and reactive with cartoonish flair.
Buy or leave?
As good as the gameplay is, it also shouldn’t go unmentioned that Ubisoft has also done a remarkable job marrying two such disparate franchises. The Rabbid heroes are hilariously exaggerated versions of the familiar characters, and it’s surprisingly refreshing to have Princess Peach shotgunning through destructible cover and throwing rubber duck grenades.
If you have a Switch you really need to bring this game into your collection. Don’t have a Switch? Now’s the time to get one; read why in our >> Switch article << . Kingdom Battle should be your first title with much more fun in the coming months. Check out our Mario + Rabbids videos on our YouTube channel, and we’ll see you one the battlefield 🙂