Oh poor Mario. Just when the Mushroom Kingdom appeared to be at peace after an eternity and Princess Peach had finally run out of castles before Mario ran out of patience, the frickin’ azure dome of the sky itself cracked open and it rained…Rabbids! And at the precise moment when a hundred foot tall Princess Peach statue was barely unveiled too. But honestly, if you knew anything about the lives of the intrepid mustachioed plumber and those rabid rabbits you wouldn’t be surprised at all! Though if you didn’t; there cannot be a better or more fun way get acquainted than to dive headlong into the insanity called Mario+Rabbids : Kingdom Battle!
The very idea of a Mario and Rabbids verse mash up sounded exactly the right kind of weird that gave birth to Kingdom Hearts such a long time ago and from my experience of this game the results are fortunately equally awe inspiring and delightful.
The very first thing , or rather the very second thing after we get past the quirky premise of the game, is the fact that Mario+Rabbids : Kingdom Battle is neither a platformer nor an action adventure but in fact a team based and turn-based tactical rpg in the legacy of iconic tactical rpgs of the past such as Shining Force and Final Fantasy Tactics or the more recently released XCOM 2. However the gameplay mechanics of this game are not only refreshingly streamlined but at times display surprising amount of depth as well.
Mario+Rabbids : Kingdom Battle boasts a hefty roster of eight playable characters including the usual suspects Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach , Yoshi and the Rabbid counterparts of each of the four characters which gradually unlock as the story progresses.
Our party in the single player campaign may have 03 playable characters including the party leader Mario who cannot be swapped for any other character. In addition to that the party must contain at least one Rabbid character too which was a shame since I would have loved to wreak havoc with the trio of Mario, Princess Peach and Luigi.
The game alternates between exploration and combat with some light puzzle solving. Mario and two of his cohorts are guided by the disc shaped A.I console Beep-O who serves as the engine to this mini train of ever moving heroes as they run, slide, explore and fight through many many levels of the four completely distinct yet absolutely gorgeous worlds of the Mushroom Kingdom.
The four worlds include the vibrantly verdant Ancient Gardens; the surreal vistas of Sherbet Desert; the murky abode of various ghouls and ghosts and supernatural nasties that is Spooky Trails and finally the ever familiar sight for any old Mario Bros. player, The Lava Pit.
Each of these worlds roughly consist of Nine levels , numbered in the traditional Super Mario Bros style i.e 1-1, 1-2…2-1, 2-2… with each level requiring us to clear two separate areas from enemies before we reach the Mid Boss in level 5 and the final boss of that world in the 9th level. My prowess at Mathematics was never the envy of the town but that is a Lot of fights! but being an rpg the fights are obviously the backbone of the entire experience since even when the exploration does reward us with gold coins and power orbs, fights are the best resource of acquiring those valuable items.
At any given time in the game right up to the very last second before a fight begins we can travel to the ‘Battle HQ’ with the click of a single button which allows us the options of Party Selection, Weapons Selection and Skill Tree.
Each of the party members; and yes even Mario, Luigi and Princess Peach; wield guns which are more like energy weapons, to blast away at the raving rabbids and occasionally at their own ally, freely but of course there is no blood to be seen anywhere.
The weapons and the Sub-Weapons are unique to each character, for example Mario employs a blaster type Primary weapon with an impressive range and Hammer as secondary while his Rabbid counterpart favours a shot gun with a comparatively small radius but delivering a devastating blast capable of obliterating small walls in a single shot.
Similarly, Luigi’s sniper rifle, as well as the secondary Rocket Launcher, could pick off the enemies across the map which are often out of range for other characters. Moreover, exploration, as well as story progression, yield a sizeable reward of new and improved variants of these weapons as well.
The weapons also have special properties enabling them to afflict the enemies with special status ailments ranging from Slow, Burn, and Freeze and Stone to incredibly effective and my personal favourites Push and Vampire effects where one may hurl an advancing menace such as a Smasher far back like a rag doll and the other would not only leech health from the enemy but whenever the affected baddie is hit by any other character it loses health to replenish theirs as well.
Each character in the game can perform Three different types of actions , namely : Movement, Attack and the use of a special weapon or ability. When all eight characters share certain similar abilities, such as the ‘Dash’ which comes at no movement penalty and allows the player to damage an enemy within range and return to its previous location or behind a cover or through a pipe, all the characters also have either unique variants on the same ability or entirely new ones.
For example in addition to the general Dash ability, Mario is also able to Team Jump off an ally and stomp on the head of an enemy within a certain range, as well as use the ‘Hero Sight’ which allows him up to two additional shots against an advancing enemy free from the cost of a valuable turn..
Rabbid Peach may perform multiple dash attacks against the enemy within her range of movement and could also Heal herself and any allies in the vicinity to a certain percentage. However when Mario and Rabbid Yoshi’s Hero Sight and Outer Shell or Rabbid Peach’s Heal ability have a cooldown timer, I personally found Princess Peach’s Heal Jump to be one of the most effective abilities in the game which count as a movement perk and not a special ability hence no cooldown timer. And since Peach could use the Royal Gaze, which is very similar to Mario’s Hero Sight, a combo of the Princess, Mario and the Rabbid Peach often proved a winning formula for me.
