It’s almost ironic that Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle only exists because of time travelling misadventures, since anyone living in the past would laugh in Nintendo’s face if a company representative travelled back in time, to let people know it was letting Ubisoft run wild with its sacred Mario franchise. Not only that, but the very thought of a team up between the Mushroom Kingdom crowd and Rabbids just seems like a recipe for trouble. But is that the case or was it wise of Nintendo to throw Mario and co in the deep end with a group of deranged beings?
The story starts in a programmer’s geek cave where this talented individual has managed to create a prototype for VR like gear, called SupaMerge, that can combine items at ease. A few minutes into the title and some Rabbids come swooping in a washing machine that can be used for time travelling. The programmer just happens to be a huge fan of Nintendo and Mario in particular and before you know it the Rabbids have combined themselves into the Mushroom Kingdom.
As one of the Rabbids that has fused itself with the SupaMerge starts to change the Mushroom Kingdom, the programmer’s AI assistant Beepo, teams up with Mario and some friendly cosplaying Rabbids to save the day.
Perhaps one of the better changes in the retail version of the title are the lengthy tutorials that explain the various skills and how to use them in battle. This isn’t the typical Mario adventure and it involves some strategic thinking to survive its turn based combat. The idea is to make use of covers (most are destructible) and move around a grid area to use various skills to damage and eventually defeat every enemy. The characters also have weapons and more powerful ones can be purchased with coins earned with progression. Despite initial comparisons, it’s definitely not fair to compare this title with the likes of XCOM. In fact, it would be more favourable to compare it to turn based strategy titles on mobile devices. Despite a promising start, Kingdom Battle very rarely steps out of its comfort zone that it has quickly hunkered down in by the end of the round of tutorials.
Each character has a set of skills and some of them are unique to that character. With progression players can unlock new skills for characters or enhance any that they have at their disposal. All characters also share some skills, such as the dash and jump abilities that can be used to deal damage and get to places quicker on the grid based battlefield. Although the combined use of skills can result in some very effective battle strategies, it also quickly becomes apparent that there isn’t a lot of depth to the strategic side of Kingdom Battle. Some of the characters have better skills that are more efficiently used in just about every battle. What this means is that it will most likely result in just resorting to abusing the use of the same strategies over and over again because the title doesn’t really seem to care.
Even the addition of new types of enemies and hazards on the battlefield doesn’t change much and soon enough completing a battle turns into a case of highway hypnosis. Despite all of this, it doesn’t mean that playing Kingdom Battle feels like a chore – it just doesn’t seem that memorable for most of the time spent playing it. It certainly doesn’t help that every battle is mandatory and the distance between then is usually quite short. Each of the rather short areas has about 8 chapters and yet most of them merely consist of doing one or two battles. Not even the simple puzzles that occasionally pop up seem to bust Mario and his unusual companions out of their rut as they plod on from one location to another on the hunt for the infamous Rabbid, that is somehow causing more damage to the Mushroom Kingdom that Bowser on a typical Mario adventure. Each puzzle merely asks players to perform simple actions to complete them and they all seems satisfied to do the same to the very end.
Whilst it’s not particularly difficult to complete the title on even its normal setting, it’s still puzzling to see features such as reviving characters missing. Instead the only way to get a character back is by completing the battle. This is somewhat problematic when there are enemies that have the acrobatic abilities of circus performers and can quite easily gang up on a character within one turn. The title also seems to think that mistakes are unforgivable, since it doesn’t even give the option to confirm a character’s movement action on the grind – instead there is only one chance to do it and then there is no backing out. It’s odd given that it lets players cancel the movement action when using a pipe or when choosing to potentially hit an enemy. Then there is the fact that some special blocks, likes ones that explode when fired on, can only be targeted if an enemy is behind or near it. Or how only skills used by two characters can heal other characters, healing items are a rarity that are only used outside of battle and the characters are only automatically healed at the end of a chapter.
The title attempts to make battles feel less repetitive by having different goals. It’s a valiant effort and one that does make it more compelling to play at times, but doesn’t always works in its favour. There are times when weak characters need to be taken to a safe area on the battle grid and it’s not that enjoyable. In a way one of the biggest enemies of the battles is just how restrictive they can feel and how every battle must be fought, no matter how trivial it may seem.
On the surface Kingdom Battle looks like a Mario title with the areas explored by the team looking similar to the overground areas seen on the Nintendo Wii U title, Super Mario 3D World. Yet it’s also difficult not to be baffled by its bizarre user interface choices, such as the use of a very small font size for most of its text and various baffling stats representing the effectiveness of attacks and such. In a way, it’s this not very user-friendly user interface that makes this more similar to a turn based strategy mobile device title.
Despite all of its technical shortcomings, there is no denying that Kingdom Battle more than makes up for it with its superb use of the Mushroom Kingdom and modern culture references. Even the sometimes crude humour that Ubisoft seem so fond of doesn’t spoil the interactions between the Mushroom Kingdom natives and the wacky Rabbids. Perhaps in a stroke of genius, the development team decided to reference just about every trendy current pop culture reference from the selfie obsessed vacuous Princess Peach cosplaying Rabbid to the daddy issues plaguing Bowser’s offspring.
In a way it’s almost like Kingdom Battle is an interactive experience to find out what the Mushroom Kingdom would look like if it was suddenly overrun by teenagers and a couple of vapid grown adults. The more outlandish the scene is, the better since it produces some truly vacant glances from Mario and his pals, who are probably thinking about the paychecks they will get out of babysitting these overgrown toddlers. Even some of the fights are made a bit more memorable due to how they make use of the Mario brand, such as the corporate ape like Rabbid. It’s this very same over the top humour that often saves the title from becoming a chore.
The title attempts to make itself last longer by making some very small sections only available after Beepo gains a new skill at the end of each chapter. It’s not particularly appealing to go back to explore what are already pretty linear areas, in order to gain a new collectible or two, unless it’s someone who must collect everything in a game. There is also a mode called Buddydome, where two players can team up to complete a limited set of challenges, with each player controlling two characters.
If anything it can be seen that the game’s best trait is its humour and how it manages to effortlessly mix the world of Rabbids with that of the Mushroom Kingdom. It’s almost like seeing poor people turn up to a posh restaurant as Mario and co try to act with dignity around the unhinged Rabbids.
It’s fascinating to realise that Mario and his pals using actual guns isn’t the most unusual sight in the game. It’s how mundane it can feel during some of its weakest moments, which are often found in battles. Whilst it’s understandable that the development team may have been focusing on an experience tailored for hardware that can function as a handheld device, it still doesn’t make it any less tedious to complete some of the battle focused chapters. It’s definitely not on the same level as a typical Mario adventure. But it’s still a valiant effort and it’s clear that the development team has put a lot of thought into how it used such an esteemed Nintendo franchise.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle has a promising start that fizzes out as it gets nearer to the finish line. The humour might be on point, but like all pop culture references, it too won’t be remembered in the long run for being nothing more than a competent adventure that seems content with settling for average turn based strategy antics.