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Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle Review

It’s Got More Rabbids Than Sainsbury’s*

Game: Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Reviewed on:  Switch (Review code provided)

I wish I could relay to you, dear reader, how this state of affairs came to be. I don’t profess to be a smart man, but I’m not an idiot, y’know? I mean I understood Inception (more or less), but can I understand how Mario and the Rabbids came to be strolling around together starting fights like some adorable street gang? No, I cannot. It involves a time-traveling washing machine and some sort of science-genius child (which I think is a female child, so that’s a nice one for twitter isn’t it? Twitter loves nothing more than crushing society’s gender roles. Yasss Mario #slay).

It’s strange that as Nintendo are riding the wave of the hugely succesful Switch, they should choose to allow Big M and pals to be used by Ubisoft in a strategy game featuring Rayman’s old sidekicks. When announced, the idea was met with confusion and derision, although to be fair that could be true of any idea that appears via Twitter. However, now we are no longer extrapolating from a leaked presentation but instead have a finished product in our hands, what is it? Kingdom Battle is a turn-based strategy game, most lazily and often described as a cute version of X-Com. You trot around the Mushroom Kingdom in a squad of three, entering battlefields on which you must use a combination of movement, shooting and special skills to emerge victorious over the Rabbids that have been corrupted or something.

However they happened to be together, the result was worth it. Aside from all the cuteness and humour, Kingdom Battle is great. To be frank, there’s very little chance I’d have been interested in this title if it were not for the inclusion of Nintendo’s most famous intellectual property because I’m not a fan of strategy games. Well, I wasn’t anyway, but I think I might be now. Kingdom Battle is a gateway strategy game, having all the traditional elements but none of the grinding through endless screens and stats that something like X-Com would require of you. You choose a team of three (which will always include Mario as leader and at least one rabbid), pick a couple of weapons and allocate whatever skill upgrades you may have obtained, and have a chance to survey the field and plot some sort of plan before launching into your latest scrap.

As you’d expect, different characters have different attributes; Mario is pure power, Rabbid Peach is your token healer, Luigi is adept at long-range strikes and so forth. Those extra abilities take the form of a now-familiar skill tree where you can increase the range of existing moves and gain others, such as Mario’s butt-stomp or Hero Sight; an automated-fire to nail down any enemies that stray into your squads’ line of sight during their turn.

You can also reset these allocated skill points at any time and redistribute them as you wish, and this is where Kingdom Battle makes it’s more obvious concessions to an audience that may either be younger or just not au fait with more unforgiving strategy titles. Before every battle you’re given the option to do so at an easier setting, and never environmental challenges such as Chain Chomps or tornadoes are explained and introduced gradually.

It’s not entirely battles either, although this ‘other bit’ is sometimes less than welcome. You run around the kingdom, and the central hub based around Peach’s Castle, and are occasionally required to solve basic puzzles involving switches and pushing blocks, in order to progress or unlock items. This is sort of filler, to be frank; it’s a fun diversion but nothing terribly taxing, and I often run myself itching to just get to the next battle section.

The sense of humour presented here seems to have divided people. Personally, I have no issue with the Rabbids and their antics. It’s a far more direct and blunt style to what you’d expect from a straight-up Mario game, but the introduction of the Myxomatosis-magnets gives an excuse for things to get wild with bum jokes and selfies abound. I’m very wary of forced-wackiness and cynically-pitched humour, but as cautious as I was about this I didn’t find it to be the case here at all; the game raised more than a few solid chuckles for me.

You take control of Beep-O, a sort of sassy Roomba who leads the squad. Why legendary adventurer and hero Mario has decided to relinquish command to a talking vacuum cleaner remains unclear, but at this point you just have to roll with it. You can pick Sassy Roomba’s disciples from Mario , Luigi, Peach or their Rabbid counterparts.

The enemies are occasionally frustrating, and I felt it was a little cheap of the game to throw new foes at you from literally out of the ground at random points throughout matches (it’s hard to factor these into a strategy when you can’t see them for half the match). Likewise, when there’s a lot of Rabbids to dispose of on the other team it can take a while before it comes around to your turn again, even with the fast forward turned on.

Visually, though, it’s as rich as you’d expect. Kingdom Battle looks as much of a Mario game as any other of his recent outings, and the environments have that typical Nintendo sheen; all big shapes and primary colours, albeit with a pun-focused wit and additional zaniness from the rabbids. Weapons have joke names (Hell In A Shell a favourite of mine, in particular), moves and skills contain pop-culture references. Meanwhile, the Rabbids are essentially Minions but less prevalent in low-res Facebook memes. I found that things got a little jerky with frame rates on rare occasion, but it’s hard to see this as much of a problem in a turn-based game. It’s never ideal but it’s forgivable when you’re planning out moves and executing them in turns.

The only other issue I could find with Kingdom Battle was that it doesn’t really bear hours of continuous play; during such sessions (which I wouldn’t normally have done on a game like this anyway if I wasn’t rushing to review it), the battles blurred into one and the limited range of options and tactics become more noticeable. However, the Switch is a handheld console, and this sort of game is it’s bread and butter; an easily-accessible, family friendly title for short blasts. Again, not particularly a huge issue here. I’m just trying to present a balanced argument, y’know?

VERDICT

The mash-up no one wanted has turned out to be a gateway strategy game everyone wants. Hugely involving and with just the right amount of variables to tweak, the addition of Nintendo’s sheen and the childlike chaos of the rabbids are very much the icing on the cake. If you’ve got a Switch, you’ll want this; time-travelling washing machine and everything.

9/10

*It’s a Chaz and Dave reference. Sorry.

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