Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope Review

October 23, 2022

Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope is a sequel in all the best ways, evolving the bizarre concept of the original (and surprisingly successful) mash-up into something that’s not only truly unique, but hugely entertaining to play. While the first game five years ago introduced the idea of throwing Ubisoft’s Rabbids franchise into a blender with Mario, and making an XCOM-esque tactics game of all things, Sparks of Hope goes several steps further in importing more Mario into the equation, which conversely gives this series much more of its own identity.

Gone is the veneer of grid-based movement (even if it was cleverly disguised in the original), and instead it’s replaced by blobby areas of movement, where your three characters (of nine available) can move around freely, just like you were playing a Mario game. This applies to the overworld map as well, now fully 3D environments your party can run around in much like a Mario game, talking to characters, finding mini-puzzles and even engaging in simple platforming challenge rooms that you might find in something like Super Mario 3D World. Make no mistake, this is still largely a tactical RPG, but the splash of Mario mechanics help grow its appeal, along with a mix of other Mario and Nintendo elements, like occasional minimal overworld music that wouldn’t feel far out of place in something like Breath of the Wild.

There’s quite a few references to Mario games old and new woven throughout Sparks of Hope, most explicitly in the title Sparks themselves, Rabbid-ized versions of the Lumas from Super Mario Galaxy. The story this time around sees Mario and the gang, along with their Rabbid counterparts befriended in the last game, get caught up in a surreal intergalactic escapade involving an enormous dimension-hopping manta ray, and splotches of ‘Darkmess’ infesting worlds in the galaxy (which itself is reminiscent of Super Mario Sunshine). Mario and his friends resolve to save these worlds and rescue the Sparks.

While the plot at large is overblown, and filled with a surprising amount of voice acting from Mario’s robot friends, and the Rabbids themselves, the game’s narrative works best in the smaller stories it tells in each world, filled with more detail that you can uncover as you explore. It also excels in the moment to moment jokes with the Rabbid crew, particularly with the returning Rabbid Peach as an absolute queen. That said, the Rabbids aren’t overplayed the way they could be, and the way similar characters like the Minions often are, and there’s often quite a lot of humour found in all the new Rabbid bosses, varieties and characters out there.

The Sparks are also one of the key new gameplay developments, acting as equippable buffs that you can swap in and out of various characters, to activate on their turn. Speaking of which, there feels like an awful lot you can do every turn now – you can move your character, even extend their movement range through ‘team jumps’ with other characters, activate Spark buffs, activate auto-fire abilities, melee attack opponents by ‘dashing’ through them, and then finally actually attacking with your proper weapon. Of course, there are some limits to how much of that you can do with action points each turn, but Sparks of Hope plays fairly fast and loose with granting you a lot of freedom and power each turn to get as much done as possible.

To compensate for this, the battles you fight often throw a lot at you to keep track of. It’s never hugely difficult, but it definitely remains challenging throughout. Whether it’s asking players to manage an army of enemies alongside a higher priority target, attracting the attention of an overpowered boss, or dealing with respawning enemy vortexes behind your own lines, you’re kept on your toes, especially in the main story missions. It’s on you to use the generous amount of actions the game affords you to your advantage, as coming out of a battle with damaged health bars is costly, requiring a not-insignificant coin fee to re-fill it, which could otherwise be spent on useful items to pull out in battle. Still, the balance feels about right, with the challenge meeting the amount of player freedom in choosing their tactics, from character selection to on-field decisions, and it’s that player freedom that makes Sparks of Hope feel more like a Mario game than ever, in the best way possible.

If there’s one main drawback to Sparks of Hope, it’s that it feels like the Switch is having a tough time coping with it. While Mario and his companions look great, levels are colourful and animations are charming, the frame-rate dips and dives all over the place. There are frequent loading screens, and more dramatic abilities and cutscenes are relegated to pre-rendered videos. It’s not necessary for a tactics game to feel as smooth as say, a platformer, and this doesn’t perform as poorly as XCOM 2 on the Switch, but it’s also clearly pushing the console to its limits.

Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope evolves the tactical gameplay in ways that feel fresh, but clearly draw inspiration from the Mario half of the equation, while relying on the Rabbid half for the comedy. It’s a formula that works and continues to delight throughout the main storyline, which alone will run you around 25-30 hours, with plenty of side missions and challenges in the open world you can take on whenever you feel like it. It really feels like a group of developers sat around for an afternoon, asked themselves how they could make each player turn in a tactics game as rewarding and fun as possible, then acted on their list and built the challenge around there. Any battle failures you can rarely blame on anyone but yourself, which just makes you want to dive immediately back in to try a different strategy. Sparks of Hope nails the tactics formula, feels as fresh as a new Mario game should be, and is just an all-round charmer that anyone can get stuck into and enjoy.


-Evolves tactics gameplay in a uniquely Mario way that remains both accessible, yet challenging
-Mixes various Mario elements from across the series to great effect
-Rabbid Peach is still a fave


-Man, we really need a Switch Pro to start playing these games smoothly

Overall Score: