Back when the leaks started circulating from Laura Kate Dale, I laughed out loud at the absolute insanity of the idea, and yet here I am with the game in my hands and I couldn’t be more surprised. Rabbids, the aggravating little bunnies that arguably ruined the Rayman name on the Wii, so much so that the Rabbids franchise no longer touts the Rayman branding at all. Add in cartoons that felt like the Minions from Despicable Me and Rabbids felt like it would become a cringe-induced footnote on gaming history. However, I’m here to say that Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is pure absurd fun.
While the idea of Mario running around with a gun with a bunch of menace bunnies is absolute nonsense, the game does a surprisingly good job setting up the plot. Things begin with a young, brilliant girl complaining about a magazine glossing over the specifics of her latest invention, the SupaMerge. While she is away, the Rabbids suddenly appear in their time-traveling washing machine, where they spill out and cause havoc as they are wont to do. The creator of the SupaMerge just happened to be a big Super Mario fan and her workshop is covered in posters and figures, which after one of the Rabbids gets ahold of the SupaMerge gets sucked into the washing machine. The little devils are then transported to the Mushroom Kingdom, where the SupaMerge combines with a Rabbid, who uncontrollably starts mixing things up.
Luckily, not all of the Rabbids are interested in causing pure chaos and join up with Mario and his crew to right the mess that’s become of the Mushroom Kingdom. This sparks a kingdom-wide journey to recapture the SupaMerge-fused Rabbid from Bowser Jr and put things back to normal.
Kingdom Battle is a tactical RPG that many have compared to X-COM. Personally, I’ve never played X-COM, but its definitely a system that’s easy to pick up and understand in Kingdom Battle. Players will take turns blasting at enemies and slowly working through levels. Each level is filled with little puzzles to get extra weapons and items for the museum, including some areas that are not immediately accessible. Back tracking to these areas can be fun and getting better gear definitely helps in battle.
Even though Mario + Rabbids is geared towards children, the combat is rather deep and challenging. By the end of the first world, I had seen the Game Over screen at least six times. Each battle is setup with interesting terrain, allowing for some crazy possibilities. Most notably, Kingdom Battle does character movement a little differently than most tactical RPGs. Moving into an enemy has the player sliding into foes, dealing a little extra damage. Moving to another player character activates a boost jump to get even farther. Add in pipes that allow zipping all around the map and a single move can move the team across the map. Where the challenge comes is that the enemy has access to the same movement.
The other main mechanic in the combat is the cover system, which reduces the accuracy of attacks. Knowing where to hide is key to survival, but players won’t find themselves hiding in one place, due to the enemies being able to quickly position themselves better. This creates a dynamic battlefield that kept me on my toes the entire time.
Now, healing is done slightly between battles, but heroes can be swapped out for fresh ones. Mushrooms can also be picked up in the level for a bigger boost. There was only a single moment that I was stuck due to low health, but there is an option to switch to easy mode if a battle is proving too challenging. I only had to use it once, but this ensured that I didn’t get stuck behind a wall. I longed for the ability to pop a few potions, but without them, each battle is more tense, making every move matter. Clearing a battle always feels awesome, because of this.
Player progression isn’t the typical leveling up fair and is instead done through equipment and skill trees. This actually makes things much simpler and makes for some interesting decision making when it comes to building up characters. Personally, I opt for more movement-based skills, like being able to jump off as foes with Mario to deal more damage to them and reposition.
This combination of simple, yet elegant systems is what kept Kingdom Battle so engaging. Having it on the go for the Switch is just another plus, as the game saves after each battle and after crossing. It’s the perfect title to pick up and play for a bit and then put down, which is where the main issue of the Switch was made more apparent by Zelda‘s design. I doubt I’ll spend twelve hours of my day playing Kingdom Battle, even if it is incredibly addictive.
The game’s visuals are sharp, looking great even while the Switch is in portable mode. Characters pop, colors are bright and vibrant, and each little corner has something to look at. The enemy Rabbids are well designed and even change with their environments. This visual flair combines elements we’ve loved for years from the Mario games with the zaniness of the Rabbids, which is most apparent in the game’s bosses.
Complimenting all of this is a soundtrack that ties things together. Melodies are memorable with many layers that transition after crossing little areas. Even in places that deviate from the critical path of the level, like corners, have added little notes that just makes the game’s world more lively. It’s a soundtrack I know I’ll be listening to, well after I put the game down.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is an absurdly good RPG masterpiece. This is just how I felt when playing Kingdom Hearts as a teen, which was another game that I laughed off at the concept. I can only hope this relationship with Nintendo and Ubisoft continues, because aside from Breath of the Wild, Mario + Rabbids is the best game on the Switch. It feels like a more worthy successor to the Paper Mario games and feels like that same magic we loved in Super Mario RPG.
I cannot stress how pleasantly surprised I am by this game. It’s weird, but its damn brilliant.
For more information on Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, check out the listing on the Nintendo website. A digital copy of the game was provided for the purpose of this review.