Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle (Nintendo Switch) Review

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Rabbids have always been a mystery to me, held in a similar light to that of Minions; Lemming-like creatures with one-dimensional personalities. The idea of them melding into the Mario universe felt like no more than a cash grab, Ubisoft out to exploit unknowing Nintendo fans such as myself. I truly find it difficult to express how happy I am to be proven wrong.

Welcome to Chaos

The scene is set in a somewhat unexpected and remarkable way, utilising a fully voiced cutscene to introduce you to both the SupaMerge—a key item to the plot, and the chaotic nature of Rabbids—the shining stars of the game. The basic progression of this cutscene comes down to a girl having made an extraordinary piece of technology, capable of merging any two objects into one, maintaining elements of both. While this device has overheating issues, at its core it is fully functional. Tired of trying to solve the aforementioned issue, she leaves the headset for the day, and heads off for a break. The momentary peace soon passes as Rabbids enter the scene with the force of a heavy-duty spin cycle. The room filled with Mario memorabilia, some of the ensemble take the time to enjoy dressing up as the iconic characters. Amidst the chaos, a Rabbid stumbles upon the SupaMerge, and begins its frantic raving antics. Before long, the Rabbids tumble back into the dimension-busting, time-traveling washing machine they arrived in, now headed straight for the Mushroom Kingdom.

It is a lot to take in. In such a short space of time, you are exposed to a significant amount of the game’s core story, as well as the Rabbids as a whole. It’s all rather interesting, and the cutscene itself is really quite striking. Full voice acting was something I found exciting to hear, especially in a franchise more notable for its “yahoos” and grunts. Sadly, it isn’t something that lasts. Entering the Mushroom Kingdom, I found myself greeted with text box upon text box. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing in isolation, but it really does stand out after such a well-crafted, and fantastically voiced introduction.

The New Mushroom Kingdom

The Mushroom Kingdom feels as it has always felt—bright, vibrant, and inviting. Mario + Rabbids captures the essence of this world incredibly faithfully, making any Mario fan feel at home as soon as they touch down in this most familiar of lands. Of course, this isn’t the Mushroom Kingdom you know and love, the new pecking order made evident as you witness Rabbids glue two Goombas together with honey, and roll them off; the stompable shrooms have fallen to a new low.

To match the inviting nature, you are presented with a few introductory battles, aimed at familiarising you with the basics of the game. The starting area is cleverly designed as to explain elements that may not appear intuitive, whilst luring you towards things it assumes you can grasp with very simple puzzles. It feels like a gentle hand-holding experience, but satisfying nonetheless. Regardless of how simple a puzzle may be, or how visible on the map your prize is—the fact remains you solved your puzzle, you found your prize. The game never necessarily goes out of its way to tell you the solutions, preserving what is probably an undeserved sense of accomplishment. It feels like everything you want an introductory area to be. Of course, all hand-holding must come to an end.

While playing, I don’t believe I noticed the point where this happened. The game’s way of easing you out of the tutorials is smooth enough as not to be jarring, whilst balancing the fact a new player would need time to adjust to its battle system. Thinking back, the real turning point for me was the first Rabbid-hybrid miniboss. It was the first map I actively thought to myself “I need to rethink my strategy.” In retrospect, it was an interesting moment. It was the game’s first time really pushing me, giving me a chance to prove I don’t need the hand-holding so prominent in early battles. I’ll admit, my first miniboss took some time. There were moments I felt it completely unfair, there were moments I felt it somewhat impossible, and there were moments I was close to hitting Easy Mode. Even so, I fought on—I felt driven to, and the rush of satisfaction upon the miniboss’ downfall surpassed that of any minor victory prior. I had truly earned the right to progress, and it felt good.

Stunted Progression

Of course, the progression I had earned was linear. Linearity to me is not an issue in and of itself; it allows for a controlled increase in difficulty, as well as a focus on storytelling. Linearity can be fantastic. It’s when the game flashes you a glimmer of choice, and locks it behind arbitrary walls where I find issue.

In the first world, there are blocks littering the green pastures, strewn across bridges and towers alike. What purpose do they serve? Little more than a lazy blockade, an attempt at forcing replayability into each of the game’s worlds. Should you try to move one of these blocks before the game decides you are allowed, you are simply told you are unable. This is something I want to forgive—and honestly, it’s something I could forgive, if the abilities were obtained in a meaningful manner. Again, this isn’t the case. You control a disk that can apparently receive and materialise blasters, and super yo-yos via email; it wouldn’t be out of the realm of feasibility to assume it could acquire the power to move heavy blocks by defeating a physically strong enemy. There could have been some short event sequence of our lovable disk BEEP-0 absorbing some of the power that disappears as the Rabbids are defeated; anything to justify such meaningless powers. Even something as small as having these powers emailed to BEEP-0 would have at least held some significance. Instead, we find ourselves left with a miscellaneous message upon beating the world’s boss, saying we can now use this skill. No reason nor rhyme, it is something handed to you, and you are expected to be grateful for it.

