Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope is now available on Nintendo Switch, and the game has already found significant critical success. The Ubisoft developed sequel is the latest from Davide Soliani, and the director took a little bit of time to speak with ComicBook.com. The sequel offers a number of major differences from the previous game in the series, and Soliani was happy to discuss those changes, limitations placed on the team by the folks at Nintendo, and which Mario games continue to inspire him.
ComicBook: Sparks of Hope abandons the linear nature of the environments from Kingdom Battle, giving it like a feel closer to exploration in games like Super Mario Odyssey. What inspired you to go in that direction?
Davide Soliani: Freedom, that's the inspiration. So, honestly, from Kingdom Battle we are tactical lovers, but we always wanted to enter in this stage amongst many other tactical games with our own signature, and that's why we invented this kind of free heroes battle where the synergy between them are key. If you are close to your teammates you can operate choices that you cannot operate if you are far away from each other, which completely is different from everything that tactical games teach us in the past because every unit is bringing all their ability with them in the battlefield no matter what, and no matter the position of the other. And then this mix of adventure in combat was, let's say, pushing the boundaries of the tactical genre, but in Donkey Kong Adventure, we tried to expand these boundaries even more because inspired by Donkey Kong visual, we wanted this guy to be able to eradicate covers, throwing them, grabbing heroes or enemies, carrying them on the battle grounds, throwing them again. So, we had to rework the combat system in order to expand this scenario or synergy.
But in Sparks of Hope, we really wanted to give this feeling of freedom to the player. There is nothing so immediate and easy to assess as to control directly your character. Where before you were moving on a great battleground, moving the cursor and checking the position of the enemy through the HTD, now you are basically moving your heroes directly on the battlegrounds, checking immediately if the enemies are in sight or not, and if you change your mind, you can just go back. You can jump, dash, all elements that you can do. And on top of that, instead of selecting your ability amongst others in an action console, so browsing icon, you have button assignation like you would have in an action game such as Zelda: Breath of the Wild, for example.
So, it's way more immediate than before. And this ability in term of freedom of movement, make players do many stuff that it was impossible to do before with a great system. So, in my opinion, it's our tentative to expand more and more the game that we are creating.
ComicBook: So, do you feel that the way that the player moves in both the environments, like the non-battle environments and the way that they move in battle, were those two design ideas linked in your mind? Did one come before the other, or was it all part of that idea of expanding the idea of more freedom?
Soliani: So, like [George R.R.] Martin the writer of Games of Throne says, there are two types of writers, architect and a gardener. Architect define everything at the very beginning, and then gardener discover things on the go. And as a team, we are the second one. We are gardener.
We started with this intention in combat to give freedom of movement in combat, but then because of that, we translated to exploration because we felt it was the natural evolution of what we were doing. And also because we have a very close and happy relationship with our community leader, and everyone expressed the desire to explore the environment we were creating in the previous two games.
So, the combination of what we were trying to pioneer and what the community leaders we're asking for was a perfect fit to translate the freedom in terms of movement, in combat to the exploration. And then everything that's been designed around this pivot.
ComicBook: Given that the environments feel closer to a classic 3D Mario game as opposed to Kingdom Battle, was there ever a consideration of adding a jump mechanic outside of combat? Because playing through Sparks of Hope, I often would find myself just naturally going to jump if I was controlling Mario, just because playing Mario games for 30 years, that's ingrained in your brain. And then I'd have to go, "No, you're not playing 3D Mario, you're playing Sparks of Hope." So, was that ever a consideration?
Soliani: Of course it was a consideration, but not something that we could do. When we presented Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle and there was Miyamoto on stage. He said it quite openly, "I asked Davide to not do the classical platform game, but to do something that was not requiring Mario to jump because that's a platform game," and we were doing something different. So, we added the opposite dilemma. We had the opposite challenge, making a game in which a player didn't need to jump, as in Mario. And that's why we invented the team jump, in fact.
The team jump was quite different from Mario jumping. You need someone to assist you, you need teammates. And that's what I was saying before, between the bond and the character relationship, friendship is important to us. If you stick close together, you can do operations that otherwise you wouldn't able to. So, this friendship and this bond is translated into mechanics. If you are close to your friend, you can team jump. And because of that, you can further reach areas that your area of movement couldn't allow you to reach.
