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The Mash Up No One Wanted But Everyone Needs

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    Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle

    Rating: 4.0 – Great

    The Mash Up No One Wanted But Everyone Needs

    It isn’t always easy to figure out what kind of games people are going to like. ¡°Harvesting resources in extremely blocky environments until phallic monsters try to blow you up¡± sounds like a nightmare I had after I drank too much cough syrup, and yet Minecraft is one of the best-selling games of all time. Finding that next big success is wildly unpredictable, and it is almost impossible to deduce what upcoming title is going to capture that magic. Something that almost certainly was not going to be one of these things, however, was Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. When this game got announced, the collective derisive laughter that came from the gaming community was so loud that it drowned out the annoying BWAHs of the Rabbids from the trailers. While everyone loves a good Mario game, this one had him staring in a turn based tactical strategy game, something Mario has about as much experience with as sensible portion control. And the Rabbids had somehow shoehorned their way into the adventure, which would be perfect for sales because Rabbids are about as beloved as abscessed teeth in the gaming community. It was certainly not the kind of game many people were looking forward to, and all the attention it garnered at first was largely confined to the ¡°haha hey look how dumb this looks¡± demographic. The strangest thing about all of this though is that when people actually sat down to play it, they found out it was actually good. Not just good, really, but great, and the Rabbids will be a welcome addition to the Mushroom Kingdom whenever they decide to go visit it again.

    When the game starts, some genius twelve-year-old girl is ranting to herself about how no one appreciates the brilliance of her machine that can literally fuse any two things together just by looking at them through a pair of special goggles known as the SupaMerge. Typically, this would be the intro to a horror movie and a cat stapled to a toaster would shamble in from offscreen now and beg for death. Not here though, because when the girl leaves her basement like fifty Rabbids show up in some dimensional jumping washing machine. So it’s actually much scarier, really. One of the Rabbids puts on the SupaMerge headset and accidentally starts fusing things together. There are some Mario toys in the basement, and by merging these with some nearby Rabbids he accidentally turns his pals into Mario themed versions of themselves. This is much more dangerous than the Rabbid cosplay convention it sounds like though, because they somehow get sucked into the Mushoom Kingdom itself by, uh, ¡°science¡± (?). The haywire SupaMerge headset begins endangering the very fabric of reality and merging every single Rabbid in sight with anything remotely villainous that’s around. Mario, his pals, and the traveling Rabbid cosplay convention must now put an end to the trouble being caused by the SupaMerge and save the Mushroom Kingdom’s inhabitants from the constant barrage of ¡°BWAH¡±s being screamed in their face. And you thought a cockroach infestation was bad.

    Most of the time the comedic value of Rabbids falls somewhere between the high pitched squeals of the emergency broadcast system and Jar Jar Binks doing outdated racial stereotypes impersonations, so you would be forgiven for thinking that the story here might be pretty dumb based on past history. The Rabbids yell ¡°BWAH¡± and sometimes ¡°BWAHHH¡± and that’s it. That’s typically not the makings of a great comedy – those are the sounds someone suffering from severe food poison make. Add Mario’s dead eyed stare and perpetual silence to the mix and you’re not exactly on the path to comic greatness. And yet, something here works and the story and writing are both charming and endearing and legitimately funny at times. Their normal schtick is far less annoying when there is a straight man to play off of, and the Rabbids antics here work in a way they usually don’t. In particular, Rabbid Peach stands out as a great source of comedy, taking selfies when bosses are falling to their doom or hurling rocks, blocks, and other party members at someone who annoyed her. The silliness works well, and while you probably won’t want to forgive the Rabbids for some of their past transgressions against comedy, here it makes for a lighthearted, silly experience that has enough charm to power it through.

    It isn’t perfect, though, and it feels at times like they wasted a lot of their potential. Rabbid Peach is great, and there were several instances of really good comedy in the first chapter with Mario, Rabbid Peach, and Rabbid Luigi playing off of each other well. After that though, there is a bit of a lull in later chapters where it feels like the characters and their personalities are not explored fully. You have a rotating party at this point, and you’re capable of putting in two different pals to tag along with Mario. That’s good for the gameplay, but the game doesn’t seem to know what to do with them in the cutscenes, because when the game can’t be certain as to who you’re using the entire party is left miming the same couple of emotions in the background while some NPCs chat it up. It takes a lot of humor out of the sotry, and it also robs a lot of the characters you acquire later in the game of any real personality. I know it would be hard for the game to come up with twenty different permutations for scenes to reflect who was in the party, but they could’ve just done scenes where everyone was there regardless if they were in your party or not. There are definitely some funny parts later in the game, but they don’t come from your party members as they largely feel sterile as the game goes on. it’s a waste of some interesting characters, and it doesn’t help you build any sort of attachment to the group when the majority of your crew don’t have any semblance of a personality.

