Diving into cover, strategically flanking enemies, scoring critical hits with the new gun you just bought, and even sending remote control bombs after bad guys – just some of the things I never thought I’d be doing in a Mario game, let alone with Rabbids involved.
When Ubisoft and Nintendo announced a tactical strategy game, much in the style and feel of XCOM, it was a surprise to be sure, but has turned out to be a welcome one.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle sees the Mushroom Kingdom merged with the world of Ubisoft’s Raving Rabbids, the strange, rabbit-like creatures from the Rayman universe.
There is a reason the worlds collide, when a genius young girl inventor creates a type of VR goggles which can merge two things together. One Rabbid puts it on and accidentally merges a Mario poster with a Rabbid, leading to a ton of real world objects to appear all across the Mushroom Kingdom.
Baby Bowser kidnaps this Rabbid and your job is to find the Rabbid with the headset on and get it back. You do this by controlling Mario, Luigi, Yoshi or Princess Peach along with the Rabbid versions of each of them, which are cosplaying (Rabbid Peach takes her cosplay the most seriously).
Princess Peach’s Castle serves as your HQ, with a place to buy new weapons and upgrade your characters, a museum to view artwork and other collectables, a time travelling washing machine which lets you replay previous levels and an area to start a co-op game.
You then choose three heroes to take with you and head out into the world, fighting enemy Rabbids and saving familiar faces like Toad and Mrs Toad, while trying to fix the Mushroom Kingdom before it gets any worse.
If you’ve ever played XCOM, you’ll have no problem jumping right in here, as the core gameplay is similar, but quite different in enough ways to feel unique. For example, enemies in full cover cannot be hit unless you flank them, enemies in half cover have a 50/50 chance of being hit and enemies in no cover have a 100% chance of being hit.
This eliminates a lot of the chance we see in a more strategic title like XCOM (I will keep comparing this to XCOM, sorry!), which on one hand feels fair as you won’t miss a seemingly clear shot, but on another can feel a bit too simplified at times.
On the other hand, this leads you into playing the game more aggressively and faster than you would XCOM, as there’s literally no point in shooting at an enemy unless you have at least 50% chance to hit and even then, you’re better off using your turn to get into a 100% position.
You can use one of your characters to give another a jump boost, allowing you to move around each map quite quickly, and there’s no restrictions on what order you complete your actions – shoot, move, use ability, or move first then shoot, it’s your call.
This emphasis on movement and freedom to choose allows every battle to feel unique and different, even though they’re all a variation of defeat all enemies, get to the end of the map or escort an ally who can’t fight.
The tone and style is light hearted and fun, with enemy Rabbids not “dying” when you defeat them, but simply vanishing and then reappearing back as ‘good’ Rabbids in Peaches Castle.
And while it seems odd at first to see Mario and Luigi using guns, the guns are so over the top and out there, that they barely seem like what we’d consider to be guns.
Mid-world bosses and end-world bosses help to keep the action fresh, and certain maps will also have hazards such as tornadoes or Chain Chomps, all of which can harm you and the enemy Rabbids.
In between battles there’s a surprising amount of light exploration and puzzle solving, rewarding you with coins to buy better weapons, skill points to upgrade your characters or new artwork, 3D models or songs to admire in the museum.
A lot of paths in each world are locked to you until you learn new abilities which you don’t get until later in the game, so if you’re a completionist or just want to unlock the most the game has to offer, there is incentive to return to previously completed worlds.
Visually the game is gorgeous, the colourful and almost childish style feels enjoyable to simply look at, and the animations in particular are great, especially the way Luigi cowardly runs between cover, or Rabbid Princess Peach blowing bubbles with her gum as she takes selfies with enemy bosses.
The soundtrack is stunning too, with the right amount of goofiness mixed with slight tension during the battles, it’s one you’ll probably want to listen to even outside of the game itself.
I wasn’t able to test out the co-op mode, but it’s a shame there’s no online multiplayer at all, especially a versus mode, and an online leaderboard would have been nice, to compare times and stats against friends.
I have noticed a small bit of stuttering and framerate issues, but these were few and far between and for the most part, the game runs seamlessly, especially when waking up the Switch itself, there’s no pause in jumping back in exactly where you left off.
Battery life has been ok playing in handheld mode, but not amazing – perhaps just a small bit better than Breath of the Wild, for comparison.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is absolutely amazing Mario game, an amazing Rabbid game (never thought I’d say that) and quite honestly a must purchase for any Switch owner who likes strategy games.
It’s easy to pick up and jump in, but does have a lot more depth and difficulty as the game goes on. Couple that with a fun if simple story and gorgeous visuals and it becomes yet another reason to own a Switch.