Nintendo's Italian plumber has been in a lot of spin-offs over the years. When everything from kart racing to basketball to bumper balls is fair game, nothing should really be that surprising. Nevertheless, the gaming world was dumbstruck by the leak and subsequent reveal of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. A turn-based tactics game developed by Ubisoft, this bizarre collaboration won over the world with a steady stream of solid gameplay reveals and a clever appropriation of Mario tropes. Just the thought of an inviting X-COM clone is a tempting one for Switch owners, and the final game mostly succeeds in delivering on that vision and living up to its own off the wall premise.
The game starts in the bedroom of an inventor. She's hard at work on repairing the overheating issues of a visor that can merge objects effortlessly. As she calls it a night and leaves her work under the watchful eye of a robot assistant, her room is invaded by the Rabbids and their time traveling washing machine. One of them gets a hold of the visor and fires it into the machine, transporting everything in the room into the Mushroom Kingdom thanks to a convenient Mario poster hanging on the wall. From there, the plot sees Mario's usual cast teaming up with a group of fanboy Rabbids and the robot assistant as they attempt to reverse the corruption and bring peace back to the land.
Instead of running and jumping, Mario and his crew of cosplayers must take a more strategic approach. After being granted hand cannons straight out of Dr. Light's laboratory, the plumber quickly learns about ducking behind cover and shooting foes at the most opportune time. In fact, you'll probably learn it faster than the game is willing to teach you during its overlong tutorial phase, but that's probably for the best considering that a Mario take on the genre could be a great starting point for younger gamers.
All the visual tweaks you'd expect from a modern tactics game have been lifted for Kingdom Battle, so you can expect a slick presentation full of stylish zooms for critical hits and overwatch triggers. Adding on top of everything is an expertly composed Grant Kirkhope soundtrack that's filled to the brim with pleasant Mario remixes. Character design and animation is top notch all around and serves as a great showpiece for just how sharp a game can look in both of the Switch's playstyles.
Best of all, this showboating doesn't get in the way of gameplay, which is simplistic in the way that you expect a Nintendo game to be. This is a truly approachable strategy experience with battles that give some amount of difficulty without becoming frustrating or insurmountable. Of course, this does mean that everything is kept relatively simplistic, with each character drawing from a pool of abilities that you can also find on the enemy forces. By the time you unlock your last few characters, you won't need to discover what they can do if you can deduce which abilities you've seen but haven't been able to toy with. It's a shame that characters are unlocked during even the final levels of the game, and you'll be spending way less time with Yoshi than you may have liked to.
In addition to characters, you'll be unlocking new weapons and upgrades throughout the game. Initially, this looks like a system with some depth, but I found that to be mostly surface level. Weapons are ordered by power and there's almost no reason to go back to a previous weapon once you've purchased a shiny new toy (or unlocked one through the game's limited amiibo support). They do have unique side effects (like sapping opponents health or blinding them with ink), but none of those were powerful enough to warrant sticking with something that did less damage. Upgrade trees are slightly more interesting at first since you'll be granted new abilities initially, but every upgrade turned into small stat increases by the time I was halfway through the campaign.
One of my biggest problems with Kingdom Battle comes from the limited choices when it came to party selection. You are restricted to three characters in each battle, which is mostly fine although a bit small in scope. However, in the main story, one of those slots is always going to be Mario, and he's one of the least interesting out of the eight playable characters. In addition, due to what I assume to be restrictions with the way cutscenes were designed, you always need at least one Rabbid character in your party, which means that strategic perfection sometimes needed to be sacrificed.
Of course, battles aren't the only thing you'll be doing in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. Between fights, Mario and pals will be faced with a bog standard assortment of video game puzzles! Pushing blocks! Redirecting beams of light through mirrors! It's all here and you've done it all before! The fact that these puzzles are also on the easy side makes me wonder why they're included at all, and you'll instantly forget about them as soon as you get to your next combat section. These problems are all workable in the long run, but tiny quirks like this add up and serve to annoy players in an otherwise enjoyable experience.
Speaking of quirks, you'd think that the developers of Kingdom Battle would have no trouble piling on the Mario references with a plot device as powerful as "we can combine any two things a-la The Fly." However, if feels like the team at Ubisoft only went halfway. Sure, you end up trekking to a melted Sherbert Land and firing a Tanooki Suit-themed weapon, but most of the enemies and stage hazards are generic in the worst way. I'm not sure if this was because of an issue with Nintendo's licensing or just the developer's whims, but it is just disappointing as a Mario fan to fight through snow levels without seeing a Mr. Blizzard or deal with a generic tornado instead of a Tweester. Heck, there isn't a single Koopa Troopa in the entire adventure! I'm not saying that the unique Rabbids touches aren't appreciated, as I love the absurdity inherent in the existence of a Mario game that references Sons of Anarchy. It's just that I wasn't feeling as much Mario love as I was hoping for.
Of course, I'd be somewhat fine with Ubisoft's original creations if they were always fun enemies to fight, but I can't say that this is true either. The quality of fights throughout the game varies wildly, with some later boss fights taking quite a few cracks to truly figure out. Outside of a specific musical number that may just be the best part of the entire game, the Rabbid bosses are really lacking in the personality that is evident in the riffs on Mario characters.
Really, it's all about the devil may care attitude that Ubisoft brings to the Mario characters they have to work with. Toad is morphed into a bumbling and overeager child and Bowser Jr. frets about doing his homework before his dad gets home. Even robot assistant Beep-0 had some great lines, mostly by commenting on stupid nonsense that a Rabbid was doing just off the path. These well-written personalities genuinely had me laughing and kept me going throughout all four worlds.
You'll be playing Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle for at least ten hours to finish the story with another ten or so if you want to dive into the game's various challenge stages and find all the collectible bits of concept art and 3D models scattered about. Battles are short enough to be a perfect pick up and play session, and I imagine that this game will be an amazing thing to pass the time on public transportation. There's also a full set of co-op levels with unique challenges based on having four characters on the field instead of three, and this is the only mode where you're truly able to mix up who you play as. As such, if you're looking for a huge pile of light tactics with egg shaped miniguns, then you'll find it in Kingdom Battle's endgame.
Ultimately, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle will serve one specific audience very well. If you're coming to this game as a Mario fan, you may be disappointed at the bizarre exclusions, and hardcore strategy nuts will brush this combat off as a baby's toy. However, if you're new to the genre, then this is a welcoming introduction to strategy games with all the polish in the world and a great sense of humor. The Nintendo magic has been corrupted slightly by the Rabbids, but this is still a decent addition to the Switch's fantastic first year.
Our Mario Rabbids Kingdom Battle review was conducted on Nintendo Switch with a copy provided by the publisher.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle gets more right than wrong in creating a casual and fun tactics experience, but tedious puzzle sections and a shotgun approach to Mario references holds it back from greatness.(Review Policy)
- Approachable Combat
- Great Character Writing
- Expansive Endgame
- Musical Boss Fight
- Puzzle Filler
- Frustrating Party Restrictions
- Overlong Tutorial
- Not Enough Mario