Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle Review

I’ll be honest. I viewed this particular mash-up between the most iconic video game character, Mario from Nintendo, and the ever-bwahing spawns of utter chaos, Rabbids from Ubisoft, with nothing but intense skepticism ever since it was first leaked. “It’s going to be a cash-grab title with barebone gameplay; mark my words!” I said to my beady-eyed Nintendo loyalist friends who showed the slightest hints of interest in this amalgamation that no one really asked for. Now, you can color me surprised when I say that Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle actually turned out to be an exceptionally well-crafted game with intelligent tactical gameplay design that has enough depth to scratch the itch of hardcore turn-based tactic/strategy players. It also made me eat every scathing word I had spewed about it.

Never have I thought that Ubisoft could make a Mario game that could hold a candle to Nintendo, of all studios. From whimsical and oddly beautiful landscapes to eccentric and wacky characters, Ubisoft had successful captured the very heart and soul of a Mario game, and added in their own blend of kooky humor and deranged Rabbids to make a very unique gaming experience that Mario fans have never experienced before.

However, the plot is somewhat paper-thin. But then again, you would not expect a deep, thought- provoking plot from a game with silly Rabbids and their toilet humors, would you? The story begins when an anonymous genius inventor girl, who also happened to be a big Mario fan, created a device that can merge things together. While she is not looking, the device accidentally opens up a portal, lettting raving Rabbids into her house, stealing the merging device and unleashing chaos as they end up teleported to the Mushroom Kingdom, along with the AI from the device called Beep-0. There, they accidentally wreck even greater havoc and it is up to Mario and his newly gained Rabbid allies, dressed up like Mario characters, to save the Mushroom Kingdom once again.

The game wastes no time at introducing the meat and bone of the game by throwing the player into a squad-based, tactical battle with emphasis on taking cover and positioning, similar to that of the XCOM series where the player and the enemies move and relay action across the battle field in turns. There are two kinds of covers in the game just like XCOM - full cover and half cover. However, unlike XCOM, Ubisoft removes the layer of randomness based on stats such as accuracy/evasion in this game.  If a character is behind a full cover, there is zero chance of getting hit from incoming attacks. Likewise, when a character is sitting behind a half cover, the chance of getting hit is simply a flat 50%. Staying out in the open or getting flanked will result in a guaranteed 100% hit rate.

While this may seem like a simplified attempt at a complex battle system like XCOM, it is not. In truth, it is more like a streamlined version of XCOM. Now that randomness is kept to a bare minimum, it becomes all about strategic movement, placement and action in a turn to achieve victory with desirable results. Rushing in and acting without a thought will get your characters blasted to oblivion for sure with no randomness to save/mess up the day.

The complexity and difficulty of the game ramp up fairly quick to keep things exciting. Dashing and team jumping are introduced just a few stages into the game. In addition to moving and placing characters, you can dash into enemies that are in your movement range for some additional damage without consuming a turn. You can also use your teammate as a trampoline to jump and access areas outside of your movement range. These ingenious additions throw away the usual slow-paced point and position gameplay that is typically tied to the tactical genre. Both the player and enemy side can quickly flank a well-covered character with team jump, or dash into a character for free damage or hide behind covers. This creates a fun, streamlined and fast-paced strategic gameplay which is unique and particularly appropriate for a tactical game like Mario + Rabbids.

Once weapon upgrades, secondary weapons and skill-trees open up, the game launches itself into a full-fledged strategic game with various RPG elements. Each player character in the game is unique and has his/her own strength and weakness. For example, Mario is a well-balanced character that can learn to stomp on enemies after a team jump for considerable damage, boost teammates’ offensive power and counter moving enemies with his hero-sight ability. This makes him a perfect character to “jump” into the fray to flank weaker enemies. Luigi, on the other hand, can wield a powerful long-range sniper rifle-like blaster that can make short work of stronger but slower enemies from afar. However, he has abysmal HP and getting flanked will almost always result in a knocked-out Luigi in your team.

The boss battles are both challenging and creative. Each boss plays like a mini-game with its own mechanics for the player to observe and formulate a plan to counter. While none of them are terribly hard, getting a perfect score proves to be rather challenging for some fights. Fortunately, those who are not inclined to the tactical RPG genre can easily access Easy mode by simply pressing “Y” at the start of a battle.

Between each fight, there are some well-crafted self-contained explorations and puzzles tucked neatly into the game. While they are not very original nor innovate, it is a nice touch to add exploration in the game, which would otherwise be monotonous with nothing but battle after battle. Once you have cleared a world, a lot of optional challenges and secret areas are unlocked, making the replay value of the game high. Last but not least, the game has a couch co-op multiplayer mode, where each player must control two characters to tackle the challenges set by the game. Again, not a game changer itself, but it is a nice little feature.

The graphics and music in this game are astonishing as well. The essence of a Mario game is in every detail, brimming with charm and wonder. Each player character is crafted with love and attended to the smallest detail to bring out their unique characteristics. Rabbid Peach, for example, would lean lazily behind the cover in a fight, take selfies once in a while with her blond-wig flowing fabulously in comedic fashion, whereas Luigi would cower and mutter incoherently in the same situation. Without spoiling too much, I have to say that I was totally blown away by the quality of the animation and music in one particular boss fight, which would not be out of place in a Disney film.

However, the game is not without faults. There are some performance issues and weird glitches here and there. I had to reset the game a few times because BEEP-0 somehow submerged into the ground and refused to move. The game can also be a tad repetitive in the late-game stages where consecutive battles are frequents with little variation in enemy set up and types.

In the end, I feel like Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battles is a great game just falling short of a few paces from becoming a masterpiece, which I mean in a positive sense because there are rooms for improvement in this already exceptional tactical/strategy game. Ubisoft went above and beyond to prove that they can make a Mario game that can make Nintendo and its fans proud while opening the door for many possibilities in the future.

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