Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle First Impressions

Nintendo is no stranger to weird crossover games. There’s the obvious, like Super Smash Bros., the slightly less obvious, like Mario and Sonic At The Olympic Games, and the completely bananas like Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. The newest game to fit into this category is Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, an Ubisoft developed tactical turn-based RPG. Like the weird combination of Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem but also about pop stars for some reason, Kingdom Battle sounds too weird to work. After the first few hours with the game, however, I’m pretty confident that this is one of the good ones. 

Before the Switch was announced, there were already crazy leaks about a crossover game between the Super Mario franchise and the Raving Rabbids. While the Rabbids had a strong start on the Wii, over the years they got something of a reputation for not being all that interesting. Because of this, I originally thought the idea for this game was ridiculous. Who would even want to play that? Even more leaks came out in the weeks leading up to E3 this year, and things were not looking good. Then, at Ubisoft’s E3 press conference, the game was finally officially unveiled, and it looked incredible.

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As of right now, I’ve played a few hours of the game and completed the first world. I have no real idea of how long the game is or if it can keep up the momentum that it currently has, but I’m very happy with it so far. It somehow manages to capture both the charming, nostalgic Mario aesthetic with the zanier antics of the Rabbids and doesn’t feel like it’s squandering either.

So, what are the Rabbids doing in the Mushroom Kingdom anyway? The game opens with a cutscene taken from the perspective of a woman who is an inventor. Her latest creation is a pair of goggles that can combine any two objects into a single object. After bragging about her genius and disparaging over the lack of anyone understanding why it’s such a big deal, she leaves the room. Suddenly, the Rabbids appear in their washing machine time machine. They go on a goofy rampage and one of them ends up wearing the goggles. After zapping a bunch of other Rabbids and turning them into new forms, including Rabbid Peach and Rabbid Luigi, the group gets sucked back into the washing machine and sent to the Mushroom Kingdom, for some reason.

The goggles seem to be controlling the Rabbid who put them on, and he’s now uncontrollably combing Rabbids into new sorts of Rabbids and taking over the kingdom. Not all the Rabbids are bad though, including the Peach and Luigi Rabbids I mentioned earlier. They join Mario, as well as the inventor’s Roomba-like  assistant Beep-O and try to fight back.

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To combat their foes, a mysterious fan of Beep-O’s (I think it’s the inventor, but that’s not a spoiler because I don’t know that it’s true) sends our heroes weapons. Weirdly, they’re all some form of gun. Mario’s is an arm cannon, similar to Mega Man’s. This would feel stranger, except that we’ve had a couple months to get used to the idea already. But I can imagine someone who doesn’t pay as close attention to the games industry being kind of put off by the idea of Mario with a gun.

Most of the game is spent in combat. Battles are turn-based and easy to understand. They’re remarkably similar to Xcom, with the goal being to hide behind cover to keep your characters alive, while also positioning them to attack your enemies. The game is a lot simpler than Xcom however. If your character has a clear shot of an enemy and is in range, they are guaranteed a hit. If the enemy is fully behind cover, you have no chance of hitting, but it might be worth taking the shot anyway to try to break apart the cover. If the enemy is halfway in cover, you’ll have a 50% chance of landing a hit. It’s easy to grasp, but sometimes you have to remember that it’s just as easy for your enemies to get their shots in on you.

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Each character in your party has special abilities that make them stand out. Mario is pretty good all around and has an ability to shoot enemies during their turn if they happen to get in his line of sight. Luigi on the other hand is more of a sniper. He can shoot long distances and he doesn’t have a lot of HP, making him best suited for sticking to the back. Each character has a skill tree that unlocks additional abilities as you progress. Each character also has unique weapons to buy that might have different properties, such as a chance to make your enemy stick to the ground during their next turn.

When not in combat, you can explore a beautiful overworld. Here, you’ll find puzzles you have to solve before getting to the next battle, as well as treasures that might unlock new weapons or pieces of art to look at. This part of the game seems pretty simple and straightforward, but it’s a pretty cool way to link everything between each fight. And it’s so bright, colorful, and inviting, that I just can’t help but love to run around in it.

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It’s way too early to make a final judgement on Mario and Rabbids Kingdom Battle, but I really like what I’ve seen so far. It’s a very unique game for the Mario franchise, but it also feels right at home in it. If the rest of the game is as good as the beginning, this is a must-buy for the Nintendo Switch.

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