    It isn’t just the story though, because it feels like a lot of the characters aren’t well integrated into the game at all. There are three total characters you don’t get until the game is about halfway over, and one of the characters you don’t get until there’s like an hour left to the story. This is an absurdly late point to be throwing in a new party member and it almost feels like a couple of these guys were just thrown in as an afterthought. There is also a certain amount of overlap between characters, where abilities can get reused a lot. There are two characters with bazookas, two that have shields, three that have the ability to fire on an enemy if they move during their turn, and on and on like this. It isn’t that all the characters are the same, and even with the reused abilities it feels like there is a decent amount of variation between the characters. But it also feels like there isn’t a tremendous amount of customization available to your party because you get some of these characters so late into the game and then when you get them they don’t feel like they add much legitimately new to the gameplay. It doesn’t help that the game absolutely forces you to use Mario as the leader and makes you put a Rabbid into at least one of the two remaining spots. There had to have been a better way to allow for party customization, because you barely have your full party for the entire game and when you do the game is very picky about letting you choose who you can bring with. It removes a bit of the strategy here when the construction of the party feels so limited.

    With that out of the way, I have to admit the gameplay here is a lot of fun. Surprisingly so, in fact. They’re mixing franchises here that don’t really feel like they should be mixed and doing something completely different than what the two franchises are known for, and yet somehow everything works. The game is essentially a lite, family friendly version of what the X-COM series popularized years ago. Mario + Rabbids is a tactical turned based RPG strategy game, and wow is that not a sentence I thought I’d ever put together like two years ago. At the start of each level, you and the enemy characters will be positioned around a grid that has various bits of cover or obstacles spread throughout the level. You do not have any direct input on where the characters will be when the battle starts, but the rest of the strategy of the battle will be entirely up to you. You have to move your guys around the map, putting them in the best strategic position to maximize the damage output to your foes while minimizing the damage coming your way. There are different types of enemies with different skills or weapons, and your team consists of a party of three chosen from a group of eight possible characters that also all have their own weapons and skills designed to make the battles easier.

    When I say this is a scaled back version of X-COM, I certainly don’t mean that as an insult. It is almost brilliant in its simplicity, and the game does just enough to make the combat fun and challenging without making it overly complex or obtuse. The basics are all very simple to understand. Attack the bad guys, move your character around the grid, and try to get behind either full cover (blocks hits 100%) or partial cover (blocks hits 50%) if you can. The first few levels are almost deceptively simple, and the game is very nice about slowly peeling back new tricks along the way. it’s a lot of little things, honestly, but by the time the full package is complete its like 50 different little things and suddenly the strategy has become a very big thing indeed. You’ll be using special abilities, positioning yourself just right so as to not get slaughtered by enemy attacks, and dashing through three enemies before using an explosive RC car to blow up three others. The kinds of things you can pull off in this game are impressive, and there is something extremely satisfying about seeing your plan come to fruition and pulling off everything just right. So, yes, it is X-COM lite, but it is X-COM ¡°just lite enough¡± that keeps the tasty strategy while cutting away all that extraneous stuff that didn’t really need to be there anyway.

    And a lot of the little things they put in here work extremely well. There are enemies that can heal other enemies, ones that will fire at you if you move within their line of sight, and those that can generate a shield that makes them invincible for one shot. But, then again, there are people on your team that have all of these abilities as well. Weapons (on both sides) also have a certain probability of hitting with a critical hit, the percentage of which varies depending on the weapon. Not only do these do more damage, but they also have some sort of special effect. Maybe they’ll freeze the use of their special moves or maybe they’ll prevent them from moving or attacking. Certain weapons can hit a larger range to damage more enemies, but at the same time they can hit allies within the same range. Each character also has a dash attack which allows you to move into an enemy and cause damage before finishing your movement and then using your standard attack. There are a lot of little things like this where you need to figure out exactly how to maximize the damage you’re doing while at the same time protecting yourself as much as you can. Should you position yourself here to maximize the number of enemies you’ll hit even though an ally will take some damage too? Is it better to hide behind this destructible cover to ensure a clear shot at the enemy or the indestructible cover which has a worse line of sight but guarantees your cover won’t get destroyed leaving you exposed? It is all just so well thought out and so well implemented and all of these little ideas work together so much better than you’d expect at first glance. This is a game that is a great example of something being greater than the sum of its parts, and all of these little small individual gameplay elements build up into something that is genuinely engaging and fun.

