It’s hard not to like the Rabbids. Their wacky antics and comedic style make for charming and simply silly games. Merge that with the lighthearted and fun world of Mario and you are in for a good time. These words are ones that you would think you’d never say, yet here we are: Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle has to be the quickest turnaround in history for a game's response, where one moment we are condemning its potential but the next singing its praises. Not only does the game look good in trailers but in action it’s a new classic.
Mario + Rabbids is light in the plot department but does weave in an interesting narrative to begin your adventure. The opening cutscene shows a huge Mario fan playing with a device (known as the Supamerge) that can fuse items together, but after leaving the Rabbids - who else? - show up. One grabs the Supamerge, sends everything into chaos, and winds up in the Mushroom Kingdom. The rabbids immediately cause trouble. Four Rabbids don costumes of Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Yoshi, while the rest are fused with items and become enemies waiting to be stomped.
The plot won’t win any awards but it does bring Mario and the Rabbids together. The basis of the game is you chasing one particular Rabbid across different worlds to stop him from causing further chaos with the device.
While the overall plot is basic the writing is commendable. Ubisoft have dialed the Rabbids back so they are slightly less irritating and also devised ways to make them standout. Throughout you find Rabbids doing random things in the Mushroom Kingdom, which fits perfectly with the nature of their character. They inject some much needed humor into the world. Nintendo has never thrived at being funny but with the Rabbids there is always some hilarious moment just around the corner.
Ubisoft also finally gave much needed story development to Bowser Jr., which tied in wonderfully with the game's humor, and did something that Nintendo has neglected since Super Mario Sunshine. The developers have gone the extra mile to deliver an entertaining and funny romp through the Mushroom Kingdom.
Mario + Rabbids features two different gameplay styles: tactical battle sequences and exploration. Exploration is more than what it seemed by the trailers and is a decent chunk of the game. On your way to the next battle sequence there are often plenty of open spaces you are free to explore. These spaces net you coins, treasures, new weapons, and more. These are some of the best parts of the game because they inspire the collector in us all.
While exploring you encounter several puzzles to solve, which add some variety to the game. Sometimes you need to navigate block puzzles, and other times you are exploring an area to find buttons that will open up a path. There are even pipe puzzles where you need to find the right combination of pipes to progress which is done by pressing buttons to move specific pipes. While they were not always challenging there was a thrill each time you came across these. They are a simple yet effective distractions.
Battles on the other hand are Mario + Rabbids' main gameplay element, and are enjoyable. They play as turn-based grid battles. On your turn you move your characters across the field and then take aim and attempt to shoot your opponents. This varies from traditional gameplay because of a greater focus on movement attacks. If an enemy is in range of your available movement you can select them as a target as they approach their end position. This results in them performing a slide tackle which deals varying amounts of damage based on the character and their current abilities.
More abilities are tethered together through the games' movement system such as being able to have characters boost each other further onto the battlefield. This can be used to get to higher ground for an attack or even help move characters away from enemies. In Mario’s case you can boost him up to bounce on an enemy's head for damage. There is always plenty of room for strategy as you figure out the best means of using the game's movement systems to gain the upper hand or potentially avoid damage.
The battles are complemented by the game's skill tree. With this you can unlock additional perks or power ups for your characters. These include health boosts, movement range upgrades, sliding tackle damage boosts, the number of times you may slide tackle an enemy, and additional weapon upgrades. There is a wide berth of options in the skill trees and it was fun to see how each would change up strategy in battles.
Strategy is also enhanced by the characters. At the start of the game you have access to Mario, Rabbid Peach and Rabbid Luigi, each character armed with their own weapons and powers to help you in combat. You begin to unlock new characters such as Rabbid Mario and Yoshi, as well as regular Yoshi, Luigi and Peach. Each character brings new gameplay options to the table with their varying weapon types making drastic differences.
Take Peach’s shotgun. Up close she can deal massive damage but at a distance her attack is widespread. Luigi can be used as a sniper to hit foes from greater distances, while Rabbid Peach is great for her ability to do up to four slide tackles in a turn. Each battle can bring a wealth of new strategies as you determine the best character outfit to go alongside Mario for the current battle scenario.
Character selection requires cognizance of each one's active abilities. Each character has access to two active abilities, which can be used to shield themselves from harm or take shots at moving foes. Each character is outfitted with specific abilities to assist in the battle, such as Rabbid Peach being a healer. Mario has the hero shot to blast moving foes, and regular Peach can put up a one-turn shield on all nearby allies. There is a lot to the gameplay that keeps it perpetually interesting.
Finding different strategies also depends on the mission type. These have decent variety. Your main battles typically require defeating all foes, and in this you will employ many of the major strategies. There is also an objective for defeating a certain number of foes which challenges you to strategize quickly as more enemies spawn. Then there are the escort and reach-the-end missions. In these missions you are playing defensively as you try to figure out the best enemies to defeat based on what’s blocking your path to the other side of the battlefield.
The reach-the-end missions are among the best of the game. In these you seek the optimal path to the goal. Enemies are a troubling nuisance along the path to victory. You complete these missions by getting at least one of your characters to the end, meaning you can wind up pushing one character to the finish while the others draw fire. Escort missions play out in a similar manner except your goal is to get a specific character to the end. These missions can be annoying but among the most satisfying when you get the character across a dangerous battlefield.
Finally there are boss battles, which take place at the end of each of the game's four worlds. In these battles you need to solve a small problem on the battlefield to make enemies available to hit. The first boss, for instance, requires one of your characters to hit a button which removes his banana stash and make him vulnerable. These battles can get frustrating but are fun additions at the end of a world, offering a nice change from everything that came before.
If there is one complaint that could be levied against the game it’s that fights may become tedious. This is the fault of enemy types, as while there is some decent variety you still wind up fighting the same Rabbid foes multiple times. New types are not added often enough so by the time a new enemy finally comes along you know the best way to handle all previous foes. Fights can still be chaotic but the slow out-pour of enemies doesn't work to the games' favor.
On paper Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle seems like a really bad idea for a crossover, yet in practice it's a blast. It’s funny to think that when documents were leaked early with the basic idea of Mario + Rabbids people condemned it, then as soon as we experience it everyone changes their tune. This oddball crossover that shouldn’t work ends up making for a wonderful experience that shows plenty of love for both franchises.