So, in Sparks Of Hope our need was to make sure that when player see our game, they immediately understand that it's our game and it's not a Mario platform game. And at the same time, making sure during the construction of the planet that the platform, the elevations present in the levels are always quite high over a certain number, in terms of meters, so in order to reduce the will of jumping as much as possible. Of course we are players, so as soon as we see Mario, we try to jump. It's normal.
ComicBook: One thing that struck me about Sparks of Hope is that it draws a lot of inspiration design-wise from Super Mario Galaxy, which this year is now a 15-year-old game. Why did the team choose that game in particular as the basis for the setting as opposed to, let's say, Super Mario Odyssey, which is a little more recent?
Soliani: Well, Mario Galaxy is one of my preferred games ever, along with Mario 64. I believe that the two games... a little bit more, Mario 64 ...changed the video game market. And in my opinion, Mario Galaxy was so brave to try to make an entire game without the player needs to control the right control stick, which was the one moving the camera, you do it anyway, but that was the starting point of the intention for that. Plus, there are 100 games in only one game, when you play Mario Galaxy. It's really a design bible disguised as a game.
Second, as a team, we have the luxury to cherry pick among the Mario Universe element, not specific games in general. For example, if we were to use some bosses out of Mario Galaxy, that would been a "no" from Nintendo because it means it was a continuation of Mario Galaxy. But because we wanted to embark on a space journey to move away from the Mushroom Kingdom in order to be able to create planets with their own NPCs, their own narrative arc, their own characteristic in term of topography, sounds and mechanics, it was a perfect fitting to be inspired by some space element such as Galaxy. We also wanted to create buddies in the form of Sparks. And so having Galaxy elements such as Lumas that could merge with Rabbids in order to create the Sparks, we said, "Okay, clearly we need to cherry pick some elements from Galaxy. It would be a perfect fit."
There are other elements, but the players will have to discover them all on their own.
ComicBook: Now, hypothetically, if you guys chose to do a third game in the series, is there a Mario game that you'd really like to draw elements from, the way that Sparks of Hope pulls from Mario Galaxy?
Soliani: If we are doing another game, it's mostly [up to] Ubisoft, Nintendo, and the players. So, if players will be happy, that would be a nice chance to collaborate in the future, or at least I hope so. I love all Mario games. I'm a big Nintendo fan, in fact. I'm in love with Mario 64. It's like it's speaking to me in a way. For me playing that game for the very first time, it was a shock. It was a shock under every point of view because it was the passage from 2D to 3D. I was controlling this weird analog stick that was behaving perfectly along with Mario's animation. There are so many elements in the way that that game is built that honestly... I would even just be happy to do a remaster of that game, that would definitely would be my pick. But all of them, Marc, I like. Even Sunshine, it's so full of inspirational elements in terms of gameplay mechanics that I will say all of them, like you take Mario Sunshine, the Manta boss fight. It's fantastic. Sorry, you asked me a question where I could go on forever.
ComicBook: No, no, no, that's all right. I could listen to you talk about it forever. I'm a longtime Nintendo fan myself, so it's very cool to see someone as passionate as you get to jump into this universe and play in this sandbox, because Nintendo historically has been very guarded with its IPs, so clearly you're doing something right where they trust you with the keys to the kingdom. And that's actually going to bring my last question in. It really feels like Nintendo does give you more trust. Did you feel like you had a lot more freedom to work with the IP this time versus in Kingdom Battle?
Soliani: I think that every time... we are working with them since 2013 and we never stopped. So, it's quite a long time. Kingdom Battle, Donkey Kong Adventures, Sparks of Hope, there are free DLC coming. So, there is still a lot of work to do, a new adventure to complete. In all honesty, Nintendo always told me, "Davide, ask what you want, worst case scenario, we are saying no." And so in those years, I asked a lot of things, and I received a lot of "no", I received a lot of "yes." And in Sparks of Hope I asked for a lot. I asked for a lot because having to control Mario in real time is a big deal. It's not something that you achieve without having Nintendo trusting you. You need to put a lot of effort in what you are doing and you need to show a lot of respect. So, you cannot just go there and say, "I would like to control Mario." It doesn't work like that. So, I would say that yes, we learned a lot from each other, and for sure we have more trust than at the beginning.
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