Those pesky Rabbids.
Let us all think back to earlier in the year, mainly just before E3, and then during E3. When this game leaked the internet went nuts, but not in a good way. Claiming that this could be the worst thing ever. Mixing the legend that is Mario, with some two bit Minion wannabes, The Rabbids, and then giving them all guns. What was Nintendo thinking. Fast forward to E3 and the actual reveal of the game, and suddenly the internet went nuts, but in a good way. Miyamoto was on stage at Ubisoft’s show, giving it his full support and the gameplay looked genuinely interesting. Suddenly there seemed hope. Hope that Ubisoft could do the impossible; make a Mario game that felt like it was made like Nintendo. I am here to tell you that they did, and then they knocked it out of the park.
One of the things that led many people to dismiss the leaks was that Nintendo would never allow Ubisoft to make a game with the iconic Mario in it. And truth be told, it is very weird seeing the Ubisoft logo light up the TV as the game fires up. But that is where any clue to their involvement stops. From there on in, this is a Mario game through and through. Even if it is the likes of one we have never seen before.
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Price I’d pay: $59.99
Ubisoft have even managed to create a story that seems plausible, at least in gaming terms, as to how the Rabbids have come to invade the Mushroom Kingdom. It all starts off with a young girl, who not only is a massive Mario fan, with her room adorned with posters and figures, but who has also invented a VR headset that allows her to combine items together. Together with her AI companion BEEP-O, she tests the headset when something goes wrong and it opens up a portal; a portal that then spews out a bunch of Rabbids. Now, Rabbids being Rabbids, all they want to do if mess around and cause chaos, and in this chaos one of the Rabbids puts the headset on and starts firing away, combining all manner of items from the girl’s bedroom. The headset then overheats and creates another portal, one that merges with all of her Mario gear. This throws all of the Rabbids in to Mario’s universe and then starts to distort and warp it. Having seen all the the madness descend, Mario decides to check out the situation, and it is there he is introduced to BEEP-O, who got swept up in the chaos, and both Peach and Luigi Rabbid. It is from there that our heroes decide that the only way to return the world to normal is to find the Headset wearing Rabbid and try to undo all the of mess. A task easier said than done, when Bowser Jr. turns up and kidnaps him.
As I mentioned before, this game is unlike any Mario game before it. Although there are many things that are familiar, the core gameplay certainly isn’t. We have seen Mario star in many types of games; platformers, sports games, racing game and even RPGs. But never in a squad based tactical shooter. This is where the guns that were so venomously hated after the leak come into play. During each world, Mario and his friends will have to tackle a variety of warped Rabbids, and this is done using weapons, movement and skills. Each character is allowed to move a certain number of spaces during a turn. They can then decide to an action to perform. That can be firing their energy weapons, or using secondary weapons, such as a sentry bot or a remote bomb. The character can then decide if they want to activate one of their skills, like a shield or an overwatch stance.
Those skills are on a timer, so cannot be used every round, but don’t have to be used right away. Once all three characters have taken their turns, any enemies left on the battlefield will then take their turn. This repeats until one team is victorious. Movement is key during battles, and the game add some really cool features to help you make the most of the battlefield. Jumping on teammates will result in them catapulting you further or allowing you to reach higher ground, giving you tactical advantage. There are also pipes littered about the levels, allowing for even more options when it comes to flanking. Getting to cover is also an important part of the game. Let out in the open and the team is open to 100% chance attacks. Cover can reduce or even eliminate any chance of being hit. But of course, that goes the same for the opposing team.
Before each battle the game allows for a tactical cam to be opened up. This gives insight to how big the map is and how easy it is to move through it. Another tool to help you get an advantage. At the start of the game, the skills available are limited, and therefore the battle are easy to get to grips with. But progress through the stages and the battle become harder, but so does your bag of tricks. Each character has a skill tree that unlocks new abilities; so simple movements become more complex and deadly. Within the first few worlds, you will learn to jump on enemies heads, slide tackle them and even combine them both to perform an attack that can really weaken the other team. These mechanics, and the way that the game expertly hands them out, is one of the most enjoyable things about the game. I felt that with every new land and every new skill and weapon unlocked I was becoming more of a master at the game. That isn’t to say that this game is easy, far from it.
Much like many squad based tactical shooters, one mistake can wipe out your entire teams. Luckily, there is no permadeath here, just an option to restart the battle. There is also the option to switch to an easy mode at the beginning of every encounter that raises the character’s health, making it less of a challenge. The great thing about this mode is that the game never penalises you for using it, meaning that younger players (or less skilled ones) can play through at an easier pace, without the fear of missing out on something. You will also be seeing some recognisable faces along the way, albeit many of them have a Rabbid twist. Expect to take control of Luigi, Yoshi, Rabbid Yoshi and Peach during your adventure. Each with their own unique skills and weapons. The only downside to the combat gameplay was that there were a few times when the camera seemed to mess up and I was unable to see some of the action. But these happen so infrequently that some people may never experience them at all.
In between battles Mario can explore the surrounding area, and it is here that most people will feel most familiar with. The visual style of Super Mario 3D World, mixed in with several puzzles to master and secrets to unlock; many of which you won’t be able to solve until new skills are learnt. These secrets come in the form of new weapons to buy, as well as unlockables for the Museum. All of these can be accessed at Peach’s castle, which acts as a hub-world for our plucky adventurers. There are tons of items to find, and perfectionists will want to return to older worlds with new skills to uncover them all. The hub-world also acts as your portal to all prior unlocked worlds, as well as Amiibo R & D lab, so that you can use Mario Amiibos to unlock exclusive items.
One of the things I was worried about with Kingdom Battle is that previously, the Rabbids had been a bit too silly for my liking and I was concerned about how the humor would be implemented and whether their brand of jokes would bring the game down. I shouldn’t of worried. Not only are the gags actually funny, but they fit the tone of a Mario game perfectly. The witty writing and funny slapstick jokes really made me laugh, and the way in which Mario has to deal with these crazy critters is great and has a real ‘Fish out of water’ vibe. But it would be unfair of me not to heap praise on the Rabbids themselves, especially Rabbid Peach. I don’t think was a single moment when she was on screen where I wasn’t smiling. From taking selfies with Rabbid DK to poking fun at the rest of the cast, she was the true star and possibly my favourite character in videogames this year.
When Mario + Rabbids was announced, I was excited, if a little nervous. Nintendo farming out Mario to Ubisoft, a developer that hasn’t always hit the mark, was slightly concerning. But after playing this game I can honestly say that aside from the odd camera bug or two, I would have never of guessed that this game was not made by Nintendo themselves. It looks, sounds and feels like a Mario game. Clearly the developers have a great love of Mario and an even greater understanding as to what makes a Mario game special. All of the nods to the Mario universe, how many staples of said universe feature in how the gameplay works with this unique title and the attention to every little detail makes this not only a fresh take on a classic character, but possibly my favorite Mario game ever.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.