At first glance, the merging of the timeless Mario franchise with the unbelievably obnoxious Rabbids series (think the Minions from Despicable Me before Minions were a thing) seems like a horrible idea. Nintendo and Ubisoft announced the title formally at Ubisoft’s press conference after rumors and leaks across several months. The announcement garnered a mixed reaction from many fans, but journalists and developers who were able to experience the game for themselves lauded the title and urged fans to try it out. What results from this merger ends up becoming one of the most entertaining, humorous surprises of the year and another wonderful addition to the Switch lineup.
The premise of Kingdom Battle is simple enough: a girl is experimenting with a helmet – the SupaMerge – when the Rabbids invade her basement via their Time Travel Machine. One of them dons the helmet and accidentally merges the Rabbids with the Mushroom Kingdom. Mario, displaced, finds two of the Rabbids dressed like Luigi and Peach. With the help of the girl’s A.I. Beep-O, he sets off to save his friends and restore the normalcy of their world. The group eventually adds Peach, Rabbid Mario, Yoshi and Rabbid Yoshi while fighting against Bowser Jr. and the kidnapped Rabbid named Spawny, the one who put on the SupaMerge.
The game does an effective job of providing humor and changing up the complacency that the Mario series tends to showcase from time to time in its writing and manages to make the Rabbids worthy additions to the Mushroom Kingdom. Many laugh out loud moments come from the AI Beep-O and the Rabbids mannerisms, but it’s Bowser Jr. who really steals the show in the humor department. He is determined to wreak havoc on the kingdom to impress his father (who is away on vacation) and laments his “daddy issues”. Perhaps most important to the tone of Kingdom Battle is that the game never once attempts to take itself seriously. It fully embraces that it is a video game and feels very tongue-in-cheek because of that, and it works.
The gameplay of Kingdom Battle is certainly one of the biggest changes the Mario series has undergone in its long and storied history. Taking the form of a turn based strategy game, Kingdom Battle does an effective job of bringing the Mushroom Kingdom, and Nintendo, into uncharted territory – similar to how the Super Mario sports-themed video games have done over the years. The gameplay is essentially a simpler version of X-Com but with much more heart and humor. The basics are simple enough. You move, shoot, collect coins and loot and then advance through the battlefield. The game lulls you into a false sense of security early on and encounters a HUGE difficulty spike midway through the first world that will catch players new to turn based strategy off guard at first.
In controlling your team’s movement, players are able to use long-range, mid-range or a short-range attacks once per turn, utilize their movement ability and use any special ability equipped. By default, almost all weapons are mid-range but the secondary weapon slots open up the ability to use drones that will pursue a specific enemy until they are dead, or let you use a short range melee weapon designed to deal maximum damage immediately. The movement was what I found to be particularly interesting as it enables your character to perform a dash attack or a ‘super jump’ by, quite literally, jumping off a teammate. These options both have the ability to damage enemies and allow for other abilities, such as healing in the case of Peach, to be enacted.
The special abilities also add a degree of fun and strategy to the game. For example, Luigi, Mario and Peach all have a ranged attack that will be auto triggered if selected that will attack the first enemy that comes into your range during the enemy’s turn. Others, like Rabbid Peach, can utilize a healing ability or a protective bubble to the heroes around them to lessen damage from enemies. The utilization of the three choices in the turn based combat – attack, movement and special ability – is critical to a successful campaign run. I quickly learned that I could no longer play lazily after a few missions and quickly felt the difficulty spiked, especially in the first end-level boss fight.
The enemy variety is unique and usually keeps you guessing. Everything from honey guns to spring shooters to fireballs and tornadoes are utilized by the enemy factions of Rabbids under Bowser Jr.’s control and mastering your special abilities to fend off opponents becomes incredibly important the further you progress. Kingdom Battle also does an excellent job at catering to the completionist crowd by hiding chests all over the world. Many of these you will have to go back for after finishing worlds in the campaign due to requiring new abilities the team will unlock. It isn’t so much a hindrance as it is simply annoying. Often times in these chests you will simply find concept art or music selections, but also power orbs that are needed for leveling up and some of the more useful weapons as well. This creates a frustrating experience due to the amount of time it takes to go back into previous worlds and work your way, literally, all the way through the map to seek these chests out.
That being said, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a bold new step for both franchises. Its not too bold to say that this move likely saved the Rabbids franchise for Ubisoft and delivered an exclusive in a genre Nintendo sorely needed in their library. Mario + Rabbids proves that RTS games can be fun, deep and easily portable on the Switch while still retaining a steep difficulty curve and engaging game mechanics. The sudden difficulty curve, mostly maddeningly meaningless “collectibles” and, at times, tedious trial and error bring the quality down slightly but not by too much. Kingdom Battle is a solid first entry of what will hopefully be a new franchise in the vein of some of Super Mario‘s more abstract spin-offs like its sports titles, and an excellent handheld RTS game.
Josh’s Score – 8.0 out of 10