I absolutely hate Rabbids. I’m just going to go ahead and get that off my chest immediately.
I wasn’t initially going to pick up Ubisoft and Nintendo’s Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle for the sole reason that I can’t stand Ubisoft’s over-the-top little furry creations. I understand that they’re supposed to be annoying, but in the past I’ve found it hard to even enjoy games they feature in because of their incessant ridiculous nature.
With that being said, I’m delighted to say that I didn’t spent Labor Day weekend, or these past few days, doing much other than setting the Mushroom Kingdom back in order from the mess those Rabbids have gotten it into. The new turn-based tactical RPG combines deceptively simple gameplay with the world we have grown up loving — and one that some of us loathe — in what may be the most addictive game on the Nintendo Switch to date.
The plot for Mario + Rabbids is as outlandish and goofy as you would expect from the hybrid. A woman creating a new “SuperMerge” device to solve the world’s energy crisis finds her basement invaded by a wealth of rascally Rabbids through the use of their Time Washing Machine. The Rabbids get a hold of the device and immediately take it upon themselves to start merging their compatriots with everything they can find in the basement: Rabbid Peach, Rabbid Mario, Rabbid flower-pot; you get the picture. After conveniently striking their space-time washing machine with the SuperMerge headset, the unwitting beasts teleport the entire contents of the inventor’s basement to the Mushroom Kingdom.
Upon taking control of Mario, who is less-than-stoked on his newfound neighbors disrupting their celebration, it’s up to you and a less-than-usual cast of characters to travel through five different worlds and restore what can possibly be considered a “relative calm” to their universe. At least that’s what Beep-O, my Rabbidized AI companion who helped to guide my party through the chaotic world, kept telling me I had to do.
Anything devoid of Rabbids can be deservedly classified as ‘calm’.
While most Rabbids have been corrupted by the SuperMerge device and are tearing loose across the Mushroom Kingdom, the several who were transformed before the teleportation incident are willing to lend a hand to the hero’s journey, even if they cause a few disruptions along the way. Rabbid Peach and Rabbid Luigi join your team immediately, and you can rescue some other familiar faces (and doppelgängers) along the way.
Level design in Mario + Rabbids is exactly what you would expect out of a Mario game, separated into worlds and levels with a host of hidden secrets to uncover, with a colorful and fun hub-world tying it all together. Combine that with Rabbids’ puzzle-solving and an overall layout that feels somewhat reminiscent of Mario Party games with a smattering of classic Paper Mario, and you’re presented with a surprisingly in-depth open world level design with plenty of opportunity for discovery and replay.
While the environments are surely something to behold, the gameplay is really where Mario + Rabbids shines, as a deceptively simplistic take on the ‘tactics’ formula of turn-based combat RPGs. You create your party out of three characters and equip each of them with two weapons which can have varying effects, such as honey which stops enemies from moving, and ink which covers their eyes and prevents attacking. Each character has two regular attacks, two special attacks, and several passive abilities all of which can be upgraded through the skill tree.
While Kingdom Battle could certainly be considered the ‘family-version’ of the formula, and admittedly this is exactly what my bias was before taking it into my own hands, this should by no means deter more serious or “hardcore” gamers away from the title. With a seemingly unlimited number of attack/movement combinations in conjunction with some dastardly tricky AI who are able to utilize the same combos, I more than once found myself with my back against a pipe.
The in-battle level designs are varied and impressive and typically consist of either a Defeat All or Defeat X number of enemies objective, with the occasional escort missions interspersed between the brawls. These missions force you to think even more strategically about the movement system in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, which is easily the gameplay aspect where the title differentiates itself the most from every other game in the genre, such as XCOM or Final Fantasy Tactics.
There are a seemingly unlimited number of movement and attack combinations that you can execute depending on your party makeup, including bonus movement every time you exit a pipe. Each character can Team Jump off a teammate’s head to gain a movement boost, or dash through an enemy for some pass-by damage. If you’re smart with your movement and strategically placing your characters, it’s possible to daisychain some pretty ridiculous combos and move more than three times your base movement.
In addition to the base movement system in Mario + Rabbids, each character brings their own quasi-unique movement style to the fray. Luigi can double Team Jump off allies’ heads, which allows him to traverse large distances in a single move, setting him up for deadly flank attacks. Rabbid Peach can triple-dash enemies, which allows her to do damage before her attack has even begun. And of course, Mario can bounce off enemies’ heads, which can be chained with Team Jump, dash, and other movement bonuses.
You have to be careful though, because using these combinations may end up with one character at the complete opposite end of the map. While this can definitely help set up flanking maneuvers, stranding one character away from the other two without the ability to take advantage of Team Jump or area-of-effect buffs can spell immediate disaster for a level.
There are collectibles everywhere hidden in chests (all the PowerUp blocks are out of service) including 3D models, soundtracks, and even new weapons to add to your arsenal. In addition to this there are homages left, right, and literally falling from the sky to various other games, songs, and TV shows. I keep thinking that a certain sound effect or line spoken by one of the characters is in reference to something, just because of the amount of them I’ve already discovered. Tell me that opening a chest in Mario + Rabbids does not sound like winning a battle in Final Fantasy VII.
The co-operative multiplayer in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a lot of fun, and it’s great to be able to break the console apart, toss a Joy-Con to my wife, and play through some challenges together. While the game does not feature any online multiplayer functionality, it is a lot of fun to tackle the Rabbids together with some couch co-op. There are five co-operative campaigns which are separate from the main story, and each provide a decent amount of content.
I’m more than a little disappointed that the game has no competitive multiplayer option, because this could have been the perfect opportunity for Nintendo to present some additional player vs. player options on a console with a surprising dearth of options. With that being said, it may be the only legitimate fault that I’ve been able to find with this game. For a game with relatively simple mechanics, I’ve yet to find myself getting bored, even as I’m starting to retrace my steps through the Worlds to complete the additional Challenge missions.
The reason that I’ve stressed multiple times how much I detest the Rabbids — even as I’m typing this and playing through challenges I’m finding myself annoyed by the toilet humor — is because of how impressed I am that a game can break through my utter loathing for those furry little abominations and present such an appealing offering with a surprisingly endearing world. The more I play this game, the more I’m ever-so-slightly coming around to the nauseating ‘charm’ of the Rabbids.
If you’re looking for a solid turn-based strategy game to take on the go, something of which in my opinion the Nintendo Switch has been lacking, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a definite win. You can play it one level at a time, or lose yourself for days in the worlds, trying to find every secret and beat every challenge.
Ubisoft and Nintendo’s Mario + Rabbid Kingdom Battle has taken an overused but seldom properly-utilized formula, and nailed it almost flawlessly. Though the gameplay is relatively simple and the mechanics are quick to understand, fully mastering your movement and attack combos is an achievement unto itself. I can’t recall the last time I went into a game with such low expectations only to have them utterly blown out of the water, but I’m excited to say I won’t be putting Mario + Rabbids down anytime soon.
Final Score: 9/10
Easily the best strategy game that’s been released on the Nintendo Switch to date, and a sure purchase for casual and serious gamers alike.
The review copy of this game was purchased by the reviewer.