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May 2024

Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft
Release Date: Oct. 20, 2022


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Switch Preview - 'Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope'

by Adam Pavlacka on Sept. 22, 2022 @ 9:00 a.m. PDT

Mario, Rabbid Peach and their friends are back for a new adventure of cosmic scale in Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope!

I admit it. I was one of those who initially overlooked Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle because I didn't think the concept had anything going for it.

Boy, was I wrong on that one.

After the game came out, it was obvious that the team had some magic up its sleeves, as the developers seamlessly blended two disparate franchises into one, along with some easy-to-learn yet challenging strategy. As a result, I wasn't about to say no when Ubisoft offered me an early peek at Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope. The upcoming game builds on its predecessor but also changes up enough to feel fresh.

The most obvious change in Sparks of Hope is the ability to freely move around within a given movement area until you attack. This differs from Kingdom Battle, where you used a moveable line to plan your movement and action. While the overall movement amount isn't a big change, the feeling of increased flexibility is a plus, as it allows you to scope out the battlefield from multiple vantage points. I found myself moving around, swapping characters, checking something, and then swapping back more than once as I planned out each attack.

Another noticeable difference is the fact that Sparks of Hope occurs in a different universe. Whereas Kingdom Battle's levels took a lot of visual inspiration from the various Super Mario Bros. games, Sparks of Hope is free to be more creative. A lot of the core design cues are still there, so the overall look and feel of the game is consistent with Kingdom Battle, but it's clear (aside from the first level) that, as Dorothy would say, "We're not in Kansas anymore."

Sparks of Hope begins with a relatively straightforward tutorial in the courtyard of Mario's castle from Super Mario 64. You get to run around and find Rabbid Mario's pants, while learning how to roam and explore in the open world. The Rabbid Time Washing Machine can be seen here, though what it does (if anything) is unknown. After securing the pants, a story scene plays out, and a combat tutorial starts. This should be second nature to anyone who's played any tactics-style game, but it also does a good job of explaining the basics to someone who's new to the genre. After the tutorial wrapped, Sparks of Hope gave me a quick introduction to the big bad Cursa before starting the first world.

The two worlds Ubisoft had available to play were Beacon Beach (the game's first world) and Pristine Peaks, a later world that's still near the start (the save games we loaded into were set at 14% completion). Each of these had been corrupted by Cursa's Darkmess powers. Your goal is to clear each world of Darkmess to harness the Darkmess energy to eventually reach Cursa's lair.

What impressed me about the two worlds was how open they felt, even if they led you on a general path toward a goal. The design team has done a solid job of making Sparks of Hope feel like it's open for wandering, even as you're being funneled toward the next battle or checkpoint.

During my three hours of gameplay, the time spent in battle versus the time spent adventuring through the world felt like well balanced. The tactics-style combat was my personal highlight, and there were random encounters available anytime. At the same time, plenty of optional battles can be avoided if you are trying to get to another area.

Puzzles in the open world were integrated well into the level design. For example, in the Sunrise Temple, there was a water wheel that you have to turn to raise a path. The solution involved moving a set of blocks out of the way to let the water flow. Inside the Winter Palace in Pristine Peaks, a more elaborate puzzle had me searching for the necessary parts to unlock two statues and open the path to the next room.

Party size appears to grow as you progress through Sparks of Hope. When I first started Beacon Beach, my party was two characters. When I hit a boss fight, a third character joined my party and my roster. With Pristine Peaks, I started with three characters and had a fourth join when I encountered a boss in the Winter Palace. More characters mean more flexibility, both in individual attacks and when combining skills.

Due to limited time with the game, I didn't have a chance to experiment as much as I would've liked, but Sparks of Hope offers up plenty of opportunities to chain skills between characters. For example, you can have one party member target incoming enemies and have a second launch said enemy into the line of fire. Or you can use one party member to destroy an opponent's cover before attacking with another. The different skill combinations leave lots of room to design a personal play style.

You also have the option to customize characters by upgrading their individual skill trees and by partnering (and upgrading) different Sparks with each of your team members. Sparks have their own unique names and abilities, and they can level up to unlock more. For example, an early Spark is Pyrostar. You can use Pyrostar to add a burn attack to weapons and increase your defense against burn attacks. Sparks can be swapped freely among party members, so it's a good idea to keep a balanced set equipped for most fights. You can also take a look at visible enemies before a battle starts and check their weaknesses. Once you know that, update your Sparks appropriately.

The creative humor and colorful design pulled me in, but it was the underlying gameplay that really hooked me. The core gameplay loop is classic tactics through and through. It's a genre that doesn't get as much love as it used to, so it's great seeing a developer put together a title that appears to have depth but is still accessible enough for new players.

I only had three hours with the game, but Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope left such a good impression that I'm considering picking up a Switch for myself. The other writers might get annoyed if I start monopolizing the office equipment. Check back next month for our full verdict.

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