You Got Rabbids in My Mario!: Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle Review

Posted in Kulturecade by - October 16, 2017
You Got Rabbids in My Mario!: Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle Review

Between the timespan of its announcement and to this very point, my excitement levels for Mario and Rabbids: Kingdom Battle have gone up and down so many times that if you plotted it out on a graph, it would resemble the audio waveform of that classic (and always hilarious) Rabbid “Blarrrgh”.

I mean, let’s look at the broad dot points of this game, roughly in the same order that I learned them: It’s a new Mario game for the Switch (Yay) featuring Rabbids (Booo) made by Ubisoft (uh, okay) with great visuals (Yay) and plays like a simplified X-Com (Boo-urns?). This yes-no excitement dynamic continued to fluctuate over the past few weeks as I’ve been playing the game, and I’m at a point now where the peaks and valleys on the graph have begun to stabilise enough for me to write down how I feel overall.

The first thing that needs to be said is that Mario and Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is significantly better than I was expecting from my initial impression of hearing about the concept. The gameplay mechanics are surprisingly complex, the aesthetics are top notch and the Rabbids don’t annoy me half as much as I was expecting them to. The story is ridiculous and totally forgettable, so to summarise: Rabbids get fused with Mario things for some reason and Mario has to fix it. Let’s talk about the gameplay.

The gameplay in Mario and Rabbids: Kingdom Battle consists of two parts: the combat encounters and the exploration that connects the combat encounters. I’ll talk about the exploration first, as there’s a lot less to say about it.

The exploration consists primarily of running through mostly linear, set-piece corridor levels that are broken up with some mandatory “puzzle solving” sections. Take note of the quotes around “Puzzle-solving” – I put them there because I hate the puzzles in this game and their inclusion greatly sours my enthusiasm for playing it. The puzzles almost always consist of pushing blocks onto buttons in order to open doors. None of these puzzles are difficult, or fun or interesting – they are simply tedious, frustrating time-wasters that one can assume have only been added to pad out the length of the game. Very rarely you may encounter a puzzle involving pressing switches to rotate platforms or something similar, but these are both uncommon and just as uninteresting as the block pushing puzzles. Two or three more puzzle varieties to provide some relief from the constant block-pushing puzzles would have gone a long way to make the exploration part of the gameplay loop far more exciting.

What makes these puzzles even more annoying is the fact that running around and exploring the numerous worlds is rather enjoyable on its own. Despite the limited interactivity of the levels, it’s fun to run through the brightly coloured scenery, stopping every now and then to acknowledge the dumb gags littered throughout, all while listening to that unmistakable, fantastic Kirkhope soundtrack.

The otherside of the Mario and Rabbids gameplay coin is the combat encounters themselves, and if you’ve ever played X-Com: Enemy Unknown, you’ll notice the almost alarmingly similar combat mechanics present in Mario and Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. It’s a good thing you can’t trademark gameplay, because 2K could definitely make a strong case against Ubisoft here – everything from the cover system, percentage to hit (although this has been condensed to 0/50/100% chance), grid-based movement, special moves and even a lot of the iconography has been borrowed from the modern X-Com style of combat. And the surprising thing is that it actually works well in Mario and Rabbids and feels significantly different to X-Com.

The main factor that distinguishes the combat gameplay in Mario and Rabbids to that of X-Com is the flow of these combat rounds. Broadly speaking, X-Com is slower, more methodical and requires significant foresight for success as the stakes are high and the punishment severe. This is less so for Mario and Rabbids; the battles move quickly, you are constantly using special abilities and the punishment for failure is minimal. The special abilities and combat manoeuvres are all designed to encourage constant action, whilst the ability to restart battles without consequence and reset skill trees on a whim encourages you to constantly rethink your strategy – something that is all but necessary in the difficult later stages of the game.

There’s also a distinct variety to the combat encounters that further encourage experimentation – whether it be bosses with unique mechanics, escort missions that aren’t awful or unlockable combat challenges that reward more skill points. There’s plenty of replayability on offer as well, with worlds full of collectibles to find and a multiplayer mode consisting of two players teaming up with a Joy con each to complete missions.

The most common word I keep catching myself using when describing Mario and Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is ‘Surprising’. I was surprised at how much I like the combat, I was surprised at how great it looks both docked and undocked on the Switch, I was surprised at how good the soundtrack is and I was surprised at how much fun I was having every time I went back to play the game. The combat does get particularly difficult in later stages, the humour often fails to hit and the puzzles are horrendously tedious, but everything else about Mario and Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is surprisingly satisfying.

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He is a gaming staff writer for Kulture Shocked and the site’s unofficial southern hemisphere correspondent. When he’s not on the run from customs for importing Mortal Kombat games, you can find him slapping the bass in his Psych-Rock band Neptune Estate or enjoying the beautiful Queensland weather from the safety of his couch.

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