At first thought, the idea of Mario and pals teaming up with a pack of Ubisoft’s gurning and shouty Rabbids seems the stuff of nightmares. Then, you discover everyone is equipped with a gun and they’re shooting their way through the Mushroom Kingdom. Surely something has gone very wrong here? Well, actually, something’s gone very right with Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. Ubisoft’s universe mashup is a surprising delight that draws you in with its charm while offering up fun and expressive tactical combat.
It opens with a string of teleportation and chaotic events that defy all logic and reason, but all that really matters is they eventually lead to the Rabbids cascading into the Mushroom Kingdom from a storm in the sky. The more anarchic of the pack go about making an absolute mess of the world, while the more level-headed Rabbids (if that’s even possible) join Mario, Luigi and more to put a stop to their shenanigans.
Quite how they do this is what caused so much disbelief when the game was officially unveiled. As it turns out, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a strategic squad-based shooter in a similar vein to the brilliant XCOM. But, where the game from Firaxis is an oppressive struggle against alien threats who can wipe out squad members for good, Kingdom Battle is a series of fun, tricky and cleverly inventive skirmishes. At least, outside of the infrequent but painful difficulty spikes!
Its smartest touch is boiling down a lot of XCOM’s more involving and complex ideas into something that’s much more readable and easy to pick up. For example, your chance to hit a target is broken down into three chances. 0% if they’re behind full cover or out of sight, 50% if they’re behind small cover, and 100% if they’re out in the open or you’ve managed to flank them.
This doesn’t make the game simple, though. Each character’s upgradeable weapons and expandable skill set provide so much extra room for you to find tactical advantages. The ability to jump off other characters can get snipers like Luigi onto higher vantage points or allow Mario to land on an enemy’s head for an extra chunk of damage. Pipes dotted around each area can also be exploited to gain positional advantages on a target. Altogether, there are a lot of interesting decisions to wrap your head around during each encounter.
You also have moments of light exploration and puzzle solving between some fights. It’s nothing too in-depth or overly challenging but does provide a much-needed pause from all the strategic gunslinging. Some of these areas are locked off with obstacles you can only overcome with abilities you acquire later in the game, giving you a good reason to go back to previous areas for additional rewards.
Despite none of these elements looking like they should work in unison, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle manages to pull it off. For those who may be intimidated by the pressure and intricacy of XCOM but love the idea of a strategic squad-based shooter, this is a perfect place to start. Genre veterans, meanwhile, will find something equally as impressive – albeit with a welcome touch of whimsy for once.
Release: Out Now
Formats: Nintendo Switch