Although my irritation towards the handling of overworld skills is evident, I struggle to find fault in the bonus content itself. Herein lies some of the game’s best puzzles, and most interesting battles. It takes everything you’ve learned thus far and throws it on its head, using variations of battle formats you thought you were familiar with. The most prominent of these come in the form of one turn battles. Whether it asks you to knock out every enemy, or just get to a certain area, the stakes are increased when you only have a turn. It changes the dynamic of the battle to know there is probably a very simple solution to your stressful endeavour, and the moment of breakthrough that comes from finally finding it is amongst the most satisfying the game has to offer. The bonus challenges, as well as the ‘hidden’ chapters are definitely worth going back for. Despite their unimaginative implementation, it’s difficult to deny they are areas the game truly shines.

A Beautiful World

Looking past the lazy attempt at replayability, the world stands out as both interesting and visibly appealing. The distinct difference in zone design is something noticeable as you begin to progress through the second area of the game—Sherbet Desert. To go from the straight line of road that was Ancient Gardens, to the twisting, winding, somewhat confusing desert path—it gets your mind racing, especially towards the end of the zone. You can see how the zone complexity develops as the game continues, and it becomes exciting to think what they have in store for you next.

The only thing holding it back for me isn’t actually something regarding the world design itself, rather the camera, and its associated limitations. It can be quite frustrating to have the camera lock at seemingly random times, disallowing your ability to rotate it and view the world from a different angle. To some extent, I can understand why this is in place. I see how the game might want to direct your eye to a certain focal point. I see how it sometimes uses the camera’s limitations to hide things in plain sight, and I find that choice neither good nor bad. Where I find fault is in its inconsistency. The worst case of this comes just after beating a battle. In battles, you have camera rotation—regardless of which area you’re in, you have rotation. This obviously makes sense; enemies can hide behind things, a lack of camera rotation would make battles unnecessarily difficult. I find it odd that upon completion, some of these areas then lock the camera. To reiterate, moments like this don’t hold the game back; they aren’t a major inconvenience. I would however be lying to say they aren’t noticeable.

While I certainly did find it irritating at times for its inconsistency, the camera does serve you well for the most part, especially in showing you the Rabbids’ mayhem and antics. In Mario + Rabbids, you can tell a lot of effort went into making sure one element didn’t overpower the other; both Mario and the Rabbids feel interwoven into the world, in a similar vein to how Kirby: Planet Robobot embraced its mechanical overtones. It truly feels as though the SupaMerge pulled together these two worlds, embracing all that makes each of them fantastic. Everything is in place to remind you you’re playing a Mario game, however the somewhat strange and childish Rabbid humour stands in place, nudging you as if to say “this is like no Mario game you’ve ever played.”

A Raving Reception

This humour takes a great number of forms, from punchy one liners regarding a Rabbid’s questionable actions, to witnessing mischief already managed, to watching a short skit of Rabbids being Rabbids. It’s enthralling, really it is quite possibly the most unexpected and enjoyable aspect of the game for me. Through this humour, the skits in particularly, I’ve come to see the Rabbids in a new light. They’re painted as individuals, united in their chaotic and somewhat simple tendencies. Some of them just want to lie about, others enjoy a game of tag. It shines a light of innocence and childhood that never failed to bring a smile to my face. After a short time playing the game, they captivated me, and I found myself screenshotting every encounter, as if to wish it lasting longer.

As you play, you come to realise how the overarching story acts as a facilitator to this end. The actual plot advancement is somewhat weak, but when you look at the bigger picture, it does everything it needs to. I can sum up the story as simply as this: Rabbids steal the SupaMerge, hijinks ensue, and oh yeah, there’s a big vortex thing in the sky. It may seem as though I oversimplify the story a little, but this is how it presents itself. It is a vessel to keep the game moving forwards, and that’s all it really needs to be.

Trial by Battle

Battles in Mario + Rabbids are a new experience to me. I have often heard the comparison to XCOM, but having never played an XCOM game, I went in fresh-faced. Combat takes placed on grid-based maps, with you controlling three characters in a turn-based manner. Players must effectively string together movement, melee combat, and ranged attacks, with advantages provided from the terrain. While you can get away with a more brazen approach in early battles, the map complexity soon increases to the point where you have to start planning ahead. The game presents an interesting balance between pushing the player to advance, and conservatively moving forwards.

Half of this balance comes in the form of breakable blocks on the map. These blocks provide cover, allowing you to hide after attacking, and reduce the chance of taking damage when under attack. Their breakable nature forces you to move onward from one place to the next, pushing towards the enemy before they have a chance to fully destroy your hiding place and leave you exposed. While there is indestructible cover also, it is usually comes with a trade-off of leaving you partially exposed, or is present to serve a purpose—a means of avoiding a shock wave that would otherwise encompass the map, for example.

