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    Rango
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    Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle

    Rating: 4.5 – Outstanding

    Welcome to the Kingdom!

    Mario + Rabbids is the first crossover between Nintendo’s Super Mario series and Ubisoft’s Rabbids characters. Originally debuting in Rayman Raving Rabbids, the critters are bunnies who behave mischievously. Though generally not bright creatures, their antics are charming, whether they’re parodying movies, other gaming franchises, or just beating each other over the head. In this case, they’ve even taken up cosplay of other Nintendo characters! In this adventure, which is unlike any other, you’ll be experiencing a world of turn-based strategy!

    The game is a dream project from Ubisoft. Originally debuting at E3 2017, the creators brought together their talents to create a charming adventure. The point was to unite the goofy, quirky, and lighthearted worlds of the silly Rabbids and Super Mario. By doing so, the teams of Mario’s friends and the Rabbids would work together to save the world! From who? A tiny bunny with a gadget so powerful it can increase the size of anything!

    A creation is invented in another, nameless world. The Rabbids invade in their little warping machine, and get ahold of the device – which looks like a VR headset. They open a portal to Mario’s world, creating chaos and changing the shape of the Mushroom Kingdom, practically terraforming with giant blocks, enemies, and even household objects and clothes, such as appliances and even underwear! Have you ever seen a Banzai Bill in a pair of bloomers? Believe me when I say it isn’t a pleasant sight.

    That being said, the goal is to rescue the tiny bunny, named Spawny, before he can destroy the Mushroom Kingdom. The innocent rodent is scared of everything, even despite creating a massive portal which threatens to destroy the world. Separated from Peach and Luigi, Mario teams up with his new friends – the Rabbids. The first takes her cosplay to a new level, being the sassy princess, Peach Rabbid. With an attitude and a love for selfies and her precious Mario, she willingly joins him. The second is the Luigi Rabbid, who’s cheery, innocent, and able to use defensive abilities. Guided by a rabbid-shaped machine, a snide, bunny-eared roomba named Beep-O, they travel to find Mario’s friends and the Rabbids while searching for Spawny and thwarting the plans of Bowser Jr.

    This game takes away many conventions of the Mario series. For starters, Bowser Jr. is your main villain. According to the story, Bowser’s on vacation. Jr. receives texts from his father and tries to stay out of trouble, being a good son despite his penchant for mischief. Peach also joins the fray, not being a damsel in distress. Moreover, the dialogue in this game largely consists of references to the Mario series, comments on the absurd background choices, and even Bowser Jr’s daddy issues. Beep-O handles most of the talking, often making snarky comments or eyes turning red whenever irritated, as well as handling e-mails from mysterious characters that help guide the characters on their way.

    In the world of the Mushroom Kingdom, you’re greeted to the pretty sights of what it looks like on the Nintendo Switch. Cartoonish visuals permeate the game, with beautiful lighting from sunlight, sunset, and even moonlight, depending on where you are in the game. You’ll travel through plains, a desert, a haunted cemetery, and a lava-filled mine. The scenarios will change halfway through each chapter, turning into a tower, an ice-filled wasteland, and more.

    What makes the visuals stand out are the background elements, mentioned earlier. Oversized Mario enemies, such as the Goombas and Banzai Bills, are stuck in predicaments, as well as many other things, such as bloomers. You’ll see Rabbids dancing around, having fun, or drinking lava, just to name a few of their frivolous activities. Some of the locales stand out as quite gorgeous, such as the Tower levels in Chapter 1 Act 2. The sunset permeates the air and creates an atmosphere separate from the normal plains in the first part of the chapter. If you want to go full-blown Halloween, the third world features Boos, ghost-like enemies, dead trees, and more. Plus, the animations overall are just a joy to watch, whether in battle or in the fields.

    Accompanying these pretty visuals is the soundtrack of Grant Kirkhope. Known for his music in the Banjo-Kazooie series and Donkey Kong 64, the music feels like one big throwback to the N64 days mixed with a number of cues from Super Mario and even classic Donkey Kong! Kirkhope’s orchestrations manage to strike the chord between a tribute to past works while also being fresh and original. To me, it sounds like a contender for soundtrack of the year 2017. His style stands out as one-of-a-kind and suits the silly mood of the Rabbids and the epic feel of the turn-based strategy that involves saving the world.

    The sound effects consist of Rabbids and many other things. Meaning, what stands out most is "BWAH!" and their voices, as well as the voices of Mario and his friends ("Let’s-a go", he says!). The sound of satisfaction largely comes from defeating your enemies in battle. When you make the shot, you hear the sound effect of the status ailment you landed, be it Honey or Bounce. The spinning sound effect indicates a defeat, amping you up to finish the next enemy before collecting Coins that fly out of your opponent!

    In the fields, you’ll be solving puzzles and traveling to your next match. Many of these are block puzzles, for example. Others include switching colored blocks to open the path, guiding a statue, and smashing blocks. Beep-O gains new upgrades at the end of each chapter. It is crucial, yet not required, to revisit areas. Opening new paths means opening more treasure boxes. Some of these contain upgraded weapons. Whether you want to purchase the "next level" weapons – available at the end of each chapter – or hunt down your own, is up to you. Furthermore, you will be upgrading your characters with a Skill Tree. Finding orbs to boost your Skills is important, so stay sharp and solve side puzzles whenever you can!

