Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle has been out for well over a month which makes this review very late. Especially with the way games in the media cycle are often reviewed, released, played and forgotten soon after. In this case though I think it is worth giving my thoughts despite the relative lateness. Firstly, this is the first game I have played on Switch since I got the system recently. Secondly, because when playing it, I found myself increasingly annoyed with the criticism I had read from various corners of the Internet at the time of release. As the game has been positively received, I should clarify that I’m speaking of some of the negative criticism which seemed to me to be just reaching for faults.
Kingdom Battle is in a bit of a rough position, being a game that’s aesthetic and license will appeal to a wide range of gamers but in the turn-based tactics genre; a genre that is notoriously unforgiving to newcomers. If it is too easy, genre veterans will complain and if is too hard, there will be complaints about it being “inaccessible”. Thankfully as someone who is plenty experienced with this genre, I can say that I believe it has struck the best balance possible.
Kingdom Battle starts out slow and simple and at first I found it quite monotonous. However, I was conscious that this was done for the right reasons and luckily, the introductory parts of the game are entertaining in their own right. From World 2 onward, the proverbial hand-holding has ended and by the last quarter or so of the main story campaign the game really gets serious. That’s not to say it ever gets crushingly difficult so iron men of XCOM and Jagged Alliance or Fire Emblem veterans will not find a challenge that they cannot soon overcome. But it is a good balanced challenge that will see mistakes punished soundly and there is the option to set indidual battles to an easy mode. There are additional challenges unlocked during progression and the option to go back and earn perfect ratings in each scenario for those wanting to further the experience.
When I first saw the game I thought it might rely too much on a gimmick as might be expected by a franchise mash-up. However genuine thought seems to have gone into how the genre can match both series’. So the wackiness of the Rabbids universe along with staples of the Mario universe are well represented in the gameplay. Jumping and running are offensive weapons as well as modes of movement and the game even makes use of pipes which can make large battlefields much smaller. An additional features are some very clever boss battles which I won’t describe but were very entertaining. The only thing that is a little odd seeing Mario, Luigi, Peach and Yoshi wielding weapons but this clash matches the overall franchise clash in practice.
The game also does the genre in its own unique way. Each turn allows you to move, attack and use special powers in any order you see fit, which is not an option in some turn-based tactical games. In practice this simply means that you could have Mario move to cover and attack an enemy or vice versa. But you can also use this to cleverly combine attacks. Some characters can be set to a mode similar to ‘overwatch’ in XCOM where they will automatically attack enemies during their turn. However the Smasher enemy for example, will automatically move when attacked outside of their turn. So you can set your characters to auto attack before using a normal attack, causing the character to move and then run straight into additional attacks. The same can happen with critical hits and elemental damage which either knock enemies about or cause them to run around on fire. Towards the end of the game the ability to chain together multiple attacks becomes extremely satisfying when done right. The enemies can (and often do) the same thing though; which means the way you position characters is very important.
The battles are naturally where most of the game time will take place but these battles are often spaced out by travelling between areas, collecting coins, solving puzzles and finding items. None of these activities are ever particularly head-scratching but work well to break-up the gameplay, especially after the more involved and intense battles. As you progress, you will unlock abilities that allow you to further explore these areas unlocking extra weapons, upgrades along with concept art and music. There is also a co-op mode available.
Although you are always limited to three characters in any battle, you will get multiple characters during the game, specifically four characters from the Mario universe (Mario, Luigi, Peach and Yoshi), and their Rabbid doppelgangers. All characters are unique in their own way and the Rabbid Peach for example, is not merely an uglier clone of Peach herself and has her (his?) own skills. One limitation is that you must have at least one Rabbid or Mario character on your team and Mario himself must always be on your team. I can understand this being limited to the main campaign but I wish this restriction was relaxed upon completing the game as relaxing this could have been a simple but effective way to extend the experience. There is really no good reason for sticking to this outside of the campaign.
Unsurprisingly, coins can be collected and earned in the game. These coins are used to buy weapons for your characters and there is quite a variety to discover. There are also orbs earned during battles and sometimes found in the game world which are used to upgrade character abilities. There is quite a variety to choose from. There are all the obvious upgrades that make attacks more powerful but the usefulness of simply having a wider area of movement cannot be underestimated. In complete contrast to the limitations placed on character selection, the ability tree can be reset at any time should you want to change a character’s abilities. This is really useful as some specific attacks and movements will be more useful in certain battles. As an example, in the scenarios where you need to escort a character or simply reach an area, the ability to move further on each turn, makes a huge difference.
One final thing to mention is the overall polish of the product which is excellent. This is high praise too, considering this is a title developed and published by Ubisoft. While the textures aren’t highly detailed, the game runs smoothly and the environments are varied and saturated with colour and lots of little details. Those with the attention-span of a Rabbid will be thankful as there are always shiny or humorous things to notice even outside of the battles too. The soundtrack composed by Rare legend, Grant Kirkhope is also fantastic.
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is exactly what I hoped it would be. I can understand complaints about certain limitations but these small problems don’t hold the game back in any way. There is an expansion pass available but the retail release isn’t lacking for anything (remember, this is Ubisoft). If you’re into turn-based tactical games, this is an absolute recommendation. At the same time, if you’re not into the genre, this is a good entry-way and as long as you’re prepared for some trial and error later on, there is a rewarding experience to be had.