In the heart of the lush, living Ancient Gardens stroll three unlikely heroes: Mario, one of the most celebrated video game icons the world has ever known, and two cosplaying Rabbids reveling in their slapstick stupidity; happy to be alive. It's a strange sight, but a beautiful one.
All around them are bulbous trees colored with swirling pastel tones. Curious flowers shoot up from the grass beneath their feat like pollen-filled lollipops. In the background you can make out giant item blocks and goombas floating in the shimmering water, and in the foreground seed parachutes from some alien dandelion are lifted into the air, along with your spirits, by a melodic chorus of strings, horns, and bells.
You can't help but smile, and that's when you realize that Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is going to be an enchanting adventure unlike anything you've played before.
Mario and Rabbids is such a strange pairing, and shoving them into a narrative turn-based strategy game is something that just doesn't work on paper. I'm happy to tell you that, in execution, it works perfectly. As a strategy game, as a Mario game, as an over-the-top Rabbids game, Kingdom Battle succeeds. It's a triumph of imagination and design.
I began this review by attempting to paint a picture, and I'm diving into the review-proper by focusing on presentation, because this is perhaps Kingdom Battle's greatest triumph. Whether playing docked or in handheld mode, Ubisoft has curated a audio-visual experience that will transport you to an inspired fantasyscape. Once there, you will never want to leave Kingdom Battle's extraordinary worlds.
Before you even step foot inside of this bizarre mash-up universe, you're treated to a stunning opening cinematic which sets the plot on a much firmer foundation than I would have thought possible for a game like this. We're actually given a reason as to how and why these worlds got fused together, and that little Roomba guide you've seen in video footage is given a lovable personality and urgent motive.
Throughout the many worlds I explored, and even in the hub courts of Peach's castle, I was (and still am) constantly amazed by Ubisoft's refusal to neglect a single inch of real-estate.
There's simply no wasted space in Kingdom Battle. Your screen, from top to bottom, will always be filled with rich and colorful landscapes which live, breathe, and move. Flowers and vines strum, toot, and sway to the rhythm and melodies of what could be Grant Kirkhope's greatest compositions, as if he were standing behind you with a baton, conducting the entire game world to accompany you in your journey.
There's always multiple things happening on-screen, and the attention to detail and sheer aesthetic beauty on display is mind-blowing. Ubisoft has proven that it can produce a game world with as much focus and as many surprises as Nintendo's in-house wizards. In fact, it's set a new bar for what is technically possible on the Nintendo Switch.
While I could go on about all of the environmental details that took my breath away, I should also praise the artists and developers for bringing our characters to life with such authenticity. The cast -- both the Mushroom Kingdom crew and their corresponding Rabbids -- are rendered and animated with the care and expression of a Pixar or Dreamworks film.
Facial expressions are believable and natural, running and attack animations are unique to each character, and you'll find that Ubisoft has produced four fantastic caricatures of the Mushroom Kingdom's most notable stars. Feelings of "oh that is SO Peach," or "Yep, that's my socially neglected Luigi alright" will consistently strike you, even in mundane moments, and the Rabbids provide many laugh out loud moments.prevnext
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle provides some of the most challenging, fun, and provocative strategy combat you'll find in any game, period. The familiar board game, grid-based combat scheme is alive and well, and Ubisoft has turned the formula on its head by providing our heroes with unique modes of movement and offense.
As a team of three, you'll be faced with varied objectives on the battlefield. Sometimes you'll be asked to clear the stage of all enemies. Sometimes you're tasked with simply surviving endless waves until you dispatch a certain number of foes. Sometimes you'll be required to make it to a safe area of the map in one piece, at times as an escort, under the gaze of varieties of dangerous foes.
Kingdom Battle eases you gently into its mechanics, and the first few battles may lull you into a false sense of security if you're not careful. By the closing of the first world the difficulty ramps up considerably, and you'll be pulling out all of the stops in a desperate attempt to survive. When you're surrounded by advanced enemy types, every single decision carries with it significant weight.
Do you stay grouped together so that Rabbid Peach can cast heals on the squad, even though it means leaving two party members in half-cover, or do you send Peach trampolining off of Mario's head into enemy territory so she can fire off a reckless-but-powerful shotgun blast into a group of enemy rabbids? Luigi's low on health and it's almost the enemy turn: Do you let him peek out of cover to snipe and eliminate an enemy before he's taken down, or do you use up his attack action by sending out an autonomous, explosive sentry bot in hopes that the enemies choose to direct their fire at it instead?
