Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle review for Nintendo Switch

Platform: Nintendo Switch
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft
Medium: Cartridge/Digital
Players: 1-2
Online: None
ESRB: E10+

Do you like XCOM? Or Fire Emblem? Mario? What about Ubisoft’s Rabbids? Or the Mario & Luigi series? If you said yes to any of these, then you’re in the right place for Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. And if you haven’t heard of any of these franchises, then what are you doing reading a gaming website?! Go back outside and play some sports or hang out at the gas station where they don’t care if you practice skateboarding.

If you still want to know more, then keep reading. This is the place to find out what Ubisoft decided to do with a brand mashup of Mario and the Rayman Rabbids spinoff characters. The answer behind the mystery is that it’s kind of a mix of everything I first mentioned. Mostly it’s a mix of XCOM style battles with an overworld that reminds me of Mario & Luigi where there are some puzzle elements between battles.

The story here is simple. A genius Nintendo fan, like most of us, is busy inventing futuristic technology. The newest gadget is a VR-like visor that can combine items to create something totally new. Like a mashup!

This is where the Rabbids enter and immediately start goofing off and causing trouble. One of them merges with the device and starts freaking out when everything it looks at fuses with something else. Next thing you know, all the Nintendo swag of this inventor’s room is being merged with the Rabbids crazy time-travel washing machine to create a total mess in the Mushroom Kingdom. As I said, just your basic game plot. From here it’s up to Mario and some good-natured cosplaying Rabbids to join forces and put things back the way they were.

You will do so by playing through a series of battles that operate like a simplified version of XCOM. With a team of three characters, your party must accomplish an objective such as reaching the other side of the map, defeating all enemies, or surviving a certain amount of turns. This may sound easy, but make one mistake and the tides will turn quickly. I like a good strategy game as much as the next guy, but some levels in the second half of World 1 made me their bitch just as soon as I let my guard down.

There is an easy mode, but I like a good challenge. What I don’t like is how locked in commands are. Several times in the opening hours, I found that I would tell a character to move before being sure of my decision, and sure enough there was no way to backpedal from that command. It takes some getting used to and I managed to adjust. I just wish there were some wiggle room as I prefer the way strategy games like Fire Emblem really let you nitpick what to do with a unit.

Initially your characters are only able to perform a movement and an attack on their turn. You can do these in either order, which provides some tactical variety right out of the box. Soon you will add special abilities which can also be performed in addition to move and attack. I also like the passive dash attack that lets you damage an enemy who is in your movement path, it’s like a free hit to anyone who dares get in your bubble!

Of course, many of these abilities begin to show up in the enemy’s arsenal as well, so you may find yourself being pummeled with the same approach that once gave you the edge.

I don’t say this is a dumbed-down version of XCOM, because it feels more like a complex strategy game that focuses on the basics. This is the kind of gameplay Mario does well in a platformer, just using basic ideas and having fun with them. Here your characters have small but helpful upgrade trees, you can go back and replay battles you have completed to get higher scores, there’s destructible cover, and chances of hitting an enemy are 0%, 50%, or 100%. Mario + Rabbids gives your chance of success some no-nonsense odds.

Overall the game plays nicely. There’s an option to speed up the action when it’s the enemy’s turn, but you have to activate it every time. I wish this was something to set permanently. After a few battles, the overall pace of assigning commands and watching them play out has too much animation to be quick, and not enough to have a beer or beer lite. This may seem like a minor gripe, but it gets old fast, and Mario + Rabbids isn’t a short game.

There are lots of elements that the developers rip off from great recent successes like XCOM, but it’s too bad they also decided to leave out any kind of custom settings for the way battles play out. Something about that feels like the opposite of a strategy game. A few sliders to adjust the speed of animations, enemy turns, and whether you even have to watch things play out would go a long way to letting players go at their own pace. As it is, it’s just uncomfortable and the pace would start to annoy me after an hour or two.

I’d just go play something else until I felt refreshed, but is that a good thing? If I weren’t reviewing this I probably would have lost interest long ago.

Something else that takes some getting used to is that you move the party in the overworld by controlling Beepo. This is our genius Nintendo fan’s personal robot assistant who gets sucked into the mashup madness. Beepo blends into the environments and is not present in battles, so you have to think of it as a cursor that leads Mario and the gang. As I said, this takes some getting used to, as my first instinct is to look at one of the characters I use in battle instead of a boring blue dot. I wish there was a way to push this character to the back of the line, but what can you do?

I really like the game’s look, as it has great use of color and the animation is nice and smooth. You can tell that Nintendo’s influence is strong here, but the art direction comes off as more of an influence and less of a direction. Mario moves similar to what you’d expect, but somewhat different compared to how he seems in a Nintendo game. The Rabbids look nice and loose as you’d expect from Ubisoft, and Spawny (the Rabbid fused to the mashup device) has an interesting style that makes him look somewhere between the two. This contrast is well done overall.

This is a game that has animation for the sake of entertainment, as characters in the background are synced to music in World 2. They seem a little out of sync, but someone really tried! There are also lots of places to stop and look at how Rabbids are goofing off on all the weird things scattered around the world. I really like this kind of detail! It definitely helps that the Rabbids do more than scream at each other’s faces like they did back on the Wii. They’re silly here, not annoying! Not as annoying as normal!

The humor for me is hit-or-miss. Rabbid Peach seems like a diva and takes a lot of selfies. My kids might get this, and maybe that’s the person this is catering to. The things I do find funny are parts like when you get a game over and Rabbid Peach storms off, then her wig and dress are thrown back onscreen to show how over it she is! This is just one example as every character has an extra level of personality here, and it goes a long way.

The dialog in Mario + Rabbids is more of a miss. It feels like it was written by a Western developer without much of a sense of identity. Many of the characters either sound like the same friendly tour guide you find in games like Yooka-Laylee. You know the kind, they like to joke about email threads and break the fourth wall every chance they get. The only reason the Rabbids seem to have any edge is because that’s who they were before this game.

These are nitpicks and it probably just means that I’m getting too old. Once you get past the boiled-down XCOM ripoff that this is, the choice to go with a strategy game starts to make sense. This gave the developers an opportunity to focus on the presentation and personality aspects, and they took that chance and ran with it!

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a good addition to the current Switch lineup. I’m not sure if I would say that in a year from now once more exclusives are available, but for anyone starving to play a new game with Mario, Ubisoft has you covered! You could also play it if you miss the Rabbids, if you wanted. I did enjoy my time with this, but found the pace of battles to be awkward without any way to customize the settings. I’m no developer, but if they could patch something in, this would be a lot more enjoyable and probably even fun! Don’t expect this to replace the games it rips off, but there is a good time to be had in this weird mashup.

Grade: B+