Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle (Switch)

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Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle (Switch)

Postby Jonasbrother » July 22nd, 2023, 11:09 pm

So I read VGC’s review of this game and was immediately curious - the idea of a company like Ubisoft utilizing Mario licensed characters intrigued me, because it’s something I never saw growing up. Because Mario + Rabbids sold a lot of units and was even offered for free via download to Nintendo online members for a while, you can get the physical release of this game for dirt cheap, I picked up my copy used in almost new condition for $25 CAD.

I’ve spent about 20 hours on the game so far and it’s pretty good. The game is a military style turn based strategy game that uses a grid like board game setup, only with Mushroom Kingdom window dressing. I’ve never played a strategy game seriously before this (aside from maybe tower defence or Worms) but I found this game super easy to pick up and play for people who are new to the genre. Early missions teach you the key techniques of the game piece by piece and choreograph examples to give you the right idea. Don’t be fooled though - while the earlier missions are baby proofed, the rest of the game is not, and even when the game hints at an optimal strategy, following it does not guarantee your success. I think this is a good decision for balance. Once the game hits its stride you’ll layer the battle techniques you learned in increasingly unique and complex scenarios.

I found the battle system to be very deep without feeling overwhelming in the way that conventional war strategy games tend to be. You get a gps style map to navigate through enemy distances, shot probabilities, and environmental hazards. I can’t explain this well, but it can do things like show what your firing range would be moving to a certain square, for example. However, because battle scenarios layer multiple techniques each turn, there can still some blind guesswork to be done. In simplest terms, the GPS that helps you plan your move only goes one or two hypotheticals deep - so if you want to know what your ranged attack area is, for example, after moving your troop and going through a tunnel - it is not always 100% clear, even using every tool you have at your disposal. As someone who was raised in an era where people analyze frame data of competitive games and calculate damage three turns ahead for Pokémon battles, i don’t know how I feel about this. it adds a leap-of faith aspect for riskier play styles and can punish you hard for trying to play creatively. It doesn’t punish you hard for losing though, so you can gradually work your way though on trial and error alone.

To be fair, the fact that I’m complaining the game GPS system doesn’t let me plan actions further in advance kind of proves that the combat of the game has the variety of approaches it needs to be compelling enough that I’m whining about it. One positive side effect this has is that you never feel compelled to use a certain set of characters to complete a specific mission. They all play differently, so it’s fun to find your favourite team.

So the core gameplay is well crafted and generally pretty balanced. What about everything else?

The single player campaign has enough meat to it that for $25 you’re getting more than your money’s worth. I’m a not about halfway through the single player and have spent at least 15 hours on it thus far. The graphics are nice and pretty. Even though the stages use the same tile and board system, none look like a palette swap, and each world has its own unique enemies and bosses. The music is good and has more variety than even some modern Nintendo releases as of late - you’ll rarely hear music loop for long enough that you’ll get sick of it, which is something I feel is important for a game with a lot of battle screens and waiting around. The cutscenes show some surprising production value.

Most of Mario + Rabid’s flaws come from a lack of polish. Even though it’s clear Ubisoft threw everything they had at this, it’s still an Ubisoft game, and it shows. The character models are off slightly - I don’t think there’s supposed to be that much of a Color difference between Mario’s head hair and his moustache. Weird minor detail but I have to mention it feels strange to play a Mario game with no jump input. Performance wise, I saw a frame drop abhorrently during a demonstration screen, and at one point during a battle sequence the game just soft locked and froze underneath the stage terrain. These occurrences are sparse but leave behind a subtle impression of cheapness that can at times be unnerving. It feels like watching your dream girl smoke a cigarette.

Then there are some design choices that I think are flawed. Instead of a simple menu UI to select various modes, Mario + Rabids uses an overworld where every mode is contained within a house that can be walked up to. You can see the level of grandiosity they had here, creating a whole menu world much like Mario 64 did, but it just feels clunky. Walking around it feels tedious and I get what they were going for but it’s executed poorly. There’s no minimap and you’ll actually find yourself getting *lost* on the way to select the co-op mode! Come to think of it, I got lost pretty often in this game. It really needs a map.

I played around in the multiplayer modes with my girlfriend too, but be aware that the multiplayer campaign can only be unlocked by completing chapters in the single player campaign - may I ask *why*? Also - why can’t I just connect a second switch controller and let a friend control one of my troops? The game is entirely turn based. We ended up just passing a controller back and forth, but questioning why we had to. There is also no online connectivity, something that would be a natural fit for this series. I tried to follow the story but so much of it is text based that I couldn’t be bothered, and quite frankly there’s too much of it for a non-cannon experience.

Criticisms aside, Mario + Rabbids Is a great, captivating strategy title that is a bit rough around the edges and makes some bizarre choices in its presentation. Playing this, you definitely get the sense they pulled out all the stops, and yet it still probably isn’t enough to be considered on the same level of the game series it borrowed its license from. However, it tries really hard to be, and that effort shines through. In trying to live up to the lofty expectations of Nintendo and their fans, Mario + Rabbids pushes itself to levels over even it’s own developers heads - and what you’re left with is something that accomplishes more than what it ought to have in spite of itself.

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