However it goes without saying that a constant upgrade of the common and special abilities as well as weapons of the characters is vitally important . As far as weapons are concerned you just need to spend the required amount of Gold Coins and you are set. Abilities however must be upgraded from the Skill Tree.
The Skill Tree offers four different areas to upgrade, including Movement: which offers upgrades on the abilities such as Dash, Dash Damage or Cleansing Jump etc, Attack : which mainly strengthens melee options, Technique: with most options available to upgrade such as weapon damage and range of special effects; as well as a small separate group of four skills under Other, offering upgrades on Health and Movement etc. Power Orbs is the currency used to buy every upgrade which can be obtained after the end of each battle or from crates found during exploration.
The level design of Mario+Rabbids: Kingdom Battle complements both the aesthetics of
Marioverse as well as the tactical combat. Before each battle, the player has the option to make use of the Tactical Camera and Battle Camera for reconnaissance of the battlefield as well as a quick hop back to the Battle HQ to swap a more suitable character or spend any unspent gold coins and power orbs. However, the level design truly shines when the battle begins.
The game favors the more traditional approach of simply barring the exits of an area until the objectives are met, instead of transporting the player’s party to a battle arena. The objective isn’t always to fight till the last rabid bites the dust either but vary from fighting to a few escort missions, to simply reach a designated area or killing a set number of enemies.
Every level is beset with a jumble of pipes offering numerous entrances and exits to both the players and the NPCs to use to their advantage. Far from being an alternative method of travel, the pipes are an integral part of the battle system. They curve around corners, run across the walls to high vantage points or suddenly dip to the floor and this single factor coupled with the individual abilities of the characters affords an explosion of tactics and possibilities. When a character enters a pipe and exits on high ground the damage it can deal is almost doubled but that is not all. Exiting a pipe also allows certain characters to move further across the floor than they normally could, and if there happens to be an enemy with the range you could hit it and be behind cover.
However, it is it is after a few hours when the player truly realizes how to take full advantage of the environment in combination with his abilities when the devastation really begins. Within a single turn it is possible to Dash damage an NPC, team jump off an ally and stomp on the poor baddie’s head again, enter a pipe that curls around the NPC and exit at its back to take cover and blast it away not even giving it a chance to retaliate, but that does not mean that the game becomes a cake walk after a couple of hours. Not to mention that the game ramps up the difficulty as we progress but there were instances when I wondered if there was a sudden and sharp spike in the difficulty too.
As our party grows stronger and more resourceful, so do the enemies. The variety of the enemies ranging from the self-healing bombs chucking Supporters to the annoying teleporting ghosts to the hulking brutes called Smashers plus the variety in levels and terrains keep the players always on their toes and retains the challenge and excitement till the end.
The single player campaign is truly massive, but the unlocked challenge mission after each world as well as the addition of a significant local co-op Mode, accessed via Buddy Dome in Princess Peach’s castle, make sure that the game will remain active on your Switch for a long time. No online option has been announced yet.
Mario+Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is a treat to the eyes and its battle system is perhaps one of the most engaging things I have played in a while but the game isn’t without certain annoyances that I wished were ironed out before it was released, such as :
The game’s level design is purposefully quite linear and more often than not the fixed camera frustrated me regardless of the fact if I was exploring, solving a puzzle or in combat, but it is Beep-O that I have a real gripe with.
I have no idea what was the motivational impetus behind this ridiculous decision of NOT letting Mario interact with ANY thing during exploration and puzzle solving scenarios. It is ALWAYS Beep-O in command who would run as if towing the whole party behind. It is Beep-O that opens chests, boards cannons that blast us to secret reward rooms, activate buttons and often makes it a chore to complete a bonus round within time limit because you often cannot see it clearly while exiting a pipe or turning a corner.
Exploration also seemed pretty bare bone. I truly wished we could explore the four worlds at our own pace rather than in between rushing from one fight to another.
When all is said and done this Oddball merger of Ubisoft and Nintendo franchises is truly a delight to experience. From Michel Ancel’s “vicious…but totally stupid” rabbits to the ageless charm of Mario Bros, the musical score by the industry legend Grant Kirkhope and some truly quirky memorable boss fights such the gigantic ‘Rabbid Kong’ to an Opera singing ghost, there is hardly a dull moment. However, it is the Rabbids that truly lend personality to this game.
My personal favorite and the true star of the show is none other than Rabbid Peach! Her smug flip of her blonde hair, mocking the ice golem by mimicking Hamlet’s soliloquy with a skull in hand, taking a burst of selfies as the Bosses plummet to their eventual demise or the show of utter disgust when our party loses and she stomps off are the things that would make you smile even you aren’t playing the game.