Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battleis a turn-based strategy game where your goal is to complete the objective of the stage, which range from defeating all of the enemies, to escorting characters to the goal zone. You must move your team of three, consisting of Mario, Luigi, Peach and Yoshi, along with rabbid versions of each, through the map finding cover, using unique abilities to give yourself an advantage in battle and shoot enemies with a hit accuracy percentage based on your vision of the enemy. If you’ve ever played any recent XCOM title, the combat will feel instantly familiar, except all of the enemies are rabbits in costume.
When you’re not battling with the rabbid hordes, the game’s secrets and unlockables are hidden for you to find, with some areas inaccessible without abilities obtained later in the game. The overworld also allows you to customise your team, check out all of the cool things you’ve unlocked, and even launch multiplayer where you and a friend can join forces on the same Switch.
There’s also challenge stages once you’ve completed a world that will offer more varied missions, and each chapter offers extra points for completing them efficiently so the better you do, the more upgrades you can afford give to your characters weapons and abilities.
While no concrete information has arisen yet, Ubisoft has promised Season pass holders more challenges and more story content as DLC arrives. In the meantime, the game can be purchased online and instore for the Nintendo Switch now.
This may sound a little absurd, but this is a general idea of what’s going on.
The opening of the game starts in the real world, where Rabbids invade the basement of a Mario super fan via a dimension-jumping washing machine. This mysterious person has been creating a headset that is capable of merging two objects together to make one with the help of their AI, Beep-O.
However, forces suck them back into the machine along with Mario memorabilia that begins melding the Mushroom Kingdom with the rabbids as a stray rabbid puts on the headset. Cue mass hysteria as the lands are flooded with gibberish talking & waddle walking rabbits, with Bowser Jr on hand keen to impress his papa by taking over this intriguing world.
You control Beep-O, as you guide your team around to each themed area, fighting to get back the headset from the rogue rabbid with the help of an anonymous tipster.
As with most Mario games aside from the RPGs and as you can probably tell by the synopsis above, the story takes a backseat here. There’s no overarching narrative like what you would get from playing XCOM, and while it’s always pleasant when the objective includes being able to control Peach instead of saving her, the story only really serves as a reason to progress to the next area. There are some fun interactions with the worlds that you visit, but the humour will depend almost entirely on your opinion of the rabbid humour, which we’ll come onto more later. It’s harmless but not as interesting as the types of events you can come across in a traditional Mario game.
As mentioned previously, anyone who has played a XCOM game will become instantly familiar with the combat that you can expect from Kingdom Battle. You take control of a team consisting of three members of the group that you have available to you to move around the open map, where you can collect unlockables and move to the next battle area.
Battles consist of your typical grid turn-based strategy game, you take a turn to allow all of your characters to move, activate an ability within their arsenal and take a shot at one of the enemies with their weapons. Once all of your actions are completed, the enemies take their turn. All the enemies are rabbids in costume, and each unit type has their own ability to help take your team down.
Attacks hitting are determined by the line of sight you have with the enemy you are targeting. If they behind complete cover, you’ll hit the cover and take chunks of it out in the case of destructible cover. Partial cover gives you a 50% chance to hit, while being out in the open, or having a clear line of sight means you are guaranteed to hit the opposition. Eliminating an enemy removes them from the map, but have one of your characters wipe out and you are without them for the rest of the battle.
Characters are each suited to different styles of play, with abilities and weapons that will benefit different situations when played correctly. For example, Luigi has excellent range on his rifle and is very mobile but is fragile and less powerful when performing moving or jumping attacks so is suited to keeping as a backline sniper, whereas Rabbid Peach has poor offensive capabilities but can team heal and has great self-sustain so supporting from the middle means she can contribute wherever she is needed. Certain battles rely on getting the team balance right and there are plenty of useful characters, even if the abilities for some of them make for strange design decisions (such as Peach being a shotgun-wielding mad-woman).
This is all supported by a skill tree, where you can upgrade abilities over time and as you collect the resources to make it possible.
All of this makes for a slightly more casual experience to your typical XCOM offering, but little techniques allow for more depth than what it may first appear. For example, you can use other friendly characters to springboard yourself to a few tiles further along if you need that little extra distance behind cover or a shielded enemy. The warp pipes to different areas of the map, and the ability to use the high ground for advantage offers a rewarding damage boost that is worth aiming for to maximise your team’s potential. Super effects also add another dimension to strategizing weapon picks, as critical hits can cause enemies to be blind for attack or abilities, be stuck in place and unable to move, and even bounce them away from you.
The preparation and combat are not without some issues. While having all of the characters available allows you to build a custom team, there are clearly some characters who are more useful than others.
Rabbid Luigi is almost undoubtedly the best character in the entire lineup, as his life-stealing vampire super-effect causes an enemy to stay infected for the turn, meaning all shots from characters with low health can take advantage of the vampire effect. It is so much easier to exploit this than to simply use the healing abilities that other characters possess, that I never felt the need to include a dedicated supporting healer in the team. Add in good mobility and useful debuff utility and he’s almost an instant pick in every team.
Luigi is also very powerful. He is by far the most mobile (with an ability to increase the mobility of others too) and his range far exceeds everyone else that having him will put you in a good position from turn one. No matter which combination I tried, none were as effective as Rabbid Luigi and normal Luigi with Mario.
