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Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft
Release Date: Aug. 29, 2017


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Switch Review - 'Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle'

by Cody Medellin on Aug. 28, 2017 @ 5:00 a.m. PDT

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is the story of an unexpected encounter between the most famous video game character, Mario, and the irreverent and chaotic Rabbids as they join forces to restore the Mushroom Kingdom, which has been torn apart by a mysterious vortex.

Buy Mario & Rabbids: Kingdom Battle

You could never dream up a stranger crossover than Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. Mario is probably the most famous video game character of all time; he's beloved by multiple generations and has been involved in almost every video game genre. The Rabbids debuted in a minigame compilation spin-off of the Rayman series that served as a launch title for the Wii, and they were popular enough to get a TV series on Nickelodeon. The two franchises could not be any more different, so there were groans when rumors about the game initially surfaced. Those feelings were quickly turned around when the game was officially revealed at E3 this year, as it handily beat expectations. Now that we have the final game in our hands, we can confirm that it is still strange but very awesome.

A young inventor and her virtual assistant Beep-O have been toiling away on an invention that performs numerous functions and solves multiple conundrums. Dubbed the SupaMerge, the helmet can combine two items into one, such as a flower and a lamp to create a light-giving flower. After the inventor settles in for the night to think about the helmet's overheating problem, the Rabbids teleport in via their time-traveling washing machine and wreak havoc in the lab. This includes using the SupaMerge to get the washing machine to teleport them to the Mushroom Kingdom and continue their mischief. As the kingdom's hero, Mario and his friends — and their Rabbid counterparts — try to get the SupaMerge-wearing Rabbid to set things right again.

As in many Mario-related games, the story is simple, and the twists are predictable but welcome due to their familiarity. Following in Nintendo's footsteps, the talking is all done through text, and even then, only a few characters take advantage of that. Your guide Beep-O does almost all of the talking while Princess Peach, Toad, Toadette and a few others lay out some text from time to time. The Rabbids are restricted to their grunts and manic braying, while the Mario crew say their catchphrases and nothing more. It can feel like an older Lego game at times, where universal grunts and pantomiming can develop jokes and story beats just as well as words can.

Speaking of jokes, the humor leans heavily toward the Rabbids side of things, and while some may think of them as Minions precursors, their brand of humor is certainly more juvenile and crass. A good example of this happens early on, when you see a Goomba stuck on a fountain and Beep-O quips that at least his backside is getting a thorough cleaning. In another example, you see a plaque explaining that a statue is depicting a Rabbid building a log cabin only to see that the statue is of a Rabbid sitting on a toilet. Not all of the humor is crude, and the Rabbids in your party are charming, but you should be warned that this is a step above a typical, harmless Super Mario title.

As far as gameplay goes, there are two main areas of focus. The first is level exploration, which will feel familiar for those who have played the Paper Mario series. You guide Beep-O, and you roam the world, collecting coins and opening boxes along the way. Half of the time, the exploration is straightforward, and you have a clearly defined path telling you where to go. The other half is filled with fun and simple puzzles  that involve moving pipe pieces or pushing blocks to create pathways.

Pipes play a large role in the game, as you'll use them to traverse elevated areas or reach new lands. Cannons also function the same way, but they cover more distance. The red coins, a staple in recent Super Mario outings, are here as timed challenges, and the same can be said for blue coins, though those are restricted to smaller rooms. The exploration sections feel like what you'd expect from a Super Mario title but with some Rabbids influence.

As in any good adventure title, the exploration is worth it just to find the hidden loot. For the most part, the loot is merely bonus collectibles that include artwork, the soundtrack, and 3-D statues of the characters. The more valuable stuff is harder to obtain and includes weapons and power orbs that you can use to unlock abilities and upgrade your stats. The game is rather generous with the power orbs, and you can do an orb reset for free, so you can redistribute power orb based on the challenges that lie ahead.

The second area of focus, and perhaps the most surprising part of the game, is the combat. Unlike many other endeavors, combat takes place in designated areas. There are also no more than four battles per chapter. The battle objectives vary quite a bit, so one fight might have you trying to reach the goal area while another will task you with getting rid of all enemies in the vicinity or escorting someone.

The combat system is turn-based, and at first glance, it looks like an average SRPG. Move a character, attack an enemy, use a character ability, and repeat the process until you've played as everyone and are ready to relinquish control to the opponent. You can use all of them per turn as long as they don't have a long cooldown timer, so you aren't forced to choose between attacking or healing. Your attacks also come with special perks if you equip the right weapon. Bouncing an enemy away after being hit, setting them on fire, or having them stay in place for a turn are just some of the things you can accomplish. Players will notice that Mario and company are all using guns, whether it's hand cannons or rifles. They don't look realistic, but it can be a little jarring to see them use firearms in addition to their hammer and stomp attacks.

