When Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle was originally announced, the reaction was that of surprise and curiosity. Partnerships between game developers are fairly rare, and a successful one is even rarer. Could a company like Nintendo partner up with Ubisoft and produce something that wasn’t a game that pandered to children? The answer, surprisingly, is yes all across the board, as Mario + Rabbids not only manages to capture the feel of a strategy game but also feels like a proper Nintendo game in every way.
From the outside, a Mario and XCOM hybrid sounds so incredibly silly that it couldn’t possibly happen let alone work. However, it somehow does, despite the fact that the game packages Mario together with Ubisoft’s sometimes annoying Rabbids characters. The game starts off by introducing you to an inventor that has created some sort of VR-style visor that can merge real-life objects together. Of course, it isn’t long before the Rabbids show up and suck themselves into a dimensional vortex that leads them right into the Mushroom Kingdom. From there, general havoc ensues and it’s up to Mario and his crew – complete with Rabbid Peach and Rabbid Luigi – to figure things out.
When it comes to design, Ubisoft’s take on Nintendo’s most iconic world is incredible. The world remains a brightly colored, charming wonderland, and takes on the feel of a diorama at times as you explore it. Every area of the game has something worth seeing, and the sections in between battles also serve as puzzles for players to solve as they make their way through. Even the sound is paid a great deal of attention, and while you likely won’t prefer it over the traditional Mario themes, it’s still a well-made soundtrack that keeps your excitement level high as you play. Ubisoft clearly brought their “A” game for this one, and it shows in every facet of the world.
Earlier, I made comparisons to XCOM, and they do surprisingly fit. The gameplay is fairly straight forward and will be familiar to any strategy game player: You order your characters around a battlefield, trying your best to flank them and get off shots before it’s their turn. You can move, shoot, or play a support role (healing allies or scaring off enemies) as you fight it out. XCOM is, of course, the more difficult of the two, but that doesn’t mean Mario + Rabbids is made for kids. You’ll need to be smart about cover tactics and how you place your team if you want to kill enemies fast enough. It’s a simple strategy game for sure, but not at all an easy one.
While the game remains an incredibly fun strategy game, it’s not perfect. While the Rabbids make perfectly good fodder for jokes and hijinks, they still seem to serve no purpose other than slapstick humor. The game didn’t feel like they needed to be in it, and that’s a shame considering not only who was developing the game, but also when you factor in how great everything else seems to be.
Menus are fairly dull and often times look pretty boring, and the game looks downright bad at times in the Switch’s handheld mode. Throughout the game, you’ll be given items and powers with no real explanation as to why, and in a game that seems to be so meticulously crafted, it’s a bit sad that there was no thought put into the more minute details.
Still, at the end of the day, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is a surprisingly pleasant shock. Kingdom Battle is a success because Ubisoft took a huge risk in not only handling the Mario property but also merging it into the complex genre of strategy games. Somehow, they came out of it with an incredibly fun and challenging game. The gameplay never seems out of place despite the setting and is a definite must own for anyone playing on the Switch right now. The Nintendo Switch has already had a fairly strong year, and the future is looking very bright.
This review was based on a digital review copy of Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle for the Nintendo Switch provided by Ubisoft.