Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope review for Nintendo Switch

Platform: Switch
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft
Medium: Digital/Cartridge
Players: 1
Online: No
ESRB: E10+

If you think about it, it?s kind of crazy that the first Mario + Rabbids worked as well as it did. You had a non-Nintendo publisher being given the keys to one of gaming?s most iconic characters, and with that power Ubisoft decided to pair him with a bunch of comedic characters who previously starred in a whole lot of mediocre-to-terrible party games. Not only that, they stuck him in a turn-based tactical RPG whose biggest influence was probably XCOM. And, somehow, the end result was a very good game.

Given how well it worked the first time ? however improbable it may have been ? it?s no wonder that Ubisoft decided to try their luck again with the Mario and Rabbids pairing. And yet, this yields an arguably even bigger surprise than the first game: Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope might just be the best game of the year.

That?s highly subjective, I know, and there are clearly lots of other contenders it will have to battle for the title in a few months. But if I look at all the games that have come out this year (at least, of those that I?ve played), there aren?t too many that come anywhere close to Sparks of Hope.

For me, the biggest point in the game?s favour is this: I?ve never been huge into tactical, turn-based RPGs. I?ve enjoyed playing XCOM here and there, but it?s certainly not on a list of games or genres that I?ve ever been all that into. And yet, even with that handicap, I was sucked into Sparks of Hope, and I couldn?t stop playing it.

It helps, of course, that the game is so vibrant and lively. While the Rabbids are still kind of stupid joke characters, they way they serve here as a foil for Mario and Peach and the whole Mushroom Kingdom mythology is pretty endearing. The game captures their energy, and it runs through the entire game. Even as the plot talks about a space monster named Cursa who?s infecting the galaxy with her Darkmess, the game still remembers that it?s there to let players have fun.

This extends into the gameplay, too. While it?s mostly familiar to anyone who?s ever played XCOM (or the first Mario + Rabbids, for that matter), it still feels like Sparks of Hope adds wrinkles you wouldn?t see anywhere else. The weapons are appropriately supercharged, of course, but on top of that you can help your allies by flinging them into the air, and you can use those titular Sparks to boost your abilities even further.

On top of that, it?s all done so smoothly that even someone like me, who never thinks strategically in games, was suddenly able to look at these maps (and the lack of grids, which is another big change) and think tactically about how I could best manoeuvre my team around them. Couple that with characters who aren?t just fun, but also useful and distinctive, and you can see why it?s so easy to fall in love with the game.

I mean, I?ve clearly fallen in love with it. How could I not, when it?s as fun as this? Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope doesn?t just prove that the first game was no fluke, it shows that it?s possible to take a crazy idea and turn it into one of the best games of the year.

Ubisoft provided us with a Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope Switch code for review purposes.

Grade: A+