|Dev: Ubisoft Paris, Ubisoft Milan|
|Release: August 29, 2017|
|Players: 1-2 Player|
|Screen Resolution: 720p-1080p||Cartoon Violence, Comic Mischief, Mild Language|
by Jenni Lada
I don’t care for Ubisoft’s Rabbids. I think they are obnoxious, played-out characters. When I first heard about Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, I was skeptical. I love strategy games, liked the idea, and felt like getting the opportunity to defeat tons of these characters I despise could have quite a bit of potential. I had no idea that this would become one of 2017’s biggest surprises. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is not only disarmingly charming, but also a rather challenging affair filled with useful allies, interesting maps, varied objectives, handy equipment, fiendish enemies, and all sorts of secrets.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle begins in what appears to be the real world. An inventor has developed a headset that can combine two separate entities into one. She’s still working out the bugs in the system, as she explains to her robotic companion, Beep-0. She steps away for a moment, the Rabbids teleport in via their washing machine teleporter, and chaos ensues. One ends up donning the helmet that combines things, combines Rabbids with various items, and they all find themselves combining with the Mushroom Kingdom’s world. The Rabbid with the headset, Spawny, is found by Bowser Jr., everything is a conglomerated mess, and it is up to Mario, Rabbid Luigi, and Rabbid Peach to set off to find other allies to set things right with Beep-0 as a guide. What follows is a story filled with clever moments and inside jokes.
Even though Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a turn-based strategy game, it borrows quite a bit from the Super Mario formula. There are four “worlds” you will visit, which are divided into chapters. Each chapter has a certain number of maps. So it almost feels as though you are going through stages. Between each stage, it can feel as though you are wandering around a world map rife with puzzles and secrets. You may find hidden coins or eight red coins to collect, treasure chests filled with new weapons or Museum items, Challenge stages, and Power Orbs to fill in spots on characters’ Skill Trees. Revisiting locales is encouraged, as Beep-0 will gain new abilities that allow him to do things like push and lift items to unlock new areas.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is also a game that eases you into the strategic formula. This is important for those unfamiliar with such games. You can have three characters in battle at a time, so it starts you off with Mario (who must always be in the party), Rabbid Peach, and Rabbid Luigi. Initially, you have no access to extra weapons, melee weapons, more party members, and the Skill Tree. The first few enemies you face won’t have secondary abilities. It’s only after the first Mini-Boss that things open up. Luigi joins your crew, every character gets a second melee attack, you can start enhancing abilities and skills, use Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Yoshi amiibo to permanently unlock eight weapons, and open up the local multiplayer Buddydome. As you complete worlds, you’ll unlock the opportunity to go back to earn Power Orbs or find Challenge Levels.
What surprised me most about Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is how genuinely challenging and creative it can be. This isn’t a game where your only objective is to defeat a few Rabbids in small areas, then move on to fight even more. It is a game about maximizing movements. It wants you to be aware of characters’ move ranges, dash attack limitations, jumping abilities, and other attacks as you warily traverse the field and hopefully always remain within cover. This may mean switching between characters to have them move and attack at different times within the same turn, so they can act as bait for certain enemies, use special abilities to hit enemies that suddenly shift position as a result of status effects, and generally control the battle field. The scenarios are such that you need to consider all ally and enemy positions, perhaps swapping to the Tacticam perspective for a better view, to make sure you defeat all enemies, defeat a certain number of enemies, defeat enemies while avoiding an environmental hazard, escort a character safely to a certain point, or reach a specific area.
Let’s go through a hypothetical turn with Rabbid Luigi to help you better understand how Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle works. He has a Vamp effect on his dash, which lets him steal health from enemies, and we’ll say I have it set where he can dash attack twice. So I want to try and have him dash into two foes (inflicting at least 30 damage with each hit), jump off of Mario to reach a higher area, then use his secondary weapon (a rocket launcher) to target a group of foes behind cover. After using that attack, I could use his Weaken ability to lower the strength of surrounding enemies. Then, because those two foes have Vamp on them, other allies could dash into them to also steal health. Also, because the rocket launcher deals damage and destroys cover, it could create an opening for allied shots. You are encouraged to maximize effectiveness, use your skills as often and well as you can, and prepare for enemies that have special skills and unique traits and AI.
There are other ways in which Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle can challenge or coddle players. In each section of a world, health carries over between battles. So unless you move onto a whole new numbered area in a world, find a Mario mushroom, or see green plus signs after a fight, their health remains the same. If you bench them and swap in a new team member, there’s no sudden restoration. If someone is having trouble, it is possible to press Y ahead of a fight to turn on Easy Mode, which heals everyone and temporarily increases all party member’s health by 50%. What’s nice is that this doesn’t actually change the layout, number of enemies, AI, or goal. It just hopefully helps people who are having trouble getting by survive.
My only real complaint is that Mario is a required party member and there are so many instances in the main campaign where I wanted to have other people in my trio. But then, I think this speaks to everyone’s versatility. Most characters’ share one of their weapons with at least one other character. Both Rabbid Peach and Luigi have Sentry robots as melee weapons. Both Peach and Rabbid Mario use Boomshot guns that offer a shorter range and hit a wide area. (By the way, friendly fire is very much a thing in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle.) It really comes down to which skill sets are most useful for a particular fight. In one where you need to escort a character, Rabbid Mario becomes more desirable for his Magnet Dance that makes enemies target him. Someone like Rabbid Peach or Peach is good in any situation, due to both having healing abilities.