When Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle was first leaked on the internet gamers were in disbelief. Nintendo have historically been protective of their franchises, and of all things a Mario and Rabbids crossover seemed like an odd choice. Fast forward to E3 this year and it was obvious Ubisoft and Nintendo knew what they were doing. The two franchises mesh in such a seamless manner, complementing their heartfelt tones and general wackiness. With compelling gameplay, fantastic humour and a tremendous amount of content packed into this unlikely project, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a welcome addition to any Switch owner’s library.
The game begins in the real world with an unnamed Nintendo fanatic speaking to their virtual assistant, Beep-O, about their invention the SupaMerge. The SupaMerge has the ability to merge any two objects to create something new, but is currently malfunctioning. Frustrated with the issue, the inventor decides to take a break and leaves the room. While they are gone, the Rabbids warp into the room using their Time Machine and inadvertently wreak havoc with the SupaMerge. The device malfunctions and causes the Time Machine to merge with a Mario poster, which somehow corrupts the Rabbids and dumps them into the Mushroom Kingdom. Here the corrupt Rabbids cause trouble for the populace of the Kingdom, except for cosplayers Rabbid Peach and Rabbid Luigi who team up with Mario and Beep-O to retrieve the SupaMerge and restore their Rabbid family.
The opening scene alone is ridiculous, straight to the point and outright weird. Yet, it works! The Mario and Rabbid games have never been known for their compelling stories, so Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle does just enough to fill in the blanks and puts the focus on fun and engagement. Cutscenes are regular throughout the adventure, but notably they tend to lean more on gags and keeping the humour flowing. An example is Rabbid Peach, who is constantly shown taking selfies in hilarious scenarios. That giant boss you just defeated? Rabbid Peach is going to get a quick selfie (or three) as they tumble to their doom. Or how about Luigi sneaking up behind Rabbid Peach to get a look at what’s on her phone? It goes a long way in helping you connect with the characters as they explore the Mushroom Kingdom.
Gameplay is split up into two main sections; combat and exploration. Combat has been clearly influenced by titles like XCOM, where the aim is to defeat all enemies on a grid-based battlefield with a three-man squad. Battles are turn-based and have an emphasis on using walls and other objects in the environment to hide and protect yourself from enemy attacks. Characters are typically equipped with a primary and secondary weapon, and have special abilities and other traits which are unique to each individual. Mario for example, is equipped with a standard mid-range gun, but also has the ability to stomp on the heads of enemies when performing a team jump (where a teammate helps you travel further by launching you into the air), and can also activate Hero’s Sight which lets him shoot at moving targets during an enemy’s turn. Princess Peach on the other hand, has a scatter fire weapon which damages all friends and foes across a wide area. She can also heal teammates and herself after landing from a team jump, throw grenades at enemies and increase the defense of allies. There are literally dozens of abilities and character combinations, paving the way for lots of different strategies to suit almost any play style.
But this only scratches the surface of what Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle has to offer. DIfferent battlefields will represent different scenarios. There are Rabbid enemy types which are standard grunts, tanks which counter attacks if provoked even when it is not their turn, and even Rabbids which have a shield and can only be attacked from behind. More interestingly are the mini and normal boss Rabbids, which range from a pyromaniac piranha plant bunny to a giant abominable snowman. Even the actual battlefield will contain the occasional tornado or chain chomp hazard, as well as warp pipes that lead to different vantage points. This game is very much about strategy and planning out your moves accordingly, and with the great variety of enemies and obstacles on offer no two battles are ever quite the same.
You would be forgiven to think this game has an easy difficulty given it’s aimed towards a family friendly market, yet Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle will punish players that charge blindly into battle. There is an Easy Mode option which gives players extra health, but younger gamers may still find the title to be a little difficult to complete. Typically, worlds are broken up into sub-areas which feature multiple battle arenas and only after completing all of them will your characters’ health be restored. This again forces you to be more strategic in your approach, managing your health and sizing up any risky maneuvers. The overall difficulty is mostly balanced, with the game offering weapon upgrades and power orbs (for character skill trees) at just the right moment before stronger foes get too overbearing.
The camera can occasionally get in the way during combat. Particularly when you’re performing an attack, enemy stats (health, likelihood of attack hitting target, etc) can stack on top of each and become a blurred mess. The camera is locked and can only be flicked between a few different angles, but sometimes this just causes the stats to go offscreen. This is only a minor issue though, and it happens infrequently enough to not become too worrysome.
The exploration side of the game feels very Mario-like, with worlds containing plenty of hidden pathways, minor puzzles and collectibles. The puzzles usually only require activating switches to access hidden paths, but there are also “collect the red/blue coin” challenges and mazes to navigate. Beep-O will gain access to new abilities as you progress through the game, encouraging you to return to previously visited areas to uncover anything you missed. Aside from concept art, music tracks and 3D models to collect, completed areas will also boast additional challenges which reward you with bonus coins and power orbs. Coupled with the ability to go back to previous battles and obtain a better ranking, there’s a lot of content here that will keep even the most diehard completionist occupied.
Separate from the main story are local co-op multiplayer missions which can be completed with one other player. Missions are unlocked after completing each world, and will see each player take control of two characters. The gameplay is otherwise identical, but we can’t help but feel Ubisoft missed an opportunity by not introducing a three-player multiplayer option for the story mode, or at the very least an online option.
One side note that’s worth mentioning is how suited Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is towards both TV and portable modes for the Switch. Battles don’t usually last longer than five-ten minutes each, making the title perfect for commutes on public transport or just quick sessions whenever you get a spare moment. Ubisoft have clearly thought of the Switch’s appeal and designed their game accordingly to suit both a home and handheld console.
Visually the game has a distinctive cartoon vive. The environment is colourful and bright, and often uses subtle particul effects to enhance the aesthetic feel of worlds. An example is the pollen that casually floats in the air in grassland environments, while sandstorms prompt darker, murkier surroundings in desert levels. There’s usually a lot of stuff happening in the background as well, whether that be Rabbids getting up to mischief or there just being artifacts and other references to both franchises littered throughout. It goes a long way in adding appeal and charm to the world. There are some occasional frame rate drops when traversing larger areas or when a lot of action is happening on screen, but these don’t detract too much from the overall experience.
Orchestral tones liven up the surroundings, often featuring remixed tunes for areas such as Princess Peach’s Castle. Boss Battle music is chaotic and over-the-top, quite the contrast to the light and whimsical tunes for other areas. And yes, expect the Rabbids’ trademark “BAAAHHHH!” to be yelled very, VERY frequently.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is one of those unique games that doesn’t come often. It’s definitely a weird concept on paper, and yet it works brilliantly thanks to clever gameplay design and appreciation for both franchises. Ubisoft have crafted something very special here, and while there are some minor issues overall it’s difficult to find fault with the title. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle comes highly recommended for all Switch owners.
- Humourous characters and appeal - Great strategic gameplay - Lots of collectibles and replay value
- Some minor camera issues - May be a little difficult for younger gamers