When it first leaked earlier this year that Ubisoft and Nintendo would be teaming up to create a video game starring Mario and the Rabbids, many people were understandably… skeptical. It didn’t seem like the most natural of fits, and the hints that it might also be an RPG made the pairing even more unconventional. But when the game had its official unveiling during E3 this past summer, people seemed to get on board with the unusual premise. Critics were impressed with their hands on time (our own Adam not withstanding) and were anxious to see more. Now after months of speculation the game is finally here and to our surprise it’s actually… really good!
A Strange Journey
The premise of the game is silly and the story pretty inconsequential to the action. Some Nintendo super fan is developing a pair of VR type goggles with the ability to merge two items into one. Something obviously goes sideways and the worlds of the Rabbids and the Mushroom Kingdom are smooshed together into a weird amalgamation of the two. Now Mario must team up with his friends and a series of Rabbid doppelgängers to track down the Rabbid responsible for it all and with the help of their robot guide BEEP-O, restore sanity back to the world.
A New Way To Play
The gameplay is unlike anything Mario has experienced before. It’s a turn based strategy game that will feel familiar if you’ve played games like XCOM. You pick your squad and wage war on a grid based battlefield, taking turns against an army of ever evolving Rabbids until you complete your objective. Your goal can differ from round to round, from defeating a set number of opponents to making it to the other end of the stage in one piece. The game also introduces a steady stream of new enemies to keep things interesting, each with unique behaviors and abilities to keep you on your toes. Just when you think you know what to expect, a new foe will appear and throw off your entire strategy. The game does a great job of changing things up and keeping things interesting throughout the 4 different worlds you’ll explore.
It’s not just the enemies and objectives that offer plenty of variety, you can also customize your squad by purchasing a variety of creative and humorous weapons and unlocking new abilities using a skill tree. It’s a surprising amount of depth for a game full of silly characters and crude jokes. But for as deep as it is and as much strategy as it takes to play well, they do a good job of starting you out easy and slowly showing you the ropes. My daughter has played a fair amount of the first world and has managed to grasp the mechanics, but I fear that she’ll be in for a rude awakening once she advances to the later levels because this game gets HARD.
A Hard Knock Life
About midway through the second world it became clear that I was going to have to pay closer attention and strategize my plan of attack. By the time I reached the boss fight of that world I was getting my ass handed to me if I made any careless moves. The fight was grueling and the first time I faced him I spent about 30 minutes working away at him only to be defeated and had to start from the beginning. There is an easy mode that you can switch to at any time and that might be a good option for when the frustration kicks in.
And there is definitely frustration to be had. For the most part the game plays it fair and as long as you plan ahead and study both your enemy and the battlefield and you’ve got a shot, but there are moments when the game is artificially difficult. Towards the end of the game they force you to go through 2 or 3 battles in a row where failure forces you to start all the way over from the beginning. It unnecessarily forced me to waste several hours replaying through battles again just to get another attempt at a boss. It didn’t happen often, but when it did it was infuriating. The game is likely going to be way too tough for kids who want to play just because they’re familiar with the Rabbids from the cartoons.
And speaking of the Rabbids, I do have to say that while I don’t find them TOO excruciatingly annoying, they certainly don’t add anything unique by being in the game and I think they could have just as easily created a new group of characters from scratch to play the role and it would have been just as affective but without all of the ear-piercing screams. But it is what it is.
A Feast For The Ears
One of the biggest compliments I can pay the game is in regards to the presentation. While the visuals are bright and colorful and really make the characters pop, the star of the show for me is definitely Grant Kirkhope’s amazing soundtrack. If you’ve played games like Banjo Kazooie or Viva Pinata before then his unique style will be immediately familiar. His whimsical tunes are a perfect match for the Mushroom Kingdom and it’s possibly his best soundtrack to date. Both his original compositions as well as his takes on classic Mario themes are just outstanding and were a joy to listen to.
The Surprise of the Summer
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle wasn’t on my radar at all before, but now it’s one of the most pleasant surprises of the year. With a lengthy 30+ hour main campaign, unlockable bonus levels and collectibles like concept art, music tracks and 3D figurines of all characters, the game is jam-packed with enough goodies to keep you coming back for a long time. If you’re ready to take a unique, weird (and challenging) trip to the Mushroom Kingdom, then this just might be the perfect way to cap off the summer.