    And difficult. Surprisingly difficult, honestly. Because of just how tightly this game is put together, they do a great job introducing some real challenge fairly early in the game. Individual chapters are typically broken up into two fights, and your squad isn’t fully healed until you complete the second of those fights. So very frequently you’re going have to decide if it is worth taking an extra hit since you know you may now go into the next half of the chapter at lower health. Enemies can be brutal, focusing in on one ally and utterly draining them of their health before you have a chance to respond. And while beating a chapter is easy enough, to get the highest rank on it you will need to get through it without losing any troops and clearing it in a relatively short number of turns. This turns what seems like a cutesy simple little game into hardcore strategy simulator, and figuring out how to get through a particularly difficult area quickly and without losing any allies is even more satisfying. The difficulty feels just about right, where it was challenging enough to be rewarding when you beat it but not so challenging that it ever becomes frustrating. It truly makes the most out of every single one of its mechanics, and it is rare when things come together this well.

    The missions are also fairly well varied, and not everything boils down to ¡°kill all of those guys over there¡± kind of missions. I mean, sure there are plenty of those, but there are other missions where you need to escort Toad around the map or get to a certain spot within a designated number of turns. They actually do some really clever things with the movement here, and there are certain maps that are more puzzles than they are strategy. There are a handful of bonus levels where you need to get the characters to spots on the map, and your movement alone isn’t enough to get them there. Instead, there will be some environmental hazard like a tornado that blows you away, or enemies will have guaranteed special attacks that are designed to knock you back. You have to figure out how to combine your movement, your special skills, and the environment of the level itself to bounce you around the level in just the right way to get you to where you need to get to. These levels are a lot of fun and different from what you would expect from this sort of game. There is just a good mix of levels here, and they do a nice job mixing up level types at the right time so things don’t get too stale. Even the escort missions are fun, something that is almost never true in any game ever. Do you know how hard it is to make escort missions entertaining? Scientsits have tried for years, and somehow Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is one of the first ones to get it right. It adds an extra level of strategy to the game, and the variety in level types is another point in the game’s favor.

    Outside of the story battles, there is a lot of stuff to see and do here. After completing each of the four worlds, you can revisit it and explore it further. You unlock a new ability after each level that will allow it to be fully explored, revealing new treasure chests containing new weapons or artwork or even bonus experience. The layout of most of the levels is fairly basic, but there are some halfway decent puzzles thrown in once in a while. Most of these are pretty straightforward and involve sliding blocks around, but it works well enough without getting in the way of the actual gameplay. Additionally, there will be 10 challenges levels unlocked in each world after you complete it that can give you extra cash and experience and often provide a more substantial challenge than even what you’d find in the main game. This is great for two reasons. First, the missions themselves are legitimately fun and do a good job extending the gameplay. Secondly, it gives you a reason to go searching through the levels again and helps make it feel less redundant when the game forces you to play the level twice to get all the treasure. On top of all of this, there are also multiplayer maps where each player controls two characters and you work together to complete the same sort of tasks you did in the single player campaign. I actually played these all by myself because I was thoroughly enjoying the experience, and while it was a bit annoying to keep swapping back and forth between controllers, it added a lot of extra content that I was still looking for after completing the main quest. There is a lot to do here, and the core concept is strong enough that you’ll want to do it all.

    Another nice touch was the introduction of some light RPG elements, with enough customization options to be interesting without being overwhelming. There is not enough customization here to really satisfy hardcore RPG enthusiasts, but you are able at least to tweak enough to make it feel like you have some actual progression to your characters. You get experience by completing the story levels, the extra bonus levels, and by finding some hidden in chests while you’re exploring. This will allow you to boost things like how far you can move or how much health your characters have, in addition to making your special moves stronger or allowing you to use them more frequently. While by the end of the game you will likely have almost everything unlocked, it is important to distribute the experience out well early on to optimize your characters before heading into battle. You can completely restart a skill tree at any point if you want, so if you make some mistakes early on it is very easy to fix. You won’t get lost in the customization like you did in X-COM, but the little bit here might actually work better with what the game is trying to do.

