[Editor’s note: We were lucky enough that Paul Davies was able to attend a hands-on session with Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle in the northern hemisphere.]
Right off the bat, we have to say how surprised we were at the challenge presented by this new take on two beloved franchises combined. That’s actually a very good thing for anyone worried that a strategy game ‘for kids’ would play things a little too dumb. So, yeah, you need to bring your mind to this mash-up from the very beginning.
We spent roughly five hours plotting our way through the earlier stages of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, and at every turn we were impressed by how nuanced the experience is. With eight heroes in play (Mario, Luigi, Peach and Yoshi plus Rabbid variations of all four), armed with an array of zany weapons, amid multi-faceted and often volatile environments, our focus shifted sharply from familiar trial and error Mario antics to more MOBA-like team construction and tactical execution. But usually, we should add, chuckling through.
A word on this meeting of worlds before we talk in more detail about the gameplay itself. Nintendo and Ubisoft has been working on this new franchise for over three years, which has resulted in something that not only feels refined but right. You wouldn’t even need to know who the Rabbids are to appreciate their presence as comedic companions and manic adversaries. After the Piantas in Mario Sunshine, and the Koopalings since time, it’s cool to have a new, and memorable personality thrown into the mix. Or rather, carefully placed.
As for the game itself, Ubisoft points to its combination of combat and exploration, though the latter was quite limited during our hands-on session. If you’re expecting fully-fledged 3D Mario worlds to investigate, this does not seem to be the case; at least not within the Ancient Gardens where the pathways are set, with specific venues to visit, although you might trigger traditional Mario style challenges such as Red Coin collecting to unlock conspicuous treasure chests. When you get into the game proper, the Battle HQ (team and weapon selection) and Museum (souvenirs) are locations visited directly from the menu.
So, your primary concern in Mario + Rabbids is to become the king of the battlefield – a task that requires careful selection of three team members (in which Mario is always the leader), the most appropriate weapons and then develop your decision-making skills according to each scenario. If you are familiar with the likes of Final Fantasy Tactics, this is going to help. Basically, your party’s actions are turn-based with the opposition, your chances of success greatly improved depending on how well you work the environment. Taking the high ground is usually advantageous, and making the most of available cover is always advised. Beyond that, team composition – balancing agility with attack and defence power and health pool – shapes how you’ll survive while conquering the enemy archetypes, in groups or individuals.
Honestly, Mario + Rabbids really is this complex.
It can be brilliant fun, though, boosted by the cheeky Rabbids humour and inventiveness of Ubisoft’s design team. Rabbid Peach is a class act; always hilarious even in resting position. The execution of moves can be spectacular, with chain-reactions owing to explosive boxes plus the likelihood of a Rabbid’s butt catching fire, sending them scampering and yelping. Visually, Mario + Rabbids is engrossing more often than not, owing in part to the inclusion of a dynamic camera that tracks particularly hard-hitting sequences of moves in close up.
While there is some concern that Mario + Rabbids doesn’t use the touch-screen capabilities of Switch, we didn’t miss this much if at all. Ubisoft has focused on making the more tactile button layouts as intuitive as can be, which carries over to a comfortable implementation within the co-op mode. Directing the action via dinky Joy-Con controllers is only marginally made fussier than with the two combined in a Charging Grip, or dedicated Pro Controller.
Our hands-on session closed on a brief tour of some co-op maps, pointing to the game’s suitability for friends and family to team up attempt new strategies. Of course, there’s every danger that one innocent mistake could cause a war to break out at home. Come to think of it, a rewind-your-mistake feature is the only thing we can think of that’s missing from this overall wonderful package!