Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope Review

Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope Review Screenshot

Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is brilliant. The galaxy is in danger. After an otherworldly Manta threatens the Mushroom Kingdom, Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach and their Rabbid pals discover that the malevolent Cursa is using a corruptive energy called Darkmess to conquer planets. Learning from the Sparks – mysterious creatures that are equal parts Rabbid and Luma – that Rosalina is in danger, the brave Heroes tap into their harnessable energy to defeat Cursa’s forces and restore order to the universe.

Where Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle was unabashedly wild and chaotic – the unlikely crossover often surprising in how much lenience the developer had been given to deliver its laugh-out-loud slapstick humour successfully – Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope feels decidedly less mischievous in comparison. With the galaxy’s fate at stake, it’s perhaps understandable that the sequel strikes a different tone, but, given the hilarious escapades from their first adventure, it was noticeable that the laughs were fewer and far between this time around.

That’s not to say that there aren’t clear and plentiful successes in this Super Mario Galaxy-inspired outing. Emboldened by the reaction to the original game, the sequel is comparatively daringly ambitious in its scope and has seen Ubisoft Paris and Ubisoft Milan take risks – some of which work and others that falter, as is often inevitably the case.

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With your goal to create a chain of Warp Tunnels to hurtle the Rabbid Spaceship – WM ARC – towards Cursa’s Stronghold, a series of planets punctuate your journey on which Mario and pals will need to collect the Purified Darkmess Energy Crystals that they require to do so. The adventure remains linear in the order of locations that you will visit – ranging from the rainswept Beacon Beach to the blizzard-ridden Pristine Peaks, colour-sapped Palette Prime and beyond – but the change has allowed the team to approach each planet as an explorable location that is crammed with content to keep you occupied for hours.

The game’s critical path will see you focus on conquering battles to clean up Darkmess Puddles and Darkmess Tentacles on each planet – removing the adverse weather conditions that they are inflicting on their inhabitants – but there are also side quests to clear, new Sparks to recruit, Secret Zones to clear, environmental puzzles to solve, meticulously-presented Memories to recover, and more. Exploration feels more integral to the experience here, and it is all the better for it. After more than 35 hours with the game, I arrived at the end credits with an 86% completion rate and look forward to hunting out the remaining 14% once this review is written up to secure the game’s more elusive weapon skins. Exhausting each planet never felt like a chore, and, for me at least, the team has struck the right balance in how much there is to do.

It is in combat that Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope undoubtedly excels. With the developer looking to combine freedom of movement with strategic turn-based decision-making, battle scenarios continue to alternate between the Heroes and their enemies performing actions. You will continue to rely on placing your Heroes behind cover in an effort to protect them from harm. Each has two Action Points that they can use per turn, where, beyond freely performing a Dash to slide into a nearby enemy to deal damage or a Team Jump to use Beep-O to momentarily hover across the battleground, these are used for your Attack, Techniques or Sparks. Every change to the combat system has been a positive improvement, and the team should feel proud of the fluidity that they have been able to achieve.

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Aside from a handful of story-related moments, you are free to choose which Heroes you would like to have in your three-strong party. There are nine characters this time around – Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Bowser, Rabbid Mario, Rabbid Luigi, Rabbid Peach, Rabbid Rosalina and Edge – and, while I honestly missed Yoshi in the mix, it was hard to find fault with any of the ensemble. It’s clear that there has been considered thought to each character’s arsenal, and, even with widespread changes compared to the original game, I’d happily enter a battle with any of them. If anything, that made it harder to choose and even stick with a particular party…

Mario now wields the Dual Slinger, letting him fire two projectiles that can either be directed at one target or separate ones. Whereas Luigi has a Sharpshooter that deals more damage the further away he is from his target, Princess Peach has an outrageous shotgun-inspired Boom-Brella that fires a devastating widespread shot, and Rabbid Luigi has the Discruptor – a frisbee that can ricochet between three targets. A late-game favourite for me was Rabbid Mario, who has swapped out his faithful Boomshot for The Dukes – gauntlets that he can use to pummel multiple enemies into submission at close-range.

