It’s a bold and daring move to pair one of the most famous and iconic video game mascots ever with your own not-so-famous equivalents. Ubisoft have done the unthinkable. Their Rabbids characters (effed-up bunnies, pretty much) have joined forces with Nintendo’s famous frontmen (and women) to bring us a Mario game unlike any other. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle does away with both the traditional platforming gameplay Mario is known for and the party games that the Rabbids are known for, instead adopting a real-time strategy format. Straightaway it feels like Mario is out of his comfort zone, but playing Battle Kingdom never once felt awkward or disjointed – in fact, I loved every minute.
The two worlds have been smashed together by an experimental device called the SupaMerge helmet, which has the power to fuse two things together to make a new thing. An unnamed girl who is a huge Mario fan invents this powerful device and is inadvertently invaded by a group of Rabbids via their Time Washing Machine. One takes an interest to the SupaMerge device and goes crazy with it, merging things left, right and centre, including combining Luigi and Princess Peach items with Rabbids to create Rabbid versions of them. The recklessness that the Rabbids are known for soon causes them to warp to the Mushroom Kingdom. There, they team up with Mario and co. in an effort to find the Rabbids going wild with the SupaMerge and stop them from creating monsters, bad Rabbids and weird worlds. The story is jam-packed with light-hearted humour that mainly originates from the Rabbids, with Mario simply carrying the story forward. It never feels rushed, forced or out of place as the Rabbids liven things up with their mischievous (and generally hilarious) antics.
This may sound like a weird comparison, but if you’ve played the recent XCOM games, you’ll know what to expect in Kingdom Battle. The battles are pretty much straight-up clones. Your team of three, which is always fronted by the famous (ex)plumber himself, battle a team of Rabbids and occasionally a boss type in arenas littered with high and low walls which can be used as cover. Once the battle starts, it’s classic XCOM, a turn-based showdown where you direct team members to move and attack, and little shield icons tell you if you’re in full or partial cover and the chances of your shot hitting the target. Crucially though, Kingdom Battle is simpler than XCOM. Any friendly or enemy that is not in cover is guaranteed to be hit, whereas in XCOM you could still miss, something that made the game extremely tough. That’s not to say Kingdom Battle isn’t a challenge, quite the opposite in fact, but it’s a lot more accessible and tons of fun.
Things get more strategic with the inclusion of advanced techniques, such as Team Jumps, in which one member of the team launches a teammate into the air to extend their movement grid or to gain access to higher ground; and Dashes, which allow you to inflict a sneak attack on the enemy by running through them. Both of these moves can be chained together to maximise your team’s effectiveness on the battlefield.
Progression comes in the form of skill trees for each unlocked character. Although they aren’t very big, they are used to make your team more efficient by unlocking special abilities, such as remote bombs which damage a group of enemies, being able to use multiple Dash attacks in one move, or increased damage when above enemies. There are also collectibles which take the form of both soundtracks and 3D models that can be viewed in the Museum, as well as weapons that give you more options during battle and need to be purchased using coins found and earned during the game. It’s the latter that you’ll really want as they come with higher damage or special properties, such as fire (which cause enemies to run around on fire), spring (which makes your enemies involuntarily jump uncontrollably) or Beeswax (which sticks your enemies to the ground, taking away their movement phase).
Kingdom Battle is surprisingly deep thanks to the features discussed above, but most importantly, it’s great fun. Aside from the battles, there’s an element of exploration as you travel from one fight to the next. Your team runs around each level hitting coloured switches to unlock new pathways as you hunt for item boxes and coins. These sections are free of threats and, therefore, feel like a welcome break from the tense battles, as well as being a great opportunity to see Rabbids doing what they do best (like relaxing on a large rubber duck or fighting under a bridge).
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle looks great regardless of which Switch mode you play, with Mushroom Kingdom popping in all its Technicolor glory and the iconic pink-roofed castle faithfully recreated. Ultimately, the reason Mario + Rabbids works so well is that Mario and co. share vital similarities with Ubisoft’s animal oddballs, they’re both rendered in a three-dimensional cartoon art style, and they both approach the world with childish joy. It’s easy to imagine this motley crew in a Pixar movie, although perhaps Dreamworks Animation would be a better fit; the Rabbids are weirdly similar to the Minions from the Despicable Me series and will no doubt enthral a generation of kids (and adults) in the same way.
Release Date: 29th August 2017