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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 Preview - 'Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle'

by Thomas Wilde on Aug. 2, 2017 @ 12:15 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.

Pre-order Mario & Rabbids: Kingdom Battle

This whole thing feels like it was based on a dare. The Rabbids falling into the Mushroom Kingdom isn't that weird an idea in a post-Smash Brothers world, but just by their track record, you'd expect the result to be a party game or a platformer. Instead, Mario & Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is a tactical RPG, which isn't a million miles from something like XCOM or Wasteland 2, complete with guns and the use of cover. At this rate, I fully expect to see a Halo/Gears of War crossover within the next couple of years that turns out to be a cooking sim.

The plot for Kingdom Battle is about as simple as you could hope for. The Rabbids have arrived through a strange portal, and as is their wont, they're destroying everything they touch. Mario sets out to deal with them and to fix the damage they're causing, and he's aided along the way by four friendly Rabbids who are dressed up like him, Luigi, Peach and Toad.

You can also eventually recruit the real Luigi, Peach and Toad, for a total of eight playable characters, with three active in the field at any given time. The group's also accompanied by a robot that does all the talking, a sort of sentient Roomba, and it's effectively your party leader when you're outside of combat.

In combat, every character is initially armed with short-range pistols, many of which are based upon the trademark creatures and items of the Mario franchise. A character that ends his or her turn next to a short wall gains a 50% reduction to the chance they'll be hit by incoming attacks that have to pass over that wall; a taller wall grants a full 100% reduction.

The Mario influence starts to kick in with the wide variety of mobility options you're given. You can have one character throw another a long distance by stopping the latter's turn in the same square, and by running into an enemy's square, you can slide-tackle them for slight additional damage. If you just exchange fire with enemies, the game's a little dull, but once you're bouncing off your allies' heads and supplementing your attacks where possible with a baseball slide to your target's (lack of) knees, the tactics get much more interesting. You can also inflict status ailments, such as damage-over-time effects or a blind panic that makes a unit run around at random, and later enemies gain the ability to punt you out of cover.

What's more, Kingdom Battle has next to nothing in the way of recovery mechanics. You can't really heal during combat, with items or otherwise. The guy conducting my demo mentioned that Peach has a couple of defensive skills, but the general idea seems to be that once HP is gone, it's going to stay gone. You do get a 100% heal outside of combat, but unlike other recent crossover tactical extravaganzas like Project X Zone, you won't be passing through this one by shotgunning curative items from the menu.

The final version of the game is said to include secondary weapons, which grant you more options, and the final fight in the E3 demo abruptly unlocked "hero moves," which activated short-duration buffs for three turns. The Rabbid version of Peach granted herself and units around her a 30% bonus to their maximum health, for example.

That came in handy because even as a demo, Kingdom Battle got tricky. Exploring the overworld involved finding a lot of random Mario-style puzzles, such as having to collect a bunch of red coins from inside a constantly shifting maze, or racing to grab all the blue coins from inside a secret room before a timer expired. The reward for these was typically a new weapon with a little more attack power, which was a big help at the end when a giant Piranha Plant Rabbid with a rocket launcher crawled up my nose. In a land where hard cover is precious, the dude who can knock you out from behind that cover is effectively the king, and I nearly lost Mario before I figured out how to clear the fight.

I'm not the world's biggest Mario fan, and I appreciate that the Rabbids exist, but don't play many of their games. Making their crossover a challenging cartoon of a tactical RPG is a bold, bizarre choice, but I have to admit, it makes me a lot more inclined to play it than if it was just another platformer, or if the Rabbids had settled for guest-starring in a new Mario Party. I'm sure Mario & Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is the result of a couple of design documents accidentally getting mixed together or something, but whatever the method, I can at least appreciate the result.

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