I remember when this game was first leaked. So many people refused to believe it was even remotely true. A strategy-RPG crossover game starring Nintendo’s beloved Super Mario and Ubisoft’s iconic Raving Rabbids? Admittedly, it did sound so ludicrous that it just had to be fake but cut to E3 2017 and Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle was officially announced. It was all real. But what was even more surprising was that it looked really good.
The Rabbids’ name had certainly got a bit of a bad rap over the years due to many finding them obnoxious and annoying (before the Minions came along and managed to somehow be worse), but even some of the loudest dissenters couldn’t help but admit to being intrigued by this bizarre union between Nintendo and Ubisoft.
The game went on to become the best selling title on the Switch that wasn’t published by Nintendo and, as of September 2018, has sold over 2 million copies. This surprise smash hit won a lot of peoples’ hearts and I’ve been meaning to write up a review of it since the DLC came out last year. So let’s not waste any more time and dive right into the wonderfully, weird world of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle.
First of all, how exactly do these two very different franchises cross over? Well, it all starts when the Rabbids stumble across a device called the SupaMerge – a helmet that allows the user to combine two things together. Naturally, the Rabbids mess around with it, resulting in it screwing with their time-travelling washing machine (don’t ask) and transporting them to the Mushroom Kingdom, sending the land into complete disarray and even corrupting a number of Rabbids and turning them hostile. In order to restore peace, Beep-O (a robotic roomba-looking assistant) gathers together Mario, his friends and a few friendly Rabbids to traverse the kingdom and restore the Rabbids back to normal.
I apologise if this sounds rather vague but, while maybe not particularly story-driven, this is very much one of those games where a lot of the fun comes from experiencing it first-hand. Witnessing the events of the game and how the two franchises intermingle with each other is so much more rewarding than reading about it, and there are a tonne of amazing and genuinely funny set-pieces and interactions throughout the adventure.
Ubisoft clearly have a lot of respect and understanding of the Mario IP, as evidenced by the design of the environments and how the characters act. Mario may be packing heat but he’s still as recognisable and the same applies to the rest of the cast, with them acting as straight men to the more zany antics of their Rabbid allies, who all act like exaggerated versions of their counterparts. Rabbid Mario, for example, has a cocky swagger to his actions, and Rabbid Peach spends nearly all her time taking selfies and generally being hilariously vain.
The character animations are delightfully on-point too, with some satisfying stretch-and-squash used to make everything more cartoony and playful, as well as add some extra personality to the characters (I’m still not quite over the sight of Luigi dabbing). It also lends well to some of the physical humour that some of the characters are subjected to, mostly the Rabbids. This is just a really funny game overall.
Admittedly, humour is subjective and I know some may get tired of Beep-O’s constant narration but I guarantee there will be at least a few gags that’ll get a chuckle out of everyone. It’s also a little shocking for how “not-Mario” it can be sometimes (some of the weapon descriptions can be a tad lewd) but that’s why I love it, personally. Nintendo have been known to play things safe with the character and his world so seeing them give Ubisoft quite a degree of freedom to play about with it is great. Plus, any game that can make Princess Peach look like a bad-ass deserves respect.
But being funny is one thing – is the game itself any good? Why, yes. Yes it is. … Oh you wanted more details? Fair enough. So, the game is split into two gameplay styles. The first is exploration, where you traverse around a map and solve puzzles in order to reach battle maps, which is where the main meat of the game can be found. The exploration stuff is very simple (though not being able to jump is kind of weird for a Mario title), since it’s mostly linear with only the occasional deviations from the path, which do lead to treasure chests containing concept art, music and new weapons to purchase.
You have to solve puzzles as well but they’re not particularly taxing either. They mostly consist of stuff like “press the switches in the right order” or “move the block over here,” though every once in a while you’ll come across one that requires a little more brain-power. Some areas are completely inaccessible until you unlock new upgrades for Beep-O (which he gets every time you clear a world) in order to provide incentive to revisit them (aside from some other things that I’ll cover later).
