Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is an absolute riot. From a rumoured crossover that sounded like someone had succumbed to a complete descent into madness to becoming a breakout sensation at E3 2017 that soon effortlessly won over the hearts and minds of early sceptics, this turn-based strategy romp across the warped Mushroom Kingdom has been on quite the roller coaster ride. And now, two months after it was revealed to the world, it’s here.
That turnabout has been remarkable in itself – a project that was shrouded in secrecy for nearly three years, only for it to leak several months before the incomparable Shigeru Miyamoto and Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot stood back-to-back with replica Blasters to an enraptured crowd at the Pantages Theatre. But, how do the moustachioed Italian plumber and pals come to meet the unpredictable Rabbids in the first place?
The Nintendo Switch exclusive opens with the answer. We witness the washing machine that the clueless creatures use to travel through time materialise in a skilled, young inventor’s basement, and, tumbling out, they happen to stumble upon her latest creation – the SupaMerge headset. The Rabbid lucky enough to wield its power to combine two items into one unsurprisingly finds it hilarious when it realises what the device can do.
That, soon enough, sees a Rabbid wearing a wig and snapping selfies on a mobile be combined to create Rabbid Peach and a Rabbid wearing a Mario cap and wielding a wrench turned into Rabbid Mario, among other wacky results. But, things take a turn for the worse when the trigger-happy Rabbid inadvertently zaps the time machine, seeing the whole room – that’s packed with Nintendo merchandise – pulled into the washing machine. With a vortex then opening in the skies above Peach’s Castle, Mario and pals are soon sucked in and displaced, too. And so, our adventure begins.
Becoming separated from Luigi in a rather heart-wrenching moment, Mario lands in the torn Mushroom Kingdom with Rabbid Peach, Rabbid Luigi, and Beep-O, an autonomously intelligent scientific research and operational assistant that acts as a guide on your adventure. Your immediate goal is clear, to save the world you must capture the scared Rabbid that has now been fused with the SupaMerge headset.
With Beep-O receiving emails from ‘Your Biggest Fan,’ it isn’t long before Mario and his mischievous companions are equipped with Blasters and a Bworb when they run into corrupted Rabbids. This sporadic communication is used to steadily introduce the game’s mechanics to you over time, and, for those wanting to have a team with their favourite characters, it’s worth quickly noting that the whole gang join forces with you periodically as the story unfolds.
Your romp across the Mushroom Kingdom will split your time between explorative sections where you are free to solve puzzles and hunt out as many hidden secrets as you can find, and battle instances, where the player is challenged to either defeat all enemies, guide their team to a safe zone, safely escort an ally, or topple an intimidating boss character.
For a turn-based strategy game, it shouldn’t come as a particular surprise that it is the battle instances where you will spend the most time. Marked with Rabbid pirate flags so that the player knows that they are coming up while exploring, the basics see you move your three-strong team around the battlefield to take cover and flank your enemies. That’s important, seeing as standing out in the open will mean that your enemies will never miss a shot whereas partial and full cover can reduce their chance to hit to 50 percent or zero – depending on whether you are flanked during the enemy turn.
These battles are made all the more entertaining thanks to the way that characters can interact with one another. Performing a Dash will let your team deal damage to an enemy while on the move – slide-tackling their legs before moving on into cover. Even Rabbid-shaped Warp Pipes can help you quickly outmanoeuvre your enemies, whereas a Team Jump can see a teammate roll on to their back and help a character cover more ground by springing them high into the air. This will soon become advantageous in placing your team on any higher ground, where characters can gain a damage bonus when attacking enemies that are below them – TactiCam letting you scope out the area for such vantage points before the battle starts.
There is more that is introduced as the Mushroom Kingdom and Rabbids mash-up continues to unravel, whether that be more battle-hardened enemies, tornados that sweep enemies across the battlefield, a Chain Chomp that will munch any enemies that it spots, or the clever boss encounters that will require that you approach the battle in a unique way – removing Rabbid Kong’s banana hoard so that he cannot heal, for example. But, it is the Super Effects that have the most impact.