The flipside to this push on the aggressive is the retention of health between battles of a chapter. Like other aspects of the game, this is broken in gently during the first few tutorial battles, where it holds no real significance, and the stakes are low. As the difficulty steadily increases, it becomes more noticeable, and more evident battles should be handled cautiously. This adds a certain air of difficulty to the game, but not so much as to hinder accessibility to the less strategically minded. For those who find more fun in head on battles, and cherish their reckless abandon, Easy Mode offers what is probably a welcomed handout—restoring all HP, and giving each character 50% more max HP to work with for the length of the battle. It exists almost as a way to break the careful balance crafted for combat.

The fun variety of battle types also assist in making the game accessible, whilst also assuring the battle system doesn’t grow tiresome or stale. Of these types, I quite surprisingly found myself enjoying the escort missions most. Given previous experiences with strategy games and escort AI, I was somewhat disheartened to see the objective appear on-screen for the first time. If you’ve played Fire Emblem, or any similar game, you’ll know your escorts are always beyond stupid, to the point of being fearless in their unarmed madness. Mario + Rabbids remedies this problem in such a simple way; you can control your escort. It is such a simple, such a minor thing, but it really does leave a lasting impression. It pays off in allowing for proper planning, it allows me to blame myself if something goes wrong. I can’t be annoyed at some suicidal AI’s desire to ruin my perfect score, and I quite frankly find that brilliant. Put this next to the slow addition of new enemies and map hazards, and you find yourself with an engaging range of battles, constantly shifting. Every time you think you’ve worked out a definitive formula for victory, the game decides you should be pushed further. It decides; “hey, try a Chain Chomp this battle!” While it can come across as a little frustrating if too much is introduced too quickly, Mario + Rabbids does well in developing the battles only as they start to grow monotonous. Because of this, no battle type feels particularly neglected, nor stale, as the game progresses.

Overall, the battles feel hard-fought, victories well deserved and satisfying. On top of its already diverse formula, the game allows you to switch up battles further in its team customisation options. If you feel a map is perhaps too difficult, or too easy, with your current roster, you can switch out team members at any point before a battle starts. There are a lot of ways this system could have fallen flat. A particular worry of mine was only using a certain team throughout the story, and neglecting the other options available to me; to the point of them being unusable should I desire to pull them from the bench. Mario + Rabbids alleviates these worries in a number of ways, but most notably in its lack of experience points, and levelling as a whole. Instead, the game puts focus on weapon upgrades, paid for using the spoils of battle. This system works, but I sometimes found myself questioning just how well. Quite possibly its only flaw lies in its very core—weapon upgrades. Naturally, they cost money, and I found the game’s cash flow questionable at times. It always felt as though the times I needed money, I never had enough; while the times I had everything I needed, I was rolling in the stuff. I don’t know whether to put it down to unusual spending habits on my part, or an unbalanced distribution of money, but I never felt I could have the full team available to fight at any one time. Somebody would always be lagging behind.

Even if I did manage to pull together, and get everybody to the same standard, I still wouldn’t have complete control over my team. Although the game gives you the choice to build a team of three out of your allies, it also made the dubious decision of forcing at least one Rabbid on your team. Speaking from a strategic standpoint, this isn’t a problem in the slightest. The Rabbids are incredibly strong allies; Rabbid Mario having a consistent slot on my team. I can completely understand why this is the case; after all, this is Mario + Rabbids. You are expected to enjoy aspects of both games. Even so, limiting the player’s choice in this way feels largely unnecessary.⁠

Let’s Talk Amiibo

Love them or hate them, Amiibo are quite the interesting tool in the games development process. To effectively utilise them, one must maintain a careful balance of useful and meaningful content, whilst not being too useful, nor too meaningful. They must sit at a strange equilibrium to avoid the curse of being dubbed ‘on-cart DLC’, whilst satisfying fans eager to use them. A little to my disappointment, Mario + Rabbids neither does enough to satisfy, nor enrage. Each of the compatible Amiibo serves to unlock two weapons; one for the Amiibo character, and one for their Rabbid counterpart. These weapons are amongst the most well designed in the game, to that I will accredit them. Sadly, that’s about all they’re good for. Each of the weapon stats find themselves suitable only for when you first unlock the character in question; quickly outmatched by better firepower. It feels like a safe bet; as if to shout to the kids just how hip they are to be including the latest craze. Perhaps the most saddening part of this is the potential Amiibo could have had. Alternate costumes would have been just as safe a choice, offering no actual benefit in-game. The difference is an alternate costume would be useful for more than five minutes of gameplay; or even less should you scan the Amiibo late in the game. They feel like nothing but an afterthought.

In Closing

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is an unexpectedly phenomenal game I wholeheartedly recommend to any lover of Mario, of strategy, or of simple lighthearted humour. While it has its frustrating moments, the vast majority feel necessary in providing a satisfying payoff for working around them. It is by no means a game without fault, however the level in which they are outshined is truly staggering.