    Mario + Rabbids’ gameplay is a turn-based Strategy title. If you’re fond of Nintendo titles, you may have thought immediately of Fire Emblem and Advance Wars. You battle on a grid and are set with various goals, from eliminating your enemies to escorting characters to making it to the goal. Your weapons consist of a ray gun and your secondary, be it a hammer, a mobile droid, or grenades. Each weapon has a different property. Some guns have long-range capabilities, while others have spreadshots. Hammers are effective at close-range, while Grenades are meant to take out enemies covering behind the safety of blocks and walls.

    The game is heavily based on your terrain and elevation. High ground means more chances for evasion and doling out more damage. Staying behind cover means evading attacks. Half-cover means 50% chance, while a full block’s cover means full protection. You won’t always be able to go unscathed, but some protection is better than none. The game isn’t randomized based on critical hits as much as Fire Emblem, or nearly as impactful.

    Your battles consist of movement, attack, and specials. You get to move a certain amount of squares, choose to use a weapon or sub-weapon, and then use a special to boost your stats, heal your party, or use an attack between turns. This attack involves watching the movement of an enemy. Even if it’s their turn, if they move into your zone, you fire at them automatically. You can also use your Movement to dash into an enemy, or shoot them with a Bounce effect, using your other teammate to capitalize with their shot for a combo bonus!

    You can utilize your weapons and upgrade them at any time you have coins. All weapon types are fixed. For instance, Mario has a normal ray gun and a Hammer, while Luigi has a sniping gun and a droid. The upgrades largely affect damage, range, and status ailments. Two weapons that come from the same chapter may have the same stats, but one may cause Honey (which stops all movement) while another is Freeze (which prevents specials). Movement is centered around field, traveling through pipes, and utilizing jumping techniques, where you bounce on a party member to get ahead or, in Mario and Yoshi’s case, stomping on enemies. You pick three party members and fight the rest. Every character has different attributes, and no two characters are the same.

    Furthermore, the game is quite challenging. Inviting for a beginner, but a veteran player will appreciate the challenge presented both by the normal story, and the post-chapter challenges. The best part is knowing that all characters are viable, and your judgement makes the difference in how you clear a map. Once you get comfortable with the game, you can almost certainly pick a "favorite" team you’re most familiar with and utilize their strategies. If you get stuck, no need to worry. The game doesn’t rely on RPG elements. You buy upgraded weapons and sub-weapons and try your other party member, and they’re good to go!

    Once you finish a chapter, you get to take on challenge maps. They’re available in all chapters of the game. There’s about 20 hours of gameplay for the story mode, but there’s plenty more to do after that. The maps range from Easy to Very Hard difficulty. If you have a friend, you two can take on co-op maps. Plus, if you bought the DLC, there’s even the Ultimate maps you can challenge. The Ultra Challenge pack is for the best of players!

    The rewarding part of the game is taking on extra maps or simply returning to a level for unfinished business. When you’re not searching for upgraded weapons, each world has puzzles and treasure boxes. These contain music, 3D models, and artwork to unlock. There are many unlockables. in the game. If you’re stuck on a challenging map, try searching other worlds for upgraded weapons, extra orbs, or easier challenges. Buy upgraded weapons, and come back for revenge!

    The game is streamlined and simple. You get a linear path of weapons, sub-weapons, and four types of skills to upgrade. There is no skill reset, or "respec", and each skill is quite useful. The game is user-friendly and flexible, allowing you to maximize on the strengths of your upgrades, be it on movement, attack power, or unique capabilities. You’ll never have to worry about the regret of upgrading the wrong stat or character. What makes the game’s challenge is the level and map design. There are many types of Rabbids, which are your main enemies. Some shoot long range, some counterattack you and smash you with a Tombstone. Some are ghosts who hit-and-run, while others are armed with a shield and a shotgun. They utilize their jumping abilities, movement options, and even surround your weakest character. Smart tactics make you more effective than upgrading a unit ever will.

    Overall, Mario + Rabbids is a polished title, but not entirely perfect. A few, and I mean a small handful, of puzzles might rub you the wrong way. One of them is a rotating room, while another has you going back and forth to shut off switches. They don’t take long to clear, but do involve a good bit of walking. There’s also some random element, such as when Boos appear. They remove a party member and return them to the beginning of the map. However, it’s by no-means gamebreaking, but if you’re trying to make a picture-perfect strategy, just keep in mind that you may have to improvise at times.

    Mario + Rabbids, as mentioned before, is a polished, passion project. The Rabbids were, on the internet community, not popular characters among many. Ubisoft brought them back to life with their humorous antics in the world of Mario. The gameplay is challenging, addictive, and flexible, and the replay value rewards the player with many hours of extra maps, searching for unlockables, and even co-op campaigns. It has everything from humorous shenanigans to difficult boss battles and even a look into the lives of characters from an unexpected angle. The level of detail flourishes in its audiovisual design and variety of maps and challenges. The best thing to do is simply play it for yourself and go all in, full price, for a game that’s completely worth the price tag.

    Overall this is perhaps the most fun, original Mario concept that I’ve played since Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga. It’s simplistic, Mario gameplay that continues the tradition of pure fun, while evolving the challenge through the use of enemy tactics and level designs. If you’re a fan of Mario, own a Switch, and want a game that’s relaxing, yet challenging, this is for you. It paces itself well and is worth anyone’s time. There’s tons of epic cutscenes, fun boss fights, and even an opera. I’ll let you get to that part first so it can blow your mind the way it blew mine.

    I forgot to mention one last thing. Despite the use of guns in this game, no Rabbids were harmed in the making of this title. All guns are just blast rays that send the Rabbids back home. Some of them do set the poor bunnies on fire, so I lied just now. It hurts a little, but it could be worse.

    Rating:   4.5 – Outstanding

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

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