Nothing about Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle made sense when we first heard about it. It felt like a cashgrab that was trying to play both sides at once, a mixture that just wouldn’t set well and would probably feel very jarring- and given the different natures of the two franchises in question here, you wouldn’t be blamed for having been skeptical too. But the second you jump into this bizarre and beautiful journey, all your doubts get washed away. Mario + Rabbids is very, very good, more than it has any right or reason to be, and I for one am glad about how wrong I was in my initial assessment of the game’s concept.
What’s most notable about Kingdom Battle is that despite being a crossover of the Mario and Raving Rabbids franchises, the core of its gameplay doesn’t borrow much from any of the two properties. Mario + Rabbids is a turn based tactical RPG, and for people who’ve become familiar with this kind of gameplay in recent releases like XCOM (or, to an extent, even Fire Emblem), you’re going to feel right at home here. Mario + Rabbids employs a similar kind of grid based tactical combat system, but credit must be given to the game for not just trying to rip off the formula, but putting its own unique spin on it.
Battles in Kingdom Battle are an all around solid and thoroughly enjoyable affair. While not as layered or as long-drawn or even as unforgiving as some of its competitors in the genre, you’ll find that the game manages to always keep things fresh by constantly bringing in new elements and gameplay mechanics throughout the course of the game. Varied enemy designs, each of whom have their own unique sets of abilities and weaknesses, along with excellent map design that challenges you to use the environment to your advantage as much as you would your own weapons, also go a long way in working towards that goal.
"Mario + Rabbids is very, very good, more than it has any right or reason to be, and I for one am glad about how wrong I was in my initial assessment of the game’s concept."
Positioning is quite important during battles in Kingdom Battle for a number of reasons, besides the aforementioned environmental concerns. Sticking behind cover and making sure you keep your characters well defended is often crucial, while being able to plan ahead and make sure that you use all your characters’ abilities at the right time and for the right purpose can also make or break the flow of a battle. For instance, propelling one of your characters off of one of their teammates to launch them to another section of the battlefield can give you an advantage in terms of something like, say, the higher ground, but it also means that that character is going to be isolated and more vulnerable for at least a short period of time.
You always have to keep all these things in mind, while also making sure you stay one step ahead of all that the game throws at you in terms of enemy design, map design and environmental hazards (or advantages, depending on how you use them). Kingdom Battle does a good job of mixing up the objectives of battles, so that you’re never doing too much of the same thing one after another. Not only does this help keep the game fresh, it also makes sure that the game remains challenging, but never so much so that it becomes unfair.
Outside of battle, Mario + Rabbids is as surprisingly good as the rest of it is. No, do not expect a full fledged platformer or even an open world exploration based game- gameplay outside of battles is rudimentary and simple, with its purpose being, for the most part, to guide players from one battle to another. But the developers have still done a good job of making sure those sections aren’t just there for the sake of it. From collecting coins and finding pathways into hidden areas to solving puzzles or traversing across varied environments and landscapes, Mario + Rabbids manages to keep things fresh and without any sense of monotony or boredom. You never feel like you’re just going through the paces, and while the battles are still very much the star of the show, a decent amount of fun can often be had even outside of them.
"From collecting coins and finding pathways into hidden areas to solving puzzles or traversing across varied environments and landscapes, Mario + Rabbids manages to keep things fresh and without any sense of monotony or boredom. You never feel like you’re just going through the paces, and while the battles are still very much the star of the show, a decent amount of fun can often be had even outside of them."
Whether its battles or the areas outside of them, Mario + Rabbids constantly keeps throwing new things and elements into the mix. The game starts off simple and easy, introducing you to deceptively simple mechanics and concepts, but little by little, these keep growing in complexity. And the game paces this escalation almost to perfection, always keeping you on your toes, never letting you get bored, never letting monotony set in, and always keeping you excited about seeing how the game is going to surprise you next. Thankfully, the game provides players with enough tools at their disposal to be able to tackle such increasingly complex issues with panache. Levelling up and upgrading your characters and their equipment is, for the most part, done on a very basic level, but there is a skill tree here, and you can, to a limited extent, customize your characters within some bounds.
On the presentation department, Kingdom Battle is as unexpectedly good as it is in terms of its moment-to-moment gameplay. The game is absolutely stunning when it comes to the visuals. From beautifully detailed environments to fluid animations and charming, emotive character models, everything in Mario + Rabbids looks top notch. Technically sharp and crispy textures come together with gorgeous, colourful art style to make for a game and a world that blend the universes of Mario and Raving Rabbids with great aplomb.
Every nook and cranny has its own unique level of charm and personality, all the characters and enemy units and bosses and mini-bosses (both of which are excellently designed, both in terms of combat and how they look) have their own visual personalities, and no matter what part of the Mushroom Kingdom you visit, from jungles and watery areas to deserts, the environments are just exploding with detail and colour. A few frame rate drops aside, which admittedly are bad and frequent enough to be immediately noticeable, the game is almost a technical masterpiece. On the audio side, the game has an excellent soundtrack, that somehow manages to feel right at home in a game that is about both, Mario and the Rabbids.
"From beautifully detailed environments to fluid animations and charming, emotive character models, everything in Mario + Rabbids looks top notch."
Whether its these audio-visual presentation achievements or its smart, chuckle-inducing writing, its varied map design or its increasingly complex battle system, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is a wonderfully pleasant surprise in almost everything that it tries to do. While a few months ago, no one would have expected this game to leave any kind of a mark in any way, shape or form, there is no doubt in my mind right now that once the end of the year rolls around, we’ll be looking at Mario + Rabbids as one of the best games of 2017.
This game was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch.
Great map design; Never gets boring and keeps introducing new elements and mechanics to keep things fresh; Varied and imaginative level design; Surprisingly deep and addictive combat system; Outside of combat exploration is enjoyable; Excellent sound track; Beautiful visuals, combining great technical aspects and a wonderful art style; Merges the worlds of Mario and Raving Rabbids excellently; Smartly written and occasionally funny.
Occasional frame rate drops; Some jokes fall flat.
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is a wonderfully pleasant surprise that masterfully accomplishes almost everything that it tries to do.
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