Without a doubt, there are very few collaborations that have ever raised the eyebrows of the collective gaming community quite like that of the unlikely union of Nintendo’s Mario and Ubisoft’s Raving Rabbids franchises. What’s actually more unbelievable is that it’s taken this long for these two companies, whose oldest franchises revolve around platforming, to join forces on something more than just their long running software to hardware relationship. The result of their collaboration is the insanely illogical Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle for the Nintendo Switch.
Unfathomable as that title sounds, it is easily one of the most satisfying non-Nintendo “Mario” games that I’ve played in years. In Nintendo’s more recent move to allow other companies to try their hand at creating new iterations of their beloved franchises, Kingdom Battle is the first I’ve seen that actually captures each franchise’s signature vibes while creating something new. You see Kingdom Battle isn’t a platformer like you might expect as it’s a strategy adventure instead.
In a bizarre tale, a kid genius and avid Nintendo fan creates a VR headset capable of combining objects together into new interesting ones. Only it overheats and the inventor turns in for the night. Leave it to the Rabbids to show up in a time-travel washing machine of all things to cause utter mayhem as one Rabbid dons the headset and starts combining things like a free for all game of laser tag. Things only get worse as they head back into their time machine and after it goes on the fritz they end up in the Mushroom Kingdom. After Mario and crew are swept up in the chaos the Kingdom becomes a hodgepodge of epic Rabbid proportions setting the pace and story backdrop for the rest of the game.
While Mario’s companions are scattered across the land you get a few replacements in the comical form of merged Rabbid versions of Peach and Luigi. This is where Kingdom’s combat comes in as you are only allowed 3 characters in your party at any given time. Mario, like always, should always be a constant member of your party leaving the other two spots for finding a proper balance. Experimentation is crucial to find every balance as the game often requires you to rethink tactics as they change up the objectives of your enemy encounters. While you start out with straight forward “defeat all” battles others may require you to find other means against overwhelming odds to secure an exit for your team.
The beauty about Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is that your foes are about as diverse in their variations as the ways in which to defeat them. Several aspects of the battlefield as well as your team roster must be taken into consideration. For instance characters that have the high ground automatically do more damage. Players still have to take in consideration cover even with that edge. Enemies behind full cover have likely no chance of being hit except when exposed from other angles. Half cover obstacles only provide characters with a 50% chance of actually protecting them. Both covers however can be destroyed with enough attack aimed at them but other option may prove more beneficial.
While each character has a weapon type, with varying abilities based on the weapon, there are other ways to inflict damage as well. One of the coolest features of Kingdom Battle is the ability to slide into a targeted enemy in range at no cost as an actual attack. Players can then position themselves in the allowed range to deliver an actual attack or find a defensive position. You can even get a boost on your allowed moving area by using your allies as a catapult to sometimes great effect. Depending on how well you do in each series of battles you are given at the end that can help you down the road.
Speaking of roads when you’re not in battle this is where you get to explore a bit Mario style. While some paths to the next battle are fairly linear there is no shortage of off the beaten path secrets. Players can direct Mario and co. around using the Roomba like assistant Beep-0 as a cursor of sorts to make them travel through pipes, launch out of cannons, hit color code switches and push blocks as you learn the ability to do so. The world also has special cannons that are reminiscent of pipes in Super Mario Bros where you can earn a slew of coins as fast as possible. There are also chests that contain artwork, music and even weapons to open as well as traditional coins used to unlock new weapons.
The true trick to Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is not only learning how to master each character but also knowing what skills to spec in each of their Skill Trees. Power Orbs are used to unlock these skills and they are earned throughout your game. Despite there being both a normal and Rabbid version of your favorite Marion characters they couldn’t be more different in their roles like any good Strategy RPG. Sometimes you’re going to have to rely on characters that are outside of your comfort zone to succeed.
Like most strategy RPGs, though I found myself grinding a bit to afford to purchase better weapons for the characters that I used less often. While I did pretty good early on completing battles continuously under par I found later battles to be a bit more of challenge to make that happen. It all comes down to careful planning and going in with the right team. Even if you fail you can eventually persevere. A couple options do present themselves for those that need a bit more of a hand. Before each battle you can choose the “Easy Mode” that gives you a health boon on top of refilling it before battle should you be lacking. Upon multiple defeats you can change up the roster on the fly.
If you want a break from the story mode, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle also offers a bit of competitive action where two players can locally face off against each other. This is available in both portable and docked mode and no matter where you are in the story all characters and abilities are unlocked to use. While that mode is cool I preferred the added Co-op challenges that you can unlock once you get to that part in the story. The only rule is that each world can only be accessed once beat in the story itself. I had a lot of fun testing this out with my family and it’s a nice change of pace.
For even more content Kingdom Battle also supports select Amiibos (Mario, Luigi, Peach and Yoshi) to unlock new weapons for both the normal and Rabbid versions. You can if you choose purchase other weapon packs individually or together with the available Season Pass. Those willing to shell out some cash also earn the ability to take Donkey Kong along on your portable adventure.
I never would have guessed just by the concept of Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle alone that it would turn out to be as good it is. Mixing the straight-laced Mario with Rabbids that are anything but calm seemed like a tall order but I’m glad I was proven wrong. Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle has every bit of the charm, chaos and visual style that these two franchises are individually known for. I don’t know how they did it, incorporating all the little nuances to both sides with their trademark sounds and animations, but Nintendo and Ubisoft took a huge risk and it couldn’t have paid off more. While this may not be a Mario game for everyone it is definitely a Mario that more than deserves its place on the Switch. If you love strategy games and are looking for something that’s just a little crazy you have to check out Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle for the Nintendo Switch today.