"Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle" is a surprising, funny and creative strategy game with a few minor flaws. Ubisoft's Paris studio threw out Nintendo's tried-and-true platforming mechanics in exchange for grid-based gunplay, and offers a lot of content to those willing to look for it. While Kingdom Battle offers some entertaining jokes and deep strategy gameplay, your enjoyment of the title will probably depend on your opinion of Ubisoft's annoying mascots, the Rabbids.
After a freak accident merges the Mushroom Kingdom with the Rabbids' world, Mario must team up with his friends to stop Bowser Jr. from destroying both worlds. The story is simple, nonsensical and acts as a wrapper for the game's turn-based battles and Rabbid antics, but is perfectly suitable. Players control Mario and two other companions as they travel through four unique worlds to save the Mushroom Kingdom's residents.
"Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle" plays a bit like a board game, and anyone familiar with strategy games like "X-Com" or "Fire Emblem" will be immediately familiar with the game. Players are tasked with maneuvering a party of three characters around a small battlefield in order to complete turn-based battles. Most story battles will simply challenge players to defeat every enemy, or to reach a specific point on the map. After each world's completion, 10 challenge battles, a secret level and a few co-op missions are unlocked. These battles offer more diverse tasks that will test your knowledge of the game's strategies and mechanics, which are fine-tuned for smacking some sense into the enemy Rabbids.
Controlling Mario and friends is incredibly satisfying and offers a lot of offensive and defensive options for players to take advantage of. The game forces you to play aggressively and rewards players willing to do so. In one turn, a character can dash into an enemy Rabbid, bounce off a teammate to reach higher cover, fire off a shot at another enemy, and trigger a special ability. The special abilities allow characters to perform additional actions in battle, like firing off a shot at a moving enemy or increasing the distance each character can travel for a few turns. Strategies can be intricate but are still very easy to pull off, and can mean the difference between success and defeat.
Each character in "Mario + Rabbids" offers different capabilities and strengths. Players can create their own team from a selection of familiar Super Mario characters, like Luigi, Yoshi and Princess Peach … as well as Rabbids dressed up like Nintendo's popular mascots. While each Rabbid character controls differently than its counterparts, it feels like a missed opportunity to introduce other "Mario" characters into the mix. Although the Rabbids offer some great power and abilities, it feels strange using them to fight against the game's enemies: a host of slightly more evil Rabbids.
Each world offers its own unique set of opponents, each with its own strategies and behaviors that act as variations on the game's basic strategies. Hoppers will jump off each other to reach higher cover, while Smashers will charge toward their attackers, sometimes scoring a free hit. Boss Rabbids offer variations on Nintendo-related characters and monsters, like the fireball-tossing Pirabbid Plant and a Donkey Kong-inspired Rabbid. Despite the variety, the Rabbids' obnoxious antics can become grating, and could turn off anybody who really doesn't like Ubisoft's mascots. Regardless, each enemy requires sound strategy and creative use of abilities to defeat, and brings a lot of life to the game's worlds.
Each of the four worlds of "Mario + Rabbids" is unique and visually impressive. Each offers bright colors and some amusing visual puns caused by the Rabbids' mayhem. The accompanying soundtrack is equally impressive and offers some great orchestral variations on classic Mario themes. Unfortunately, there's just not a lot going on outside of the battle arenas. Each world is a linear path that players will simply walk through, collecting coins and occasionally completing some simple puzzles. The world design serves its purpose but fails to be as interesting or engaging as the frequent battles peppered throughout each locale.
"Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle" offers Nintendo fans a lot to love, as long as they like strategy games and Rabbids. The game offers satisfying gameplay with a ton of diverse objectives, as well as a lovely art direction and soundtrack. Unfortunately, a lack of things to do outside of battle could bore some players, and the Rabbids could upend the game's sense of humor for some players. Regardless, "Mario + Rabbids" is a great game that will provide hours of entertainment for anyone willing to look past its flaws.
E10+ (for cartoon violence, comic mischief and mild language)