|Dev: Ubisoft Milan, Ubisoft Paris|
|Release: August 29, 2017|
|Players: 1-2 Player|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Cartoon Violence, Comic Mischief, Mild Language|
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle was the final stop on my E3 2017 Ubisoft booth tour, and what a final stop it was! Considering all the silliness surrounding the game’s pre-E3 leak, things were looking, well, odd. Not in a good way. As far as anyone was concerned, the Rabbids have come and gone, and Ubisoft using much-needed Nintendo Switch support to try to relaunch its dead mascots seemed like a comedy of errors. Well, as it turns out, the game’s actually pretty neat?
Here’s what the leaks didn’t show you: Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle plays, oddly enough, in a manner not unlike the recent XCOM or Shadowrun games. It’s a turn-based, tactical RPG, and it’s all about making precise movements and then properly positioning yourself in and around points of cover. It even uses the shield motif from XCOM to visually codify the effectiveness of a barrier.
Combat goes like so: on a character’s turn, they can swap between moving or attacking with their equipped cartoon laser gun. Ending movement up against an object provides cover, which can modify or avoid damage from an attack in its entirety. Cover is generally made of those oh-so-fragile Super Mario Bros. bricks, so don’t expect them to last long. Other types of cover are also scattered about, each producing a different effect when shot at. Some explode, some push enemies away, so on and so forth. But combat isn’t just about taking cover and shooting.
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle may be a simpler, kid-friendly version of the XCOM style, but that doesn’t mean players don’t have to think. The metagame here appears, at first glance, to be all about maximizing your movement potential. Extra steps can be taken in-between moving and firing your gun and taking advantage of those can extend the length and number of options in a turn. For example, if an enemy is within movement range, players can select that enemy, run through and kick them without losing their attack and go back to moving wherever they want within the original range. This is called “dashing” and is monumental for maximizing damage.
Pipes also allow characters to extend their turns dramatically. Going through a pipe doesn’t end movement; instead it suspends it, bringing the full grid over to where you exit the pipe, letting you choose a subsequent landing spot. You can also click on your own ally characters and have them, through bouncing, propel you to a spot of the combat map you couldn’t have reached before. In addition to the usual, simple RPG skills, all these little bonus options can really liven up a turn and make a huge difference in a crucial battle.
As far as the rest of Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, it’s definitely cute and colorful. It appears to be a huge game in terms of length, polish, and relative depth, but the world itself does not appear to offer much in the way of exploration. The path is largely linear, and the group can’t easily drop down to a lower level, for example. The player doesn’t even control Mario and his party; instead a little robot guides the gang around and is totally happy to vomit all the exposition and silly Rabbid gags with a straight face.
Visually, it’s gorgeous; the colors are bright and the Rabbid-style corruption of the Mushroom Kingdom is inspired. Despite being a prime opportunity to coddle Ubisoft, this game is all about the world of the Rabbids corrupting the purity and greatness of Nintendo. The only problem, of course, is it’s such a bare-bones RPG style with simply running around, that there isn’t a whole lot going on. There are no sweeping landscapes or hints of hidden secrets requiring serious, storied dedication. Instead, the demo sees you largely running down yellow paths, observing gags of various merit, and stumbling upon puzzles or combat scenarios.
Speaking of puzzles, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle seems to be having fun with the Mario property, big time. In the demo alone is a red coin challenge maze, and a “collect the blue coins within the time limit” puzzle is also accessible. The latter tricks you by using perspective and (non-threatening) booby traps, although it allows you to try again immediately after you fall for it. The former is a maze in that barriers appear when you move close to them. Not too tough.
With the silly, Nintendo-themed versions of the Rabbid characters, the whimsical soundtrack from Grant Kirkhope, and the bizarrely satisfying XCOM-like combat, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle definitely appears to be the sleeper hit of E3 2017. I can’t wait to sink my teeth into it when it launches in August, if only to learn the further nuances of combat and see if Donkey Kong ever shows up.