But like I said, the real fun comes from the actual battles, which take place on grid maps and see your party take on a squad of enemies in turn-based combat. Before these battles start, you have the option to survey the map and get a general gist of the terrain, as well as what kinds of enemies you’ll be fighting before selecting your three-man party to take into the fight. Annoyingly, you are restricted in how you form your party – you always need to have Mario and at least one Rabbid, so you can’t have an all Rabbid squad or something. Fortunately, the characters are all balanced somewhat by having several of them share certain types of skills (e.g. all the Rabbid characters have a different kind of shield) so you’re never at a disadvantage no matter who you pick.
This gameplay has been favourably compared to the X-COM games and I have to join in on that because it plays almost exactly like X-COM. On your turn, you get to move your characters into position, dash into enemies, perform team jumps to reach other parts of the map, travel through pipes, fire their weapons and use their skills in pretty much any order you wish, allowing for a number of strategies and combinations of moves. Speaking of the weapons, every character gets two, with some sharing certain types (e.g. both Mario and Rabbid Mario have hammers for close combat) and these weapons can also inflict certain ailments on the enemies, which can completely change the flow of the battle if they’re triggered. You can blind them with ink, trap them on the spot with honey, bounce them into the air and that’s only a few examples. But be warned, the enemies have access to them too.
Between everything I’ve listed so far, the number of possibilities to occur during combat is astounding and understanding how everything works is really enjoyable but basic enough so as not to put off those not familiar with this genre, and this is best demonstrated with how cover works. When an enemy gets behind partial cover, you only have a 50% chance to hit them. If they’re completely covered, the odds become 0%. Everything’s a lot more clear-cut compared to X-COM, where you could be right up in an alien’s face and only have a 56% chance to hit them (and STILL miss).
And it’s always a delight when you manage to pull off an amazing turn. For instance, using Mario’s unique stomp attack to take out one enemy, using his weapon to bounce another into the air and then having Luigi’s Hero Sight (a skill that allows him to automatically shoot an enemy that moves into his line of sight) trigger to defeat it. This is very much the perfect game for those who may have tried X-COM but found the whole thing too overwhelming.
That’s not to say these fights can’t be tricky because they can. The wrong move or bad luck can lead to your team being wiped out and you having to try the fight again. But if you ever find yourself struggling with a particular battle, you have the option to play it on an easier difficulty, which gives your party extra health and even completely fills it up.
Honestly, the trickier battles are the ones with different stipulations. It’s not always about taking out all the enemies on the field. Sometimes you may need to reach a certain point on the map or escort another character. The biggest offenders are (fortunately) the optional challenges you can unlock, which can be downright mean and borderline impossible without the right characters or abilities.
The better you do in these battles (i.e. clear them within a certain number of turns, don’t lose any teammates), the more money you earn to buy more powerful weapons (coins can be found via exploration as well) and the more Power Orbs you gain, which can be used to upgrade each character’s Skill Tree. It’s always a treat to see your party get stronger and unlock new abilities. You’d be surprised how some of the more minor ones like increasing how many spaces a character can move after exiting a pipe can make so much of a difference.
If you want your team to be as well-prepared for the journey ahead, it’s always worth revisiting completed worlds just to find any hidden secrets (which could include more Power Orbs) and take on the extra challenges I mentioned earlier. Even if you don’t manage to clear them the first time around, you can always attempt them again via the washing machine at Peach’s Castle, which acts as a hub world where you can access the other areas.
And should you manage to clear the main game (which does take longer than it looks despite there only being four worlds) and all the extra missions and STILL yearn for more, there’s a decently lengthy DLC chapter you can purchase that’s all about Rabbid Peach teaming up with Donkey Kong and a Rabbid Cranky that’s a tonne of fun, with its own unique mechanics and some tough challenges of its own (though DK himself doesn’t use a gun, which is a tad disappointing and ironic considering Donkey Kong 64).
I honestly feel like I could recommend this game to near enough anybody who’s even the slightest bit interested, whether you’re a die-hard fan of turn-based strategy games or just a casual Mario fan looking for a fun time. If you absolutely despise the Rabbids, this game probably won’t change your mind, but the rest of you will find a labour of love that, while not perfect, is incredibly entertaining, charming and just plain funny.