The combat system introduces a few other changes and moves that make things more interesting when compared to other strategy titles. The introduction of blasters means that cover plays a big part in every fight; half-height blocks provide a decent chance of not being hit, and full-height blocks almost guarantee full protection. Though some pieces of cover are indestructible, most are susceptible to destruction.

Movement is a very important aspect of Mario + Rabbids, since it cascades into so many other abilities. You can slide into an enemy while moving, and the slide won't diminish your movement area if you connect. The slide also doesn't count as an attack, even though it delivers damage, so you can still use your regular attack. Jumping, a signature part of the Super Mario experience, is a bigger tactical move here, as you can bounce off your allies to extend your battlefield reach. Power-up the ability, and you can chain jumps between several characters to go further or cure an ally of an affliction. Of course, Mario and his friends eventually gain the ability to stomp when landing on an enemy, and like the slide, the stomp can be chained but doesn't count as an attack.

With only three party members available in a fight, the battles go by quickly even if you're grossly outnumbered, since you can quickly cover lots of ground and get people into position for flanking or combo moves. The fun comes in using your abilities to overwhelm the enemy. Get an Ziggy Rabbid in the air, and watch both Mario and Luigi use their automatic fire abilities to juggle them. Bait a Smasher Rabbid into chasing you into the field, where a pyroclast rains on them for more damage. Engage in some hit-and-run tactics as you blast a Hopper Rabbid and use your jump abilities to get in a place where they can't reach you. Compared to a classic SRPG, the strategy feels fluid, and the lack of minutiae to keep track of makes it appealing to a broader audience.

Mario + Rabbids accommodates players who are starting out in the strategy RPG genre. Game saves are automatic and constant, so you can return to a chapter without having to restart. The fast-forward button is a real time-saver. Failing any fight gives you the chance to replay the battle in an easy mode that dumbs down the AI and lowers enemy health. Aside from the expected difficulty of boss fights, the regular enemy AI makes mistakes here and there, but they'll also pull off some neat moves and tactics. The game also restricts some elements you may expect from RPGs or strategy games. For example, you can't take back a move once you execute it, so you have to be sure about your movements before committing. Unless you have Princess Peach or Rabbid Peach's healing ability, you can't heal party members during battle. You can't resurrect them, either, so losing a person in a fight is a serious handicap. You have to hope that you'll reach the end-of-chapter mark and get all of your health back.

The game is pretty packed with content. You can return to earlier stages to try to get better medals for battles, but you'll mostly go back to uncover the secrets that were blocked off by abilities that were only gained in later worlds. Going back also allows you to try and unlock each world's secret chapter and participate in challenges for extra power orbs. Then there's co-op mode, which has worlds unlocked every time you complete them in the main campaign. The battles are different, but you get the benefit of having four characters in your party, which changes the dynamic significantly and makes the journey through the game with a friend worth it.

The graphics do an excellent job of making the chaotic state of the Mushroom Kingdom shine. What stands out is the amount of detail in every scene. From the constant lava plumes and the normal residents of the Mushroom Kingdom getting unceremoniously caught up in the mess, there's plenty going on, and it all animates wonderfully. Speaking of which, the animation work stands out on the character faces, especially those of the Rabbids in battle. Whether a little off their rocker or looking scared at the incoming volley, they convey personality that is usually missing in this genre.

However, the graphics do suffer from some issues. Since we're spoiled by recent Super Mario games running at a smooth 60fps, seeing this one run at 30fps is a little disappointing. Granted, the lower frame rate doesn't affect this genre as heavily as a pure platformer, but it would've been nice if docked mode got a frame rate boost if portable mode wasn't able to do so. More distressing are the freezes that sometimes occur during a fight. The game stops for a brief moment before executing the command, and while it never led to a crash, it can be worrisome to see that happen.

The audio perfectly matches the quality of the Nintendo series. Aside from the previously mentioned restricted speech of the characters, the sound effects borrow from classic games to give the player something familiar. The music also takes bits and pieces of some well-known Super Mario themes but adds in a few orchestral twists. The rest of the score holds up to that level of quality, and it is a wonderful soundtrack.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is another excellent addition to the Nintendo Switch's bustling first-year library of enjoyable titles. It does a great job of being accessible enough to lure strategy newcomers while also providing a good amount of challenge to vets. It comes with plenty of content to keep players going in solo and multiplayer modes, and every battle is entertaining. With a presentation that matches some of the better Super Mario titles out there, Mario + Rabbids is a perfect fit for your library.

Score: 8.5/10

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