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I remember the first time I played through XCOM: Enemy Unknown. It was a solid game, but one that caused my stress level to increase tenfold. There never seemed to be a moment of reprieve, even while I was tinkering around in the underground headquarters. Was I making the right decisions? Would they come back to bite me on a future mission? It was a never-ending game of second-guessing myself, yet somehow still enjoyable.
So, how much fun could XCOM be if those strategic base-building elements were replaced with simple exploration and rudimentary puzzle solving? On paper, it sounds like it would be missing a major component, but as the blending of Ubisoft’s Rabbids franchise and Nintendo’s Mushroom Kingdom proved, it actually lends to a solid, thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle probably shouldn’t work. Thrusting Mario into a strategy-based game that relies on forethought, ample cover, and long-range combat should be the formula for a very confused game. Unbeknownst to Ubisoft, however, when it created the Rabbids as a nuisance to Rayman, it had inadvertently provided the necessary framework for such a concept.
After the SupaMerge, a device that merges two items together to create an abomination of the two, falls into the hands of time-traveling Rabbids, the troublemaking creatures wind up in the Mushroom Kingdom, turning Mario’s hometown completely upside-down. Kingdom Battle’s weakest link is its story, which tries hard to find common ground between a Mario and Rabbids game. However, the boisterous Lepus completely overshadow Mario and friends, turning what could have been a smart melding of properties into a juvenile string of sight gags. Some of the Rabbid antics were chuckle-worthy but mostly served to pad the game for younger audiences. That may sound like a strange criticism for a game featuring ridiculous rabbit-creatures and a cast of Nintendo’s finest, but Kingdom Battles isn’t an obvious kids game.
My previous mention of XCOM was not a frivolous attempt at connecting two completely different titles. When you pull apart the silliness of Kingdom Battle, you get a game that feels very much like a more colorful and less depressing version of Firaxis Games’ turn-based strategy game. Character turns are limited to a set series of actions (move, attack, support), which are only effective across a limited number of tiles. The need for strategy and planning ahead is prevalent, which came as a big, but welcomed surprise. I feared it would be a rudimentary version of a strategic game, but Ubisoft definitely wants players to think about each move. So-much-so that, before and throughout each battle, the game encourages you to switch to an overhead tactical map to determine enemy placement, abilities, and range-of-movement to better strategize your team.
Of course, the French developer didn’t want to make Kingdom Battle inaccessible, so combat still retains elements of Rabbids and Mario through the different weapons and powers assigned to each character. Luigi, for instance, sports a sniper rifle modeled after his ghost-vacuum from Luigi’s Mansion. Mario, who leads the trio of Mushroom Kingdom warriors in every fight, can use teammates to perform his staple stomp attack on far away enemies. Combat is very team-focused as characters can utilize one another for attack or defense buffs and reach parts of the map that may be out of their normal movement reach.
Helping to retain the childish joy of both Rabbids and Mario series, the power of the SupaMerge does wind up being a delight, creating a whimsical and playful world. It’s also responsible for the games robust rogues’ gallery, which plays on the insanity of merging Nintendo and Ubisoft’s properties. The resulting creations are often hilarious and ludicrous versions of recognizable favorites from Super Mario Bros. and other Nintendo titles, such as an oversized gorilla-Rabbid sporting Donkey Kong’s signature tie. Characters like Peach, Luigi, and even Yoshi have Rabbid counterparts that fight alongside Mario while classic enemies like Piranha Plants and Boos get the Rabbid treatment to support a decent selection of lesser minions and brutish tank-Rabbids.
Kingdom Battle’s difficulty remains fair for much of the experience, only getting annoyingly hard during challenges that unlock after a world is completed. The game is ripe with collectibles and reasons to backtrack, but mostly as post-game content and to achieve 100% completion. Even once the single-player experience is fulfilled, Kingdom Battle sports two very-different local multiplayer — a versus and co-op.
The co-op mode is similar to the main game, giving each player three characters to accomplish challenges with across a tactical map. Fighting against one another, however, is a different story. Gear up for tense battles as you’re both given just three moves each turn, severely limiting what you can do in a turn. Each friendship-ending match is quick and fun, requiring players to determine and exploit the strengths and weaknesses of everyone on the map.
Like the Switch itself, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle proves that there is still innovation and ingenuity where it was long-since lost – Ubisoft’s development floor.