Mari-owo what’s this?
It faced some tenuous rumors and rampant speculation, but Mario+Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is a thing that is real. It combined all your favorites from the Mushroom Kingdom with the eponymous Rabbids of… Rabbid fame. Developed by Ubisoft Paris & Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft this… okay hold on second. This is a MARIO game. A Mario game developed by Ubisoft. Let that sink in. Nintendo didn’t even publish it, Ubisoft did. This Mario game was published by Ubisoft for the Nintendo Switch. Life is certainly stranger than fiction, is it not? Anyway, this game is an isometric tactical RPG with puzzle elements. It is the unlikeliest of combos, with the greatest former plumber in all the land and the videogaming equivalent of The Minions, this game has a lot of nerve crashing its way onto the Nintendo landscape. So, is it any good?
To start, the graphics aren’t necessarily stunning from a technical perspective, but that hardly matters. Aesthetically speaking, it’s one of the best looking Mario games to date. Biome to biome, block for block, square to square, this game uses an incredible palette of every color in the book and then some. As expected of a Mario game, it’s got incredible design for each and every stage, but it takes it a step above most “standard” Mario games by making what is essentially a blocky, cubic, almost voxel-like world and making it come to life with passion. The rabbids look in top form and all the environments surrounding just ooze with artistic merit and magnanimous glee. That’s a five-dollar word you can add to your collection.
K.I.S.S. = Keep It Simple, Stupid. But seriously, the game’s plot is a great excuse to have a blast. The rabbids have invaded and destroyed the mushroom kingdom because some teenage girl made a visor that can combine two objects into one. It’s pretty easy from that detail alone to see where the plot is going. Big man Bowser himself is absent in this adventure (he’s on vacation) and Bowser Jr is trying to make a name for himself. He kidnaps the visor-empowered to do his bidding and continues to wreck stuff over the course of several worlds. It’s all you need to be driven forward; the plot writes itself. Mario is a guy ready to stop the bad guys and restore the Mushroom Kingdom to its former glory. His new friend Beep-O the talking roving Roomba delivers the exposition for each level, and it’s more than necessary to tell you what you need to be doing. Plus, the gameplay is so fun, you’ll hardly need the plot to drive you forward as you jump to fight after fight.
During the battles that unfold, the bloops, bleeps, bangs, bongs, and booms are all in top form. The sound design in this game is satisfying, as all fired shots make the noise they should make. Along with that, the accompanying cacophonies of status effects like honey, ink, push, spring, vamp, and others sound exactly as they should. As for the soundtrack, I didn’t find it all that interesting. The music is primarily comprised of a chamber wind orchestra playing jubilant variations of classic Mario theme songs along with several new compositions. I personally don’t like the style of this ensemble-based music. But, as a former student of the fine arts in music, I can still appreciate the effort put into the songs and can acknowledge that despite not being quite my cup of tea, it serves the game well and is objectively some pretty good stuff.
It was described by many as Mario meets XCOM, and this is a considerably astute observation. I have not actually played any tactical games in the vein of this style, so Kingdom Battle was a relatively fresh experience. What could have been a cheap knockoff turns into a surprisingly deep and intricate battle system. It serves both as a great refresher for tactical game fans as well as a great introductory offer for people new to this particular style of game. Not only is it well designed, but it is also astoundingly deep for a Mario sort of game. You play as a squad of 3, with a total 8 characters to bring into your team. Every one of these characters have their own unique skills and play-styles that you will utilize to complete your quests. Fighting enemy rabbids is an absolute blast, especially if you hate the rabbids. It makes the overworld puzzles boring by comparison, but none are dense enough to fully stop the pace of the action that ensues.
The game is fun but is marred by a handful of annoyances. For one, the movement of characters outside of the battles is sluggish and can sometimes lead to a very bad time. This shows up specifically when you enter blue dungeons to collect coins, and the imprecise isometric design doesn’t do it any favors. You may find yourself failing many times to complete these challenges because Beep-O is usually not in quite the right spot to do contextual actions. This could be fixed with a patch and overall, the sections where you can stop to try and collect some coinage are ultimately an optional choice and therefore don’t hurt the fun factor too hard. The main battles are fun and keep you coming back for more, and that’s all you need to continue this well-designed experience with twists and turns every time you feel like you’ve gotten the game down pat. That said, once you do figure out the optimal strategy for certain enemies, some fights can seem “samey”, but this is outweighed by the number of times you are introduced to new mechanics that change the tide of battle. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself on the edge of your seat, despite playing handheld or on your TV.
Mario+Rabbids: Battle Kingdom is a game that, on paper, sounds like absolute bullsh*t. But when you see the game in action, you quickly realize that it’s possibly one of the greatest collaboration ideas available in the gaming market. This unthinkable combo of hijinks sounds like a potential disaster but is actually the perfect storm. Any game that makes the rabbids loveable is quite a feat on its own. Whether or not you’re a fan of Mario, Rabbids, or tactical RPGs, this game is a stunning and simply awesome game to behold, and it has no business being as good as it is. But it’s here and it’s magnificent, and if you are currently a lucky owner of a Nintendo Switch, you have virtually no reason not to play it.