    If I had one main complaint though, it’s just that. Mario + Rabbids sometimes feels like it’s just a bit short. Short on time, short on customization, short on ideas. Don’t get me wrong, what is here is really good but it could’ve been great with a just a bit more¡­something. The four levels were fun, but the game feels a bit short in terms of the main story. The customization is good, but a lot of the ideas gets reused and it feels like it needs just a pinch more depth. This isn’t a major complaint, and the issues I listed above are all in the ¡°good but not great¡± range. I know this sounds like I’m nitpicking, but it what separates a great game from an amazing one and this one is just a bit short in some areas. I really enjoyed it while I was playing, but this was not a game I could sit down and marathon. While fun, there is something about it that after finishing a couple of levels made me want to go ¡°alright, that’s enough for now¡±. I enjoyed my time for sure, but I wasn’t hooked on it like I get with some of the very best games. It does everything well, but at the same time it feels like it could be doing somethings just a bit better, too.

    Visually, the game is quite stunning. Everything is bright and colorful and this is the sort of setting you want to just run around in and try to cuddle up with the friendly woodland animals that are inevitably hiding somewhere. The mix between Mario and Rabbids works perfectly, and the entire world here just looks happy. I am not as enthusiastic about the level design itself from a technical standpoint, mostly because it is kind of blocky and dull. The backdrops are a lot of fun, mind you, and the game revels in presenting you with a string of absurdities to check out along the way. The linear nature of the game does make it feel a bit more confined though, and when you’re looking at a battlefield and it is just a series of different sized boxes dotting the field it is hard to get excited. Still, beyond this the game does look nice and the designs are fun, from the environments to the characters. For example, Rabbid Luigi is wearing an oversized shirt while Rabbid Yoshi looks like a dog cosplaying as a Yoshi, both of which are pretty adorable. The battlefields certainly could’ve used a bit more flair, but overall, they did a good job bringing this world to life.

    Mario + Rabbids is a thoroughly enjoyable game that is just a smidge away from being truly fantastic. The X-COM lite battle system is strange at first, but really well designed and this game is truly greater than the sum of its parts. Everything works well together, and the ways the enemies attack, your special skills, the weapon variety, all of it feeds into the strategy of the game and it makes the battles surprisingly fun. You’ll be moving, dashing, jumping, firing, and ducking behind cover all in a single turn, and it is remarkable the sorts of things you can pull off once you familiarize yourself with the battle system. At the same time though, it isn’t quite a system seller for the Switch (although at this point I suppose it doesn’t even really need another one). The story and the humor miss the mark sometimes, the story is a bit on the short side, and while the battle system is fun it can get a bit monotonous at times due to some of the limitations. This isn’t the kind of game you’re going to want to marathon for multiple hours at a time. All of that being said though, this is an easy recommendation even for people that typically aren’t a fan of strategy games. It does enough to provide a real challenge without doing too much that it becomes inaccessible or daunting to anyone who isn’t a hardcore strategy enthusiast. This is a great introduction to the genre of people that don’t quite want to get their Ph.D. in strategy games, and is really just a great game all around. Mario and the Rabbids was a mashup that sounded horrible at first, but now I definitely hope there’s more of them to come.

    Mamma Mia! (THE GOOD):

    • Fun battle system that takes a lot of little good ideas and merges them all together beautifully
    • It really takes advantage of all the game’s various mechanics to make an almost perfect difficulty level
    • Lots of things to do outside of the story campaign, and a lot of the bonus missions are really well thought out
    • Pretty good variety in the mission types with some clever ¡°puzzle¡± type levels mixed in at times
    • The various special abilities and special effects add an extra layer of strategy to the battles which was definitely needed
    • Great job simplifying strategy just enough to make it accessible but still challenging and rewarding
    • Brimming with charm, and there are some great scenes and some great artwork that help elevate this game even further

    Bwah! (THE BAD):

    • Some of the middle portions of the story feel a bit phoned in, and a lot of the humor from the beginning can go missing when they don’t know who is in your party
    • Mechanics can get a bit same-y if you play too long, and this is definitely best appreciated in spurts
    • Reusing weapons and even special techniques between some of the characters feels a bit lazy, and they could’ve done more to make the characters stand out from each other
    • Some of the party mechanics aren’t well thought out, and a couple of the characters don’t join you until far too late into the story
    • Overall the visuals are great, but the appearance of the battlefields themselves is kind of boring and they blend together after a while

    BWAHHHHHHHHHHHH (THE UGLY): Not paying enough attention to one of your area of effect attacks and accidentally hitting your own guy. Sorry, Mario. If it makes you feel better, you only died because of gross negligence. That doesn’t help? Well, sorry anyway.

    THE VERDICT: 8.25/10.00

    Rating:   4.0 – Great

    Product Release: Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle (US, 08/29/17)

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