"If there was going to be an RTS for all ages, this is most certainly it, thanks to Ubisoft. And Nintendo."
Among some there is a serious disenchantment with the “lackey” type character, such as Minions and Rabbids. I recall back in the Wii days - not that long ago, kiddo - that they seemed obnoxious and irrelevant to me. Rambunctious and immature amid the horde of disposable mini game collections, I can forgive myself for not giving them a chance. Years later, however, Ubisoft has won Nintendo’s trust - which is to say had a good pitch and agreeable license terms - which has brought us to our current situation: A Real Time Strategy game involving rabbit-like characters in which Mario and cohorts wield weapons that are unmistakably of the projectile firing description.
I wasn’t the only one curious at the time. Certainly more is borrowed from Mega Man’s Buster aesthetic than traditional firearms, but here we are. Mario is finally playing with guns. I won’t get into the ethos of the matter, because the entire game is oriented around harmless fun. What I will say is that no one gets hurt: The goal is to restore everyone and everything to normalcy, and you do that with a liberal application of explosive energy and a well animated matrix-style particle field. There are no moral quandaries to get riled up about in this battlefield romp, and more than ample content to get through. So why don’t we get started?
As this is new territory for the Mario franchise, it does require some setting up, story-wise. Ubisoft is up to the task, naturally, and brings with it their signature talent and attention to detail. They do know how to produce games in quantity and quality, regardless of the political suitability of the content. There’s nothing to spoil, really, but I’ll be cautious with particulars out of respect: An ingenious female fan is tinkering with her latest gadget, a set of goggles that metamorphoses two objects into a combination thereof. Several things go wrong, the Rabbids become involved, and somehow a washing machine transports them to the Mushroom Kingdom where things go very strangely indeed.
It’s hard not to be impressed by the fluency of the animation and richness of world design. Everything is done in-engine, near as I can tell, and it makes the Switch look quite competent. There’s a good variety in tone, character expression and plenty of visual eccentricities for all age groups. The humour is infantile without being distasteful - except for one visual gag that skirts the territory. On the whole the story is exuberant, lively and doesn’t dally on a single event for too long. It is to this title’s credit that the soundtrack isn’t going to be annoying parents, something I’ll discuss more in detail later in this review.
On to the mechanics, which are based on typical grid based strategic combat, albeit with some clever and fun ideas that make for dynamic and varied options. Everyone gets a turn and can perform actions within three categories: Attack, Movement and Ability. You can apply all of these in a turn in any order of execution you like, just bear in mind that abilities will need several turns to cool off. Individual character capabilities are centered around a hidden class system. Mario is, for example, a bruiser/supporter who deals physical damage with his blaster and a hammer, stomp attacks and hero sight and a stat boosting buff. His Rabbid counterpart, Rabbid Mario, exaggerates the qualities he’s adopted: He’s physically adept but unconcerned about his fellows and lacks any team support skills, preferring to draw enemies in close in order to thump ‘em.
Rabbid Peach, and Rabbid Luigi round out the available classes as the former is an expert in long range attacks and healing. Her shield provides weapons defense while her team healing skill keeps the gang going. Finally, she has a blaster and an automated, self propelled mine that will follow its target until it detonates or is destroyed. She is arguably the most useful character in the game, at least, for my present skill level and play style. She’s also an overly dramatic cosplayer. Take that for what you will. Rabbid Luigi, meanwhile, sports a yo-yo, rocket launcher and plays it defensively with protective and enemy weakening skills.
You’ll meet more of the cast as you complete the main campaign, and you’ll find that their weapons fall into one of the three previously mentioned sets while their skills provide different situational benefits. Princess Peach, for example, has a team jump skill that will heal allies within a fixed but upgradable radius. While we’re on the topic, upgrades are really no-nonsense and frills, which is a welcome change from endless bonuses. You get what you need as you play, and it fits the tactical requirements of gameplay perfectly. Any deficiencies are down to you, not the tools on hand.
Mario+Rabbids isn’t just a twist on familiar characters, though, as it offers a wealth of new ideas to experiment with. At the outset you’ll be introduced to the dash, which allows you to knock opponents over during any movement you take. At first the damage is minimal, but this sort of "free attack" is absolutely invaluable if correctly applied. If you get the DLC, Donkey Kong turns this mechanic into an extremely effective throwing move that can turn the tide of battle in a single turn. It’s not just engaging, it’s actually a lot of fun, too. Oh yes there's more, but ... sshhh ... spoilers!
Team Jumps, likewise, expand your strategic options remarkably, by literally increasing your movement range with the aid of a teammate. If an ally is in range, they can boost the character into a favourable position, be that in the middle of action or out of danger, as need dictates. As mentioned, some characters turn the result of their jump into damage or team healing, which really keeps things... er, hopping. The Team Jump mechanic can also remove ability and movement blocking effects, which take the form of Honey, Ink, Weakness and Freeze, respectively. Front Mission, in contrast, took ailments less seriously than this, for all of its battlefield effectiveness.