Each character’s Technique isn’t too dissimilar to the original game. For example, Mario has Hero Sight which allows him to deal damage to any enemy that wanders into his field of vision, Rabbid Peach can heal herself and nearby allies, Rabbid Luigi can temporarily weaken enemies to reduce the damage they deal and Rabbid Rosalina can freeze foes with Stasis. None of these Techniques are unhelpful in swinging a battle in your favour, but, as always, you will want to make sure that the Heroes you choose for your party can balance each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

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It is the Sparks that offer the most flexibility to your approach. You will rescue many of the cheery creatures on your galactic adventure, and, eventually, each Hero will be able to choose two Sparks to support them in battle. Most add Super Effects to your weapons – such as Burn, Shock, Splash or Frostbite – but others can momentarily increase the damage that you deal, temporarily reduce the damage that you take, revive fallen Heroes, make you invisible for two turns or even spawn allies. Their effects can be heightened by upgrading your Sparks, which simply sees you feed them the Star Bits that you are constantly collecting or letting them gulp down a rarer Star Potion.

Your Heroes will also receive experience towards levelling up, regardless of whether they are in your immediate party or not – continuing to encourage you to experiment with different combinations to find which three-strong force works best for you. Also, you will start to be rewarded with Skill Prisms, which can be used to upgrade each Hero’s Skills and Powers whether that be to increase their maximum health, how far they can glide after a Team Jump, increase their weapon’s range, reduce the time it takes to recharge their Techniques and so on. You will undoubtedly feel that your Heroes are stronger and more capable as your adventure journeys to its conclusion.

The Snowdrop engine continues to shine on Nintendo Switch, even if the portable home console is starting to creak under its ageing hardware. From the looks of its characters to its world design and playful animations, the developer has pushed the hardware to breathe life into their latest quest for the courageous moustachioed hero and his friends to star in. The direction could have leaned more into its Super Mario Galaxy inspiration though, as, this time around, it felt more like Mario and pals were secondary to the Rabbids-inspired worlds that they wander rather than being the stars of this adventure.

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Where Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope faltered for me was in two areas. While the planets that you explore are sumptuous to look at and the mission that you set out on suitably heroic, there was a surprising lack of standout personality-packed moments. Aside from an epic final showdown – which Ubisoft understandably wouldn’t want me to ruin – there was nothing that came close to rivalling The Phantom in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle for me. I’m not expecting a musical number in every game, but there weren’t enough moments for me where the teams really seemed to relish with unbridled enthusiasm the Mushroom Kingdom and Rabbids mash-up that they have had the chance to explore again.

That isn’t to say that Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope lacks moments that are either memorable or meaningful. There is a lengthy side quest on Palette Prime that will linger in my memory for some time, that, starting out with a humorous cutscene in which Seetlopek the lumberjack is unable to chop wood after someone stole his axe, much later sees him meet Spellbound Woods’ Dryad who opens his eyes to the damage that his endless tree chopping is causing. It is heartfelt and delivered with such care and meaning, that I really hope players don’t miss out on it seeing as it’s an optional side quest.

The other criticism that I have is for the game’s newfound voice acting. I’m not completely opposed to the Rabbids’ quips in battle encounters, but they are either light-hearted and work – such as Rabbid Mario and Rabbid Rosalina – or become an irritation, as with Rabbid Peach. I personally prefer the Rabbids’ wordless overexaggerated reactions to what happens around them in the original game, a style that’s not too dissimilar to Aardman’s success with its Wallace and Gromit or Shaun the Sheep series. I’m sure that the team was nervous about the decision, but it’s wildly inconsistent and repetitive in its implementation across the adventure. The worst offender is the overly-energetic Beep-O who I found insufferable in nearly every cutscene. This was a particular shame as the direction for Jeanie – the Rabbid Spaceship’s Artificial Intelligence – is faultless in comparison, and could have easily carried the game’s central storyline on her own throughout.

It isn’t without its missteps, but, on the whole, Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope can be seen as a triumph of galactic proportions. Bolder and more daring in its vision for the unexpected collision of its Heroes compared with the original game, it is the exploration of its planets and the cosmic-powered combat system that underpin what amounts to an exceptional experience. It may perhaps be lacking the heart of its predecessor, but it certainly isn’t short on heroics.

Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Ubisoft

Total Score
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