Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle Review
It almost sounds like a fever dream: Ubisoft, with the help of Nintendo, developing a tactical game based off of XCOM. Nobody asked for Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, but be glad that it is here. After all, the game adds some significant changes to the XCOM formula that makes the combat unique in the tactics genre. At the same time, the game delivers the charm and high production values of any Mario game. There are a few hiccups in what happens in between combat, but Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is certainly a successful experiment for Nintendo and Ubisoft.
While the tactical gameplay in Mario + Rabbids is a basic copy of combat from Firaxis’ XCOM series, there are some noticeable differences between the two systems. The most significant one is the speed of battles in Rabbids, owing largely to the game’s emphasis on character movement. In general, characters in Rabbids can traverse large portions of the map with the help of pipe systems or by jumping off of the heads of teammates. A dash ability allows characters to damage enemies that are in their movement range without using an ability and speeds up combat by letting each character deal more damage per turn since they can dash, attack, and use an ability each time. This focus on movement adds a unique layer of strategy to the game as having height over an opponent or flanking is essential to victory. It also allows Ubisoft to create differences between each of the eight squadmates to chose from, by letting certain ones dash into more enemies per turn or jump off of two teammates’ heads instead of just one.
The other big difference between XCOM and Kingdom Battle is how Ubisoft simplified the formula. By reducing the range of percentages that a chance to strike will land from dozens in XCOM to only in three in Mario + Rabbids (0 percent, 50 per cent, and 100), the player gains a lot more control because the game gives them more information to work with. However, the ways in which the movement-based actions and character specific abilities work with one another is interesting and the variety of maps, enemies, and abilities in the game means that while there are less variables in Kingdom Battle, there are still plenty of different ways to approach the same situation. The game has a handful of worlds to go through and more than 40 challenge maps that have unique restrictions, and the complexity of the combat system is perfect for the game’s length. An interesting touch in Kingdom Battle are character skill trees that can be changed as you see fit at the start of any battle, letting you modify your team relative to the enemies and the map. I still would have liked more battles and more challenges, not because the game feels shallow but because I enjoyed the combat so much.
Where Kingdom Battle does suffer is in what it offers the player outside of combat scenarios and challenges, which is to say it doesn’t offer much at all. There is no base-building, no resource management, and no researching new weapons or armor or combat devices. Between battles, travelling the world is a treat for the eyes thanks to the colourful, detailed environments and the awesome animations (the Rabbids putting their arms straight out to their sides as if they are airplanes, while they run behind Mario, is the greatest thing I’ve seen in a long time), but it is also a slog of uninventive and simple puzzles. I wouldn’t even say that puzzles is the apt word here. These scenarios have no fail state and can be solved simply by moving around and trying a different combination of environmental interactions. Adding to the frustration is the fact that the reward for finding the solution is most likely a 3D model or art piece to put in your in-game “museum”. Ubisoft should have given players more significant rewards for solving the puzzles or at least made them more challenging so that finding the solution in itself would have at least served as a reward.
That gripe being stated, Mario + Rabbids is a great game. Ubisoft may be the main programming team behind the project but Nintendo’s fingerprints are all over Kingdom Battle in the form of a big and bright user interface, the art style, and the many small details that are pleasing, often cute, and completely unnecessary. The music in particular is especially wonderful, with delightful melodies playing over simple rhythms. Every once in awhile, a familiar Mario melody sneaks into the soundtrack and it’s awesome.
If Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a test put in place by Nintendo to see if lending out its franchises to other developers can work, it certainly passes. The game feels like a proper Mario title, not only in its high production values or charm but also in how it feels different from other games on the market. Nintendo is known for always putting a spin on its past successes and delivering new games that somehow feel both fresh and familiar. Kingdom Battle is no different, except for the fact that it plays off of the successes of another company’s franchise – XCOM. In short, Mario + Rabbids is proof that Nintendo is still full of surprises. They are able to deliver a great game that no one knew they wanted, from a development team no one expected, and the end result is two companies and many fans who are all better off for it.