My god, they did it. Like two shooting stars colliding, something truly unique and glorious has been born, and its name is Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. Who the heck would’ve thought that these two distinct franchises — from two different companies, no less — would produce such a cute, charismatic little bambino together?
Somehow, this unlikely collaboration between the mighty Nintendo and the prodigious Ubisoft has paid dividends. This is a smart fusion of turn-based strategy married to a familiarly likable roster of characters, and I’m very happy to report that it’s not only a fun, tactically deep adventure, but it’s arguably one of the most addictive and absorbing experiences on the Switch too. And before you ask, even those annoying Rabbids are kind of adorbs. Kind of.
Once again those pesky ol’ varmints have been up to no good and have managed to steal a newly fangled invention dubbed the “SupaMerge” from one of Mario’s biggest fans. This curious headset harbors the power to meld two disparate objects into one, and, in the opening chaotic rabble, the Rabbids accidentally blast the SupaMerge at their own Time Travelling Washing Machine, and unwittingly open a portal to another dimension (video games, right?).
This portal tears agape a perilous floating vortex within Mario’s world, and also spawns a SupaMerge-cum-Rabbid character, aptly named Spawny, who is the key to closing the bunny spewing vortex. As a result, it’s up to Mario and his gang, along with a few ragtag Rabbid defectors and a peppy robot companion called Beep-O, to find Spawny, close the portal and save the day. Simple.
Thematically, it’s nice how the central conceit at the heart of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle functions as a neat self-referential nod and a wink to the game’s own unique identity — the notion of melding a pair of contrasting things together quickly becomes a focal motif that the game merrily riffs upon throughout your adventure. Its playful narrative is not only reflected in its fun-loving tone and style, but it’s accentuated by a variety of amusing character interactions and a vivid art-style, along with a wildly enjoyable core gameplay loop to boot. It’s a game that simply oozes charm and fun.
Gameplay-wise, the moment-to-moment action borrows heavily from the tried-and-true, turn-based gunplay of XCOM. You take squads of three onto the battlefield and maneuver your units along an easy-to-understand grid system. Each unit has the option to perform one gun-attack, one movement action and carry out one special skill each turn, and these can be executed in any order.
Once your team has completed their actions, the enemy ranks carry out theirs, moving around the battle zone, wreaking havoc on your lovable motley crew. Furthermore, mission objectives also help to keep battles fresh, ranging from vanquishing all of the enemies in an area, traversing your way to a far away exit, or escorting a vulnerable unit across a perilous battleground, to name but a few.
There’s a deceptively large amount of systems to learn, but they’re all easy to pick up, and are drip-fed nicely. You’ll quickly learn that cover becomes a necessity, particularly if you want your teammates to make it through hazardous firefights in one piece. It’s a contextual cover system where (for the most part) high walls provide 100% protection, whilst low walls provide a 50/50 chance of taking a hit. Most walls can be destroyed, leaving your characters open to assault. Secondly, dashing through an enemy (which is executed as you move around the battlefield) also serves as a sneaky offensive maneuver, though luckily this doesn’t count towards your gun-attack. Next are team jumps, that allow you to catapult your characters across the battlefield using a team-mate’s noggin. When you’re in a pinch, mixing up dash attacks with team jumps, all while staying in cover and taking well-aimed, high chance pot-shots really proves helpful in turning the tide of battle in your favor.
Each character has their own assortment of unique skills which can be upgraded via their own specific skill-trees. For example, Mario’s Hero Sight gifts him a bonus reaction shot against the first opponent that moves within his line of fire, while his M-Power special skill buffs him and his teammates’ damage output for one turn. Rabbid Peach, on the other hand, rocks a Shield that absorbs damage and is able to heal herself and her teammates as well, which comes in super handy when the going gets tough. Spending Power Orbs upgrades these special skills, while coins can be spent to buy a plethora of new weapons.
Punctuating the risk/reward action gameplay is some real-time 3D exploration, along with some nicely designed light environmental puzzles in Mario flavored locales. Solving these puzzles offers their own rewards, the sweetest of which are those new, aforementioned guns. These can be purchased from the Battle HQ which is only a button’s press away (once it’s been unlocked). Some of the weapons have some pretty cool special buff effects and these range from honey (sticks enemies to the floor for one turn), bounce (sends combatants hurtling through the air) and burn (enemies take more damage and dance around the battlefield spreading the flame from one to another).
Yep, that last one is as fun as it sounds, though, it can inadvertently burn your own teammates too, which is something to be mindful of. Secondary weapons further spice things up, with each character class having their own unique weaponry. These range from melee-focused hammers to bomb-like sentries that deliver devastating area attacks. New, more powerful secondary weapons can also be purchased from the Battle HQ too.
Once the training wheels come off, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle can occasionally throw some pretty tough difficulty spikes at you. It soon becomes clear that positioning your team wisely is absolutely critical. The AI of the enemies is menacing, as they too have access to a similar pool of gun attacks, dashes, and special skills as you do. Those cheeky rodents are determined to snuff out your hopes of victory, and often make some surprisingly smart decisions while employing effective tactics, too. This consistently keeps you on your toes during battle.
Each enemy type also has their own strengths to overcome and weaknesses to exploit, and this is emphasized in some of the more unique encounters during the game’s many boss battles. These big showdowns help to up the ante, and can also be fairly challenging. Upgrading special skills, buying new weapons and positioning your team tactically is paramount to your ongoing success. Some battlefields even introduce some severe weather effects into the mix. Keep your eyes peeled for those nasty tornadoes!
In regards to presentation, the game looks fantastic. It’s crammed full of eye-catching visual details. Colorful environments, reactive wildlife, inventive boss designs and endearing character mannerisms all help to breathe life into its bright, vivid world. It also sounds decent too, with a bouncy orchestral score that pays tribute to old-school Mario themes of yore, as well as peppering in some cool Mario flavored audio cues that you’ll be bound to recognize.
Unfortunately, I also ran into a few minor visual blemishes: some rare camera hiccups and minor frame-rate dips occasionally reared their head, with the latter issue being particularly noticeable while playing in docked mode. Thankfully, it’s nothing to be worried about and didn’t detract from my experience in any significant way, but it’s still worth noting nonetheless. Hopefully, a patch will help iron out some of these minor visual quibbles.
Overall, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a stupendous victory. Not only has it done the impossible and somehow made those Rabbid rascals surprisingly loveable, but its more meaningful achievement is how it combines unpredictable, tactically deep, turn-based strategy gameplay and dextrously imbues it with the humor and the heart of a traditional Mario adventure. It’s an absorbing and addictive experience that has the potential to resonate with players of all ages. Just make sure to watch out for those pesky tornadoes — they can really rain on your parade…
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game, which we were provided with.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is an absorbing and addictive experience that combines unpredictable, tactically deep, turn-based strategy gameplay and dexterously imbues it with the humor and heart of a traditional Mario adventure.