Hands-On With Mario+Rabbids: Kingdom Battle: Adorable, Punishing And Deeply Entertaining

mario rabbids
Mario+Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is out Aug. 29, 2017 on Nintendo Switch. (c) Ubisoft, Nintendo

There’s nothing quite like Mario+Rabbids: Kingdom Battle , at least not that I’ve played. I’ve never played a grid-based, cover-based strategy game with so much whimsy and such a profusion of vibrant color. I’ve never played a Mario game where Peach, Mario and Luigi packed such major heat. I’ve never played a Rabbids game before or been exposed to their quirky irreverence.

But all the ingredients in this stew come together beautifully. Mario+Rabbids’ blend of exploration and strategy really is fun, giving you breaks in between tough rounds of combat to wander around, collect coins, warp into little timed puzzle levels that pack impossible intensity into 15-second coin collecting challenges, marvel at the detailed, lush environments and enjoy the fun music from legendary composer Grant Kirkhope. The exploration is more or less linear, but with such carefully crafted environments, that’s a plus. We’re all over huge, empty open worlds, right?

Then there’s the blend of Nintendo’s Mario characters, the crown jewels among crown jewels, with their Rabbid counterparts. Princess Peach is pretty as a picture, while Rabbid Peach takes selfies of her own weird little face. Luigi is the same lanky, easily spooked fellow we remember, and Rabbid Luigi slouches around with a sly grin and baggy clothes. Through some kind of bottled magic, the marriage of aesthetics works, making the Mario characters feel just as cheeky as the Rabbids without compromising their identities as Nintendo’s most iconic characters in a roster of legends.

I played through a spooky, Nightmare Before Christmas- type of level full of giant pumpkins, Boos and a general Halloween kind of atmosphere. The music was especially notable in this level for feeling magical, eerie and just a little sinister. After a bit of gawping, I was faced with a “survival” challenge, which was to get from point A to point B with at least one character. The battleground was divvied up by platforms connected by pipes, and Boos and other enemies lurked all round. The Boos were especially troublesome foes as they had the ability to teleport characters back to a random location, but when activated, they could do the same to enemies, making them a source of strategic potential as well as something for player characters to avoid.

I did get hit with the ol’ teleport a few times, and the pipes really threw me. I’ve played a fair amount of XCOM in my day, so the strategy part of Mario+Rabbids: Kingdom Battle feels familiar enough. In fact, I really like how the game gives you so many options to ponder over your moves. You can view the whole battlefield in order to plan in advance, test out your moves before you set them and you can select your characters in any order to better facilitate any combos you’re planning.

I love a game that lets me sit and think for as long as I want before I commit to anything, so I really appreciate this part of Mario+Rabbids . Especially since the pipes as a form of transport throw off that grid feeling in a way that leaves me kind of confused. I think you just need to get used to it, which in my case will take hours and hours of gameplay to do. But after so much time in XCOM I like feeling a bit baffled by something in a grid-based, tactical game. It gives my brain something new to munch on. I also like that there are different kinds of combat challenges rather than just “eliminate all enemies and move forward,” since it keeps the game spicy and exciting.

The boss fight in the spooky level is incredibly hilarious, with a neat mechanic that involves conquering the environment just as much as conquering the boss. I don’t want to say too much and spoil it, but I’ve never seen a boss that made me laugh so hard even while cursing its name.

There’s a great balance of fun and meat in Mario+Rabbids . The music is lively, the characters are adorable and funny with great sound effects as they bounce around levels, get hit and perform their special moves, and even the enemies are endearing. But don’t get it twisted, the game isn’t easy and it never hands you a win. The tactical considerations are varied and real, from which characters you bring with you and how their abilities lend themselves to the level you’re playing, to which weapons you equip those characters with and even whether or not to fully upgrade skills or just unlock everything on the skill trees in a mad dash to cover your bases for anything .

But what I most appreciate about this game is its attention to detail. It’s the little things, like Peach’s cloud of hearts that appear when she heals, or the giggle-inducing sounds the Rabbids make as they wriggle through pipes, or the nostalgia-inducing, adorable way Boos cover their eyes and fade away when you look at them. It’s the music, which is cheerful even when it’s spooky. It’s those little timed challenges that vary the pace of exploration. It’s the weapon designs, the looks on these characters’ faces and the care with which each combat portion’s environment is crafted for maximum tactical interplay. This game is made with so much love and you really feel that. Best of all, it’s made intelligently as well, so all that loving attention to crafting even the smallest point of interest isn’t wasted.

At one point, I wondered if the children the game’s aesthetic most appeals to could really beat the game. But it turns out kids are a lot smarter than anyone gives them credit for, and yeah, kids can handle it. Can you? Mario+Rabbids: Kingdom Battle comes out on Aug. 29, so sharpen that tactical mind and get ready to take back the kingdom.

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