These unfavourable status conditions will make your life more difficult in battle, such as Burn, that sees your character’s behind catching fire causing them to take more damage and run away from cover; Honey, that will stick a character to the spot, meaning that they are unable to move the next turn; Ink, that splats a character in the face so that they are unable to attack the next turn; and Vamp, that can drain enemy health to restore your own. These Super Effects will become a more necessary consideration as the player progresses and unlocks more potent weapons at the Battle HQ, with enemies that you start to face later on similarly being upgraded.
While there is no experience-based levelling system, the Skill Tree helps in balancing out the increasingly dangerous situations that your team finds themselves in. This uses Power Orbs that are awarded after battles and can be discovered on your travels, with the player free to choose what they want to power up or unlock.
A clear priority will be unlocking each character’s secondary weapon – introducing melee weapons for whacking enemies in close range with Mario and Rabbid Mario, whereas other characters are equipped with more explosive alternatives. Each character can also call on their own unique Special Move and Techniques, whether they be offensive, defensive, or supportive. Mario can temporarily increase weapon damage across the team, Rabbid Peach can restore everyone’s health, and Rabbid Mario can taunt enemies to keep others away from danger, for example. It’s clear that each character has their own role to play, and, with the freedom to switch between who is on your team, welcomes plenty of experimentation.
That’s not to say that you will win every battle. Failure can happen more often than you would expect, but the player isn’t punished for their misfortune. With characters left in a daze once their health runs low, the Game Over screen will present you with the chance to restart the battle while rethinking your strategy. And, if there is a battle that is feeling particularly insurmountable, the player can choose whether to activate Easy Mode that restores your team’s HP and gives them 50 percent extra health.
If you need a breather from your main quest, you can return to Peach’s Castle whenever you want. This is where any corrupted Rabbids that you take out in battles appear, with what little remains of their questionable sanity restored. Easily bored, they start to use the junk that now litters the Mushroom Kingdom to construct makeshift buildings and these present a welcome distraction from the warped Mushroom Kingdom tale.
It is the cooperative experience that the Buddydome presents where most will spend their time, seeing two players take on tricky challenges in local multiplayer. With each player controlling two characters, it is important to communicate and work together to make the most of their special abilities and react to the marauding enemies that threaten you. It’s worth noting that more campaigns are unlocked after completing a world in story mode, as well as the fact that any skills and weapons you unlock are carried over to be used here.
There’s also the amiibo R&D building, which I came to late. This will let you scan a Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Yoshi amiibo, to unlock weapons for their respective character and Rabbid counterpart. But, when I came to this after completing World 2, the weapons were underpowered compared to what I had already unlocked.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle already presents a lengthy adventure, but, for those worried about brevity, once a world has been completed in story mode, you can choose to return to explore it once again to retrieve any undiscovered secrets, as well as to hunt out Rabbid Challengers – Rabbids attempting to impersonate Toad – for the chance to gain more Power Orbs.
That becomes more meaningful thanks to the Museum where you can view any artwork, 3D models, and tarot cards that you have collected. It’s also the place where you can sit and listen to any music from the game’s soundtrack that you have gathered, which sees composer Grant Kirkhope on a masterful form. Largely his own playful compositions, it is how he reworks Koji Kondo’s legendary melodies that will raise the biggest smile. (I could listen to the orchestrated Peach’s Castle theme all day.)
It is the little touches that breathe so much life, and mirthful humour, into the game. Whether that be the plants that litter the world joyfully honking in time to music, random encounters with Rabbids that have little to do other than to whack each other over the head, or even Rabbid Peach tripping and face planting the ground when rushing into cover mid-battle, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle not only amply demonstrates Ubisoft Milan’s impeccable attention to the most minute detail, but also their clear adoration and love for anything and everything to do with the Mushroom Kingdom.
That unwavering passion is the magical ingredient as to why the Rabbids teaming up with the moustachioed Italian plumber and pals works so well – a concept that, on paper, sounds troubling, but in execution sees every pixel scream with endless enthusiasm, with the developer clearly relishing the opportunity that they have been handed.
Whether you still struggle to comprehend the unexpected collision that the irreverent Rabbids have had with the Mushroom Kingdom or not, in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, Ubisoft Milan readily proves at every turn that even the wackiest ideas can result in a sensational experience. With infectious humour, it will soon win you over to prove itself absolutely unmissable.