Mario himself is an enforced member of the team as he is the main driver of the story. This would normally be fine, but Mario is actually one of the weaker characters. His offence is strong but he lacks mobility and defence. He’s supposed to work as a good all-rounder, but forcing him to the team leaves a fairly obvious weakness through the lack of specialisation. Having the choice of Mario or Rabbid Mario (who is a more effect close-range version of Mario) would have seemed like an easy way to avoid this, but the game is called Mario+ Rabbids Kingdom Battle so it would stand to reason that Ubisoft would want Mario front and centre. He isn’t enforced in the games local co-op mode, but this does not allow for story co-op which is a slight disappointment.
The difficulty curve also ramps up as you progress. This may be a deterrent those looking for a more casual experience, but the challenge is what makes the game as enjoyable as it is. I personally felt as though the curve was perfect as you progress through the game, but as a game that takes patience and an effective use of your resources on every turn, Kingdom Battle is going to pose a difficult challenge for those less familiar with the genre. An ‘Easy’ mode is incorporated, but it’s battle dependent as to how much easier it makes each one.
The overworld is full of treasure to find, with puzzles needing to be solved in order to make it to certain chests and even secret areas with battles for more unlockables. The exploration element is a fun distraction from the main action, but most of the puzzles require little thought to complete and it is certainly not worth considering solely for this element of the game. There’s no combat here, and there’s little world interaction in collecting, though completionists and those who enjoy checking out the extras such soundtracks, character models and other assorted fun collectables will get a kick out of finding them all.
There’s plenty of content too. For those wanting to complete just the main campaign, you’re looking at about 25 hours plus for completion without perfecting each stage. However, challenge stages are introduced after each world is complete and add to that co-op, and those willing to put the time into 100% everything could double their playtime. More content is also on the way with the game’s season pass, as solo & and co-op challenges along with additional story elements are promised as part of the package.
Being on Switch also has its advantages because of the nature of turn-based combat. It’s easy to put the system in sleep mode at the beginning of a battle or mid-turn and come back to it without losing too much of what is happening on screen.
And speaking of the Switch, Kingdom Battle also does an excellent job of creating a detailed and colourful world on the handheld machine. While docked, the game runs at 1600 x 900 and drops to 1066 x 600 in handheld, which might seem like a dramatic dip in detail on screen, it puts anti-aliasing to good use in order to compensate for expected jagged edges. Characters models are clean and detailed, with animation smooth as you run around the maps colliding with enemies. The game in docked mode demonstrates a detailed and vibrant world that that makes great use of colour familiar with Mario games.
The game is split into the different worlds. Peach’s Castle acts as the main hub, allowing you to view all of your unlockables and make changes to your team. The majority of your time will be spent in the themed worlds that the game uses to split up chapters. Each has a distinctly Mario flavour to them such as the Mushroom Kingdom and Sherbert Desert, and all have points of interest that give the game its wacky personality. All of them fit the style of the characters and game, so nothing feels out of place here.
Whether you enjoy the writing and the humour on offer will depend on your opinion of the rabbids themselves as they all take on slightly altered versions of their human selves. Rabbid Peach for example acts like Princess in the bratty sense, so she’s short-tempted, seeks attention and loves a selfie, while Rabbid Mario and Rabbid Yoshi are hyperactive versions of their normal, more calm forms. Rabbid Luigi is the least offensive of the team but still may feel a little too minion-esque. It’s clear that you’re not going to like any of them if you can’t stand the rabbids, but if their brand of humour doesn’t bother you, they can provide some light comic relief amongst the more serious combat.
There certainly can be no complaints about the soundtrack for the game. It’s not in the same quality bracket as Nintendo-developed Mario games, but then there aren’t many games that are. Kingdom Battle’s collection of upbeat and suitably spooky tunes do the job of building up hype for each battle well and give the bosses a heightened sense of urgency allowing encounters to continue feeling fresh. They also fit the themed worlds nicely and adds to the fairly stable pacing of the game.
Ubisoft has done an excellent job overall of making Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle look and feel like a great Mario game. Its level of detail and polish are admirable for a collaboration that could have been something as simple as a Mario Party type game with Rabbids. Both have a pedigree in that genre so it would have been easy to put them together for a mini-game collection. However, what Ubisoft have created is something that no-one could have expected when the image leaked just before E3 this year.
As it stands, the excellent mix of team tactical play, interesting combinations of abilities and weapons that rely less of random percentage effects (when compared to XCOM) and a world that is tailored to the worlds of Mario & friends and the rabbids means that the game is the defacto best strategy game on the Switch, and is almost definitely the surprise hit of 2017.
The game could probably have worked without the rabbid element to it, and it’s certainly not to everyone's tastes (young kids will probably struggle to stick with it), but collaborations such as this breathe more creatively into existing franchises, and Ubisoft here has done this to a high standard. Let’s hope that Ubisoft can keep up this level of third-party support as so far, along with Rayman Legends, they are looking like have already hit the jackpot with Nintendo’s increasingly popular console.
|+ Deep, rewarding combat||– Difficulty curve may put off some|
|+ Colourful and detailed characters & environments||– Some balancing issues|
|+ Plenty of content||– The Rabbids humour won't be to everyone's taste|
|+ A Mario game which dares to be slightly different|