I won’t lie, I’m not a big fan of strategy games. Titles such as X-Com or even Fire Emblem relies a lot on planning ahead and patience—two of things I’m terrible at when it comes to gaming. Yet despite that, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle has managed to convince me otherwise.
The concept is pretty simple, the iconic (and somewhat annoying) Rabbids have invaded the Mushroom Kingdom causing chaos by merging various objects together. Mario and company have to work together to stop the madness from spreading. Along the way you will also meet and befriend the robot Beep-0 and normal Rabbids who are merely “fans” who cosplay as various Mario characters. One distinct element in the story is how the world is self-aware that it’s in a video game. The intro sequences shows the basement of a young girl who is a fan of the Mario universe and has her merging invention stolen from her by Rabbids who travel between worlds. Throughout the journey she would send upgrades to Beep-0 and help you through your journey.
The worlds mostly consist of iconic locations. You have the grassy hills of World 1, the sand dunes and ice of World 2, Creepy Boo mansion of World 3, and so on. What makes them distinct is how they’ve been mashed up with Rabbids. While exploring you’ll often have moments where you can investigate Rabbids and watch them interacting with the environments. They’re fun distractions and gave me a chuckle here and there even though most of their jokes relies on screaming.
The battle system is surprisingly deep. While previous Mario games have pulled of RPG in a simple yet fun fashion, Kingdom Battle goes all out with levels that require deep thinking and planning. You’re essentially on a grid with turns that give you the ability to walk, shoot, and use a special all in one turn for each character. Cover is also important as you’ll be an easy target otherwise. Did I mention this game uses guns? Well they’re not your M4’s but more MegaMan-ish buster guns. Each character is also distinct with their own abilities. Mario is your well rounded character with a good close range melee and mid-range weapon. Others such as Luigi uses a sniper (vacuum?) and bomb traps. You can only select three characters to take with you so knowing who to pick before each battle is essential.
Using the levels to your advantage is a must. Having a high vantage a point will lead to higher damage, for example. Plenty of times I struggled to find a proper strategy because I failed to review the layout properly or predict where enemies may find an opening. It can get even more frustrating when realizing that you selected a location and realized moments later you made a mistake before ending your turn. This has happened to me a lot as I would accidentally select a wrong space and have to deal with it. While jumping is strangely omitted you could use your partners to jump higher or even bounce off enemies.
Kingdom Battle is not an easy game. Even starting from the half-way point of World 1 it begins to throw a lot of curve balls and enemies with different attributes. One such enemy is the brute who runs towards you if you hit them and deals ridiculous amounts of damage. The starting Battle of World 3 took me a couple of tries as well as enemies were mostly stationed at the top giving me very little room for cover. There is an easy mode but what it does is basically heal your party before each battle. I ended up using this quite often as there’s no proper way to heal your party. But the challenge isn’t frustrating. The game simply has a deep learning curve and once you master it that rewarding feeling begins to kick in. Maybe because it’s a Mario game or the charm, either way it made me love it and pushed me to go further.
Outside of battle, the levels offer little in terms of exploration. You are more or less navigating a linear path from battle to battle. There are some small distractions such as discovering a secret path or hidden item. Puzzles also play a role in the form of moving objects (mostly bricks) and hitting switches. They offer very little in terms of challenge and can get quite repetitive. It’s a shame because Kingdom Battle’s world is so lush and full of detail but most of it is relegated to background décor.
Graphically, the game looks quite stunning especially in portable mode. It runs at a fixed 30 FPS though I did notice a few drops here and there particularly when coming out of sleep mode. The special effects such as fire and the environments look dazzling. Playing it on the TV I noticed a fine attention to surround sound with birds and rivers sounding crisp. The model details however felt a bit lacking in some areas. The AA was poor and skin textures felt pretty plain with barely any shadows to add depth. The difference can clearly be seen when compared to Mario Odyssey or Mario Kart 8. The animations themselves however are fantastic. The Rabbids have all sorts of expressions that belongs in a high budget animation movie. Ubisoft have also managed to mimic the Mario cast perfectly.
The soundtrack however can feel a bit…generic. I mean, yes, there are some iconic Mario melodies but most of it feels taken from some random super hero title that often feels forgettable. Mario games are known for their catchy soundtrack. I mean, I can recite all the main melodies from Mario Sunshine, a game I finished years ago, but I can’t remember a single beat from Kingdom Battle. Overall it’s a disappointment as far as Mario soundtracks go.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a fun addition to the Mario universe. I’m not a big fan of those annoying little creatures but Kingdom Battle’s presentation helped eliminate that. They gelled really well with the Mario universe. Adding to that the unique battle system and you got a Mario experience like no other.