Like in chess, there's great challenge and great gratification from reading the board well, thinking several turns ahead, and executing a plan of attack. Unlike chess, there's an element of chance which rules over the effectiveness of certain weapons and attacks that can change your plans in an instant, so you have to be flexible. By the end of the second world, you can count on certain battles wiping you out completely, and you can count on certain battles making you feel like a strategic genius worthy of Sun Tzu's praise.prevnext
Classes and Customization
Each character will occupy a versatile job type, but there are no strict definitions. Rabbid Peach has an AoE healing skill, but her powered-up sentries also make her one of the most effective combatants on the field. Luigi is a fantastic zoner. He can team jump off of multiple friendlies, enabling him to traverse great distances in a single turn and take out enemies with his long-range rifle. He also has an ability you can activate that will shoot any enemy in his line of sight during the enemy turn, which makes him especially dangerous from high places.
Peach, on the other hand, is best when mobile since her shotgun blasts widely forward in a cone that will damage friend and foe alike. She also doubles as a tank and a healer, with high HP and a passive healing ability that activates whenever she team jumps off of someone's head. Each character has more than one specialty and a four-branched skill tree, which means that you can basically supe them up and roll with any lineup you like.
Well, almost any lineup. You have to have Mario and at least one Rabbid in your party at all times. This may be frustrating for some of you, especially because there are certain levels that seem tailor-made for a Mario, Peach, and Luigi combination, but I think that this was a very intentional limitation. It ensures that your team is never perfectly stacked. In any given scenario or battle, you'll always have at least one personnel disadvantage that you'll have to make up for in strategic deployment and tactical cunning.prevnext
Music and Replay Value
Grant Kirkhope's compositions are one of Kingdom Battle's central delights. Not since my showdown with a one-winged Sephiroth have I heard a battle theme as intense and contextually fitting as Kirkhope's mid-boss theme in Kingdom Battle. As you wander, discover, fight, solve, laugh, fail, and succeed, your journey's many twists and turns will be elevated and blessed by this inspired original soundtrack.
This music turns you into a child, and I mean that in the best possible way. It reaches down and cradles those deep, nostalgic cores in your being where your senses of play and imagination reside. This music introduces creeping tension that rings of Danny Elfman; it reaches heroic heights frequented by Koichi Sugiyama; it whimsically drifts and delights the heart like Koji Kondo's compositions in Super Mario Galaxy. There's a pretty generous heaping of Grant Kirkhope in there as well! This soundtrack will go down as one of the greats; eclectic, consistent, and beautiful.
Thankfully Ubisoft has given us reason to return and enjoy these tunes again and again. An overwhelming variety of collectibles have been scattered throughout Kingdom Battle's worlds: 3D models, concept art, music tracks, and even stylized cards representing the 22 Major Arcana, or trumps, of a classic tarot deck. Many of these collectibles are stashed away and hidden behind puzzles or obstacles that can only be overcome after you acquire late-game abilities. It's almost Metroid-esque, with treasures and weapons hidden in plain sight, urging you to move on, power up, and then come back when you're ready.
Additionally, after completing a game world, the battle areas will repopulate with Rabbid proctors which will disperse various challenge missions for you to try. Every world has its own set of challenge missions, and they'll test and temper your combat and problem-solving prowess.
There's also a multiplayer mode featuring multiple sets of maps and scenarios built specifically for co-op play. These feature a variety of objectives similar to what you find in the single-player campaign, but will force you to work in close harmony with a friend as you each control a team of two heroes. Also similar to the single-player campaign, the challenge here ramps up quickly.prevnext
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is one of the 'most Nintendo' games I've played in a long time. It goes above and beyond to surprise and delight its audience. It's more about what's fun than about what's cool, and that's why it succeeds. Ubisoft's Milan team, headed up by Davide Soliani, has defied all of the odds. They took an idea that very few believed in and turned it into an instant classic exuding inspiration and brimming with soul.0comments
This is a game that will bring families together. It's a game that will have friends sitting next to each other and laughing. It's a game that reminds us how important playfulness and silliness is in this world. It will serve as an inspiration to future developers and designers; a beacon of proof that if you work hard enough and dream big enough you can, by some mysterious alchemical process of creation, bring the raw contents of your imagination to life for others to enjoy. I can't think of anything more Nintendo than that.
WWG's Score: 5 / 5prev