The Nintendo Switch has had an interesting year so far. It launched in March with the amazing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and has seen a good amount of third party support from Japan and indies since then. The remainder of the year looks even better with Super Mario Odyssey hitting next month and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and Skyrim releasing after. This hybrid console has also seen Nintendo lend their IP to Ubisoft to create Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. Ubisoft aren’t strangers to working with Nintendo but this collaboration has resulted in the most unlikely spark of brilliance ever. We have one of the finest tactical RPGs in a game that has Rabbid humour and Mario charm.
An inventor who works in her basement creates a helmet that allows merging two objects together. The helmet overheats in an experiment and she leaves for a break. The Rabbids invade the basement and start messing around with everything. One particular Rabbid grabs the helmet and ends up creating Rabbid Princess Peach and eventually Rabbid Mario. This continues and the rabbid accidentally uses the helmet on the Time Washing Machine causing everything to get sucked in. The Mushroom Kingdom has an event going on at Peach’s castle and they see a vortex forming and we have worlds colliding here. Mario takes it on himself to fix this and he teams up with Rabbid Peach and Rabbid Luigi to find the Rabbid wearing the helmet. The story continues through different worlds and you slowly unlock more playable characters. While the plot is never too wordy, I love the way the writers have managed throwing in Super Mario Brothers references and even merged (I had to do it) Mario stuff with Rabbid humour. Rabbid Peach deserves a special mention for taking selfies at the most inappropriate times.
Peach’s castle serves as a hub world where you can access the various stores and game modes in addition to accessing each of the four worlds. The worlds are all varied ranging from snowy deserts to locations with hot lava and a spooky Halloween Boo themed area. Each world is split up into 8 levels that have their own stages, puzzles, objectives, secrets, and more. There’s a lot of content here and almost all of it is amazing. Accessing levels usually requires solving a puzzle and these get harder as the game progresses. Puzzles also reward you with in game music and models for the viewer and some give you weapon blueprints. The stages themselves have typical SRPG objectives like reach a certain area, escort an NPC, kill the boss, kill all enemies, and the likes. Level design is impeccable and they never feel monotonous. You are rewarded with orbs and coins and the reward amount depends on your rating for completion which requires having everyone alive and finishing within a fixed amount of turns. You earn less if you fail to hit a perfect.
Combat is tactical and each character has a primary and secondary weapon in addition to active and passive abilities. It is turn based of course and there’s a mechanic that lets you dash into an enemy or jump onto them that is encouraged. Getting the hang of using those two will make battles go in your favour quickly. There’s an optional “easy mode” that restores your health before the battle and gives you a 50% HP boost. It is surprising seeing no other difficulty option for this given it is a Nintendo Switch game where everything is accessible to all kinds of gamers. There are status effects like Honey that cause you to not be able to move or Ink that doesn’t let you attack. Vampire is a status effect I abused the hell out of early on with Rabbid Luigi. The orbs you earn let you unlock more abilities and upgrade your current movement or abilities.
Visually, Ubisoft has created a lush environment full of Mario and Rabbids references. Every location is unique and the puzzles and every bit of UI has been designed well. This is so much better than the nonsense Firaxis pulled for XCOM 2 after the amazing Enemy Unknown for UI. The Rabbids and Mario characters all look great and are animated well. The only visual problem is in some of the combat animations when the camera angle goes wonky. This happens at random but it is an annoyance. If you enjoy your Switch in portable mode (as it should be), Mario + Rabbids is a joy as it both looks and runs amazing. Docked performance has some trouble and there are definitely some areas where the backgrounds look blurry on a big TV screen. Since Beep-O (the basement inventor’s assistant) is the leader and happens to be like a roomba, some puzzles have issues when you can’t see Beep-O and he controls where blocks move.
While there isn’t much actual voiced dialogue outside of a few catch phrases for Mario characters, the sound design overall is great. Grant Kirkhope has done a super job with the music. The only thing I didn’t like for music is the Mid Boss theme that got tiring after a minute. Ubisoft is yet to disappoint me with music and audio design in their games and Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle turned out way better than I expected. I thought it would have some generic music with remixes of Mario songs. The opera scene deserves a special mention because it is beyond amazing.
Outside the performance issues in docked mode, the only big complaint here is the difficulty spikes. Some boss fights or escort missions go on far too long. The second boss battle in particular felt like padding when you have to replay the gimmick three times in a row to progress. A better curve and maybe different difficulty options for those looking for more of a challenge or less of a challenge would have been a welcome addition.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a game I was most sceptical about when it was leaked and eventually announced. Ubisoft has done the Mario name proud for sure and the Switch has gotten one amazing tactical RPG through the collaboration. Hopefully this opens the door to more collaboration for exclusive games for the Switch. It has a few flaws but if you own a Switch, you need this game.