Mario‘s (proper) Switch debut sees the iconic plumber join Ubisoft‘s Rabbids in an unlikely alliance to save the Mushroom Kingdom using face-to-face combat and firearms.
Arriving just a few months after details about it first leaked, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is an XCOM-inspired battle-exploration game that as a concept is no less absurd now than when we first covered it. But despite that, Mario‘s first non-ported appearance on the Switch is vibrant, refreshing and a whole lot of fun.
If you’re not familiar with the Rabbids then they’re essentially gaming’s equivalent of the Minions from Despicable Me. Both feature a propensity to dress up, babble incoherently and derive pleasure from injuring their seemingly indestructible brethren.
It would be near impossible to spoil the plot because it doesn’t really make any sense – however the gist is that the Rabbids get sent into the Mushroom Kingdom via some sort of VR accident, where they duly cause chaos and bump into Mario. You’re also accompanied by some sort of floating hockey puck who provides ongoing plot exposition throughout the game. The dialogue is light-humoured, but it’s never quite as witty or cutting as the Paper Mario series, despite the influences. The addition of the Rabbids does however make the largely mute residents of the Mushroom Kingdom a tad more interesting, bringing out a wackier side to Peach in particular.
Each battle stage is contained within a hub world that is a lot of fun to traverse and explore, with tons of hidden chests with weapons, music, artwork or power orbs to level up your team. Your hockey puck companion gains a new skill at the end of each world, so there’s a touch of Metroid-vania backtracking to unlock previously inaccessible areas as you progress.
Each battle takes place on a square(ish) field with pipes and blocks to provide cover and each character has a unique set of moves – some favour close-range combat, like Mario, whereas others prefer long-range, like Rabbid Luigi. The key to victory is trying to get yourself in a safe cover position whilst unleashing your attacks. The battles for the most part feel well balanced and you can quickly restart if things go sour. Mario + Rabbids also offers an easier mode before each battle, which fully heals your party and increases health if you’re struggling.
Although Mario + Rabbids initially introduces new mechanics – escort missions, enemies that can counter-attack or heal their allies, to pesky Boo‘s that will move you around the stage if you get to close to them – about halfway through the game the only significant change that occurs is a spike in difficulty. You find yourself playing through the same environments repeatedly, just against stronger or differently assembled enemies. It’s a shame that there is no experimentation with destroying the environments or battling from below as well as above. The game isn’t long enough for the single player campaign to become boring, it just works best in short sessions.
One place where Mario + Rabbids excels is graphically – for the time being at least, this is the best looking Mario game ever. The cut-scenes show a marked step up from the Wii U, if at least in terms of the lighting effects that make the Mushroom Kingdom more alive than ever before. Besides the occasional disappearing object when the action zooms in, the game runs smoothly and you’ll rarely see a loading screen when exploring each stage.
Mario + Rabbids offers tons of replay value with the aforementioned collectibles, as well as hidden bonus stages and challenges. There’s also a season pass being offered, with three planned instalments of DLC – the most notable being a story expansion due next year.
Whilst armed combat might be one of Mario‘s least predictable career moves to date, it’s also one of his best. And the Rabbids are a surprisingly welcome addition to the Mushroom Kingdom to the extent that one would almost hope they take up permanent residence in their new home.