Mario has a long and storied history of teaming up with characters from other games. Some very good (see Mario Kart, Mario Party and Smash Bros.) some okay (Mario Baseball) and some we don’t want to think about (Mario and Sonic Olympic series.) So when it was announced that Ubisoft was bringing their polarizing Rabbids characters into the Marioverse I was ready to move it onto “don’t think about” category. It wasn’t until a while later at E3 2017 where more info was shared about the game that my interest was actually piqued. The concept became clear to everyone who had previously been scratching their heads and we found out it was going to be turn based style (Fire Emblem, XCom). I would be remiss if I wasn’t swayed a bit by the lead game designer being so passionate and emotional during the actual showing of the game as well. Now that the game is out I can tell you if it was worth the second glance or if it should have stayed as forgotten.
Mario + Rabbids is Xcom with some down to Earth good ol’ fashioned toilet humor. The setup is that the Rabbids crash a Mario super fans scientific workshop and get a hold of a device that can combine objects and from there the chaos ensues. Mario must team up with old allies and new cos playing Rabbids to save the Mushroom kingdom from the Rabbid that has merged itself with the device and Bowser Jr. who wants to use the device to impress his dad. It is with that simple setup that creates the whole world of the game. The game is littered with great bits of Mario nostalgia and fan service all perverted with Rabbid sensibilities. You’ll travel through four Mario world staples like the desert and lava worlds, but again tainted with Rabbids. Each world is broken down into different levels and have a mid boss and a final boss. The worlds themselves ooze with personality and while some areas feel a bit empty there is always something to look at and the game draws attention to certain set pieces by prompting a button push on occasion. If the unique scenery wasn’t enough motivation, exploration is encouraged by placing puzzles and chests throughout. The chests can contain artwork, music, coins, xp orbs and most importantly new weapons. Some puzzles are locked until you learn the necessary skills to complete, which feels like a cheap way to make the game last longer, but that was my first thoughts on it.
Despite the cartoon appearance this is a hardcore strategy game. You’d be right to be confused by the bright colors and familiar characters. Mario + Rabbids does a good job at slowly getting you up to speed with the mechanics of the game. The enemies not only get more varied and difficult as the game progresses but you will also have to deal with environmental attacks from giant chain chomps and whirling twisters. Of course they can also be used against the enemy as well. Turn about being fair and all, everything you and your team can do, the enemy team can do. You’ll marvel at how well you pull off a perfectly executed turn full of healing and jump attacks, maybe even a few critical hits only to be stuck in place by a Rabbid with a gun that can shoot honey while his team mate heals all of his damage from your previous turn. There are different objectives to each battle. Some require you to simply defeat all enemies while others need you to get to a certain point in the map and yes there is even an escort mission. Your after battle rewards depend on how many teammates are still conscious and how many turns you took, the results being more or less coins and xp. While there is no initial difficulty setting, the game offers an “Easy Mode” option that can be selected before each fight. The AI doesn’t get turned down but you get a health refill and a boost to your overall hp pool. Selecting easy mode doesn’t effect you negatively aside from maybe your pride, so it’s nice to have that option. Your squad consists of your choice of three characters, Mario, being the star, serves as the team leader and can’t be changed out. Each character has a skill tree and you can pump points into it how you see fit. There is some overlap on a few skills but enough variance where it never really grew tiresome. The characters although dressed similar offer plenty of differences with weaponry, skills and personality. Rabbid Peach probably being the stand out for me.
This game was made for the Switches handheld mode. It is quick to pick up and play a battle or two while waiting on dinner. It looks and runs beautifully on the small screen too. In TV mode is where the game starts to lack. The game just doesn’t scale up as nicely as some other titles on the switch. After playing in handheld mode for the better part of a week I was so disappointed when I put it on the TV in the living room and found all the colors and details to be a bit muted. There were also very noticeable frame rate issues as well. Nothing that overall hurts the game too badly but regardless something to think about given how you prefer to use the switch. The better visual experience is clearly handheld. Playtime didn’t have any effect on my enjoyment either. While it is perfect in short bursts the longer play sessions were just as fun. There is enough varience where you don’t get bored.
In short, Ubisoft took what many believed to be a silly, one note character, much like those Minions no one likes and put them into a solid game that hits the right amount of nostalgia and freshness. A story that works and hits the right amount of crazy humour that never over stays it’s welcome. Plus it made Rabbids likeable. So if your firtst thought about the game was a hard pass because of the inclusion of the Rabbids give it another look. Nintendo has been firing on all marks this generation and you’d be doing youself a diservice if you didn’t give this a try, especially if you are looking to fill in the gap until Fire Emblem comes out. This game delivers a great strategic game with a light hearted tone.
Reviewers Note. In reviewing the game i initially wanted to do it as another entry in our “Can My Kid Play” series, but I thought that might do it a diservice to an older audience. The appeal to the game is broad. My daughter (Age 5) loves the Mario world and characters and kept asking to try this out. I think at times the game was frustrating for me so it will for sure be frustrating for a child especially one who doesnt know how to plan ahead and think strategically. But everything in the game is a family-centric as it gets. So if your child see’s that their favorite character are in a new game you can take the opportunity and sit there and coach them through it and enjoy it with them.