It’s a good time to be a Mario fan. With an abundance of content and a new movie on the way, we might be looking at a new wave of fandom approaching. Especially for fans like me, the casual one who grew up playing the games, but has just recently returned to find them even more fun than ever before.
Whether you’re battling friends in Smash Bros. or hosting an evening of Mario Party, there’s always an experience to be had when it comes to Mario-centered games. We’ve seen our share of Mario games through the years, but I have to say if you are looking for a new experience, and a relatively familiar one, Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope will definitely keep you entertained.
Surprisingly developed by Ubisoft, Sparks of Hope is the latest sequel installment to 2017’s crossover game Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. The game combines characters from Ubisoft’s Raving Rabbids franchise and the Mario franchise into a clash of action and adventure. Very much like the previous game, Sparks of Hope is a turn-based tactical game, where upgrades and exploration are essential. Each of the Mario characters has a Rabbid version of themselves, which at first seems kind of odd, but became incredibly amusing after a while. With a perfect blend of comedy, strategy, action, and adventure, I found this game to be one of the best I’ve played on the Switch in a long time.
The story follows the events of the previous game, but I’m sure you can play this one with very little context. The main narrative surrounds a giant monster that attacks Mario and the Rabbids while in the dimensional Mushroom Kingdom. The monster in control is called Cursa and it spreads its powers into a tar-like tentacle substance called “Darkmess.” Cursa has been spreading its darkmess around the galaxy, consuming Luma/Rabbid hybrids called Sparks. In consuming the Sparks, Cursa has plunged the galaxy into peril, and it’s up to Mario and friends to travel to different worlds, defeat waves of enemies, protect the Sparks, and restore the galaxy back to harmony.
Upon reaching different worlds, you’ll find the maps covered in darkmess. The inhabitants of these different worlds require your help in various ways. Each world is filled with hilarious characters and missions to follow. There are even mini-games and puzzles to solve occasionally that allow you to progress and upgrade your skills. Each player assumes the role of one lead character followed by another along with your flying robot Beep-O.
Everywhere your main character runs, the other two follow, so essentially you are controlling all three simultaneously. You can even switch your pair of characters at any time except during mid-battle. Each character and its Rabbid form brings along its own personality and weaponry style. For example, Luigi is a more long-range equipped character with a laser bow, and Rabbid Peach can do major damage with her missile gun.
Unlike the previous game, there is a lot more freedom and movement in Sparks of Hope. During battles, you can strategize even better and freely move your character as much as you want before you use your attack turns. You can even walk up to your enemy and plan your next move. Just make sure it doesn’t leave you exposed to another attack.
Since your battles are turn-based, you have to make good use of every attack. As the enemy’s strength increases, so should your abilities to match them. There is a robot merchant on each map that you can go to purchase and sell different items. These items can range from health bonus percentages to increased damage attacks, and super effects. Some enemies can deal fire or ice damage, so you want to level your super effects to overpower theirs.
If you ever feel closed in during battle, you can leap off the other character to access other areas of the battlegrounds. When you save Sparks, you can use them and upgrade their abilities to aid you in combat. Another cool aspect is that you can use Beep-O to travel around a battleground and assess enemies’ weaknesses and skills. You can quit or restart a battle as you please, just in case you didn’t purchase or upgrade an ability that is needed. The battles are extremely fun and you can change to any of the three difficulties as you play.
The upgrade menu is very easy to access. Simply press Y and you’ll be able to see your character select, a skill tree with character info/skins, items, and an option to assign the Sparks you rescue to different characters. Another plus to this game is that every time you go to any menu it’ll save automatically, so no worries about constant saves or forgetting. Hit the – button and you’ll be able to see the world map, memories, and progression. On the map, you can view your quest log and see the activities that spread across the world. While you explore, make sure to collect all of the coins and items that can allow you to purchase and resell.
The worlds are all unique and quite fun to explore. If it’s one thing that Ubisoft always does well, it’s creating rich environments with plenty of things to do. You can spend so much time just exploring, interacting with silly characters, solving puzzles, and playing mini-games. No longer do you feel like every battle is a boring and repetitive task, but rather something that allows you to explore even further. Along with the exploration aspect, the comedy and light-hearted fun of it all just add to the experience. The Rabbids are amusing counterparts to their original characters, but they have their own personalities and jokes as well.
With all the fun that I had and I’m still having, I have to say that this game surprised me. I’m sure people might pull back at the thought of turn-based tactical battles, but this game is so much more than that. It’s an ode to all things Mario, with little hints of various games from the franchise. There’s so much to do and so much to explore, my Switch has been in my hands way more than usual. For Mario fans new and old, I think Sparks of Hope is sure to be a wonderful addition to the collection. Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is available right now on the Nintendo Switch.
This review was based on a digital review copy of Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope for the Nintendo Switch provided by Ubisoft.