The Main Campaign - as labelled - has layered difficulty patterned after the main franchise titles: Newcomers and players of average skill level will feel comfortable with the challenge curve, while veterans may want to comb over the campaign to access the secret missions and skill challenges, which have their own difficulty levels. This does approach the nearest thing I have to a gripe about this game: The developers give you what you need, in terms of gear, but poor performance can and will hinder accessibility to the latest and greatest. You see, there’s an expectation of performance, in typical Ubisoft fashion, and anything below the maximum will reduce the bonuses in skill points and currency, which of course pay for the essentials.
I caught myself becoming impatient with my losses - or soon to be losses - so I periodically took a break, by literally setting the game down for a day or so. Upon my return I routinely destroyed the troubling mission with almost no effort. Effective and positive problem solving skills will go a long way to keeping your average as close to “perfect” as possible. I admit that I have limited tolerance for the Rabbid’s antics, and have no interest in following every unmarked path this game as to offer, but the mere fact that the content does exist makes it a good value. If you want to sink the time in, you’ll gain a lot from what you’ll learn about efficiency, and it's certainly high quality entertainment, to boot.
On the subject of Rabbid antics, I think I’ve said my part: They’re quite silly and at times amusing, but what really got me to chuckle was what would happen on the battlefield, occasionally. In addition to ailment inflicting abilities, weapons can apply Ink, Honey, Push, Vamp, Burn and Bounce, depending on how you arm your heros. You always have an option of at least two of these. Some are just about maintaining distance and health, but Burn and Bounce can have more comical results in addition to causing out of bounds damage. Burn scalds enemies and allies alike, sending them jumping around the field trying to dose the flames. If they touch anyone, they also get burned. It can be pretty funny. Bounce is less amusing, but certainly useful, as it knocks enemies into others and can knock them off the field for all kinds of cumulative damage.
Enemies, well, they’re all Rabbid, aren’t they? As the story suggests, they’re combinations of a Rabbid and something else from the Mushroom Kingdom. In reality, however, they fit into classes that have fixed abilities and themes so they can scale along with the climbing difficulty. The Ziggy is your basic grunt, wielding a blaster and at times a shield or sight ability. Hoppers do the same, only faster and higher. The Supporter throws grenades and can heal for some minor irritation on your part. Smashers are large, slow and carry a block that, well... do I have to say it? Hulk would be proud. There are also Peek-a-Boo teleporters, screechy Valkyries, sawed off shotgun toting Bucklers and a very healthy array of bosses to confront. Pretty standard stuff, even outfitted with all the personality the developers can bestow, which itself is impressive.
I’m not sure why I get around to music so late here, but in this case it’s so well done that it seems to me to be a good way to round out a truly entertaining game. As you may have heard, Grant Kirkhope, of Banjo-Kazooie fame, has properly scored this title with an intriguing array of themes that include some masterful covers of well beloved franchise songs. His masterful use of mood, leitmotif and even an Operatic performance enhance what is already a visually stunning game. Grant knows his audience: Kids and adults who have loved these franchises since they were littlun’s. If you went out of your way to collect all of the soundtrack in game, I certainly could understand that.
I suppose the collect-a-thon aspect of this game does bear mentioning, since it plays so heavily into the layered difficulty previously mentioned. Interspersed throughout the lavishly detailed world, which you’ll travel to reach each combat zone, there are puzzles that involve pushing blocks, breaking blocks and moving blocks. Et al. There are also platform arrangement puzzles, and a couple of light bouncing challenges. Overall they’re pretty easy, though I decided to skip some of the ones in the DLC. They do change the pace effectively and engage your mind in a different way than combat does. It is through completing these puzzles that you’ll acquire artwork, music, models and cards.
I’m not sure if it’s an Ubisoft, Nintendo or Modern Gaming thing, but I suppose the experience wouldn’t be complete without a collect-a-thon, particularly at this price point. It is a Triple-A title after all. Surprisingly, I can offer the advice that waiting will likely grant you the opportunity to grab this game cheaper than Suggested Retail Price, including DLC. Thankfully you get everything for one price, and there’s nothing to “unlock” with additional purchases.
All told, it’s collaborations like this that give the industry hope that there’s more to a franchise than Another Mario Platformer. Even if you’re not a fan of Rabbids, the implementation of RTS is so thorough and entertaining that I’d suggest it’s a difficult title to pass up. It’s hard not to appreciate the sheer quality of the package and the devotion that went into its development. If there was going to be an RTS for all ages, this is most certainly it, thanks to Ubisoft. And Nintendo.
Community review by hastypixels (June 24, 2019)
At some point you stop justifying what you play and begin to realize what you're learning by playing.
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