Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle Review (Nintendo Switch)
The Mario Brothers have been around nearly as long as video games themselves, and have starred in just about every single kind of game you can play. In all those decades however, Nintendo's Mushroom Kingdom heroes never faced the gridlocked life of tactical strategy. Apparently, they were just waiting for Ubisoft's goofball Rabbids to provide the impetus. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is one of the best games in Ubisoft and Nintendo's partnership, and is a surprisingly strong strategy game to boot.
A young tech inventor managed to develop a new set of augmented reality goggles that are more powerful than anyone has ever seen. All it takes to ruin that good thing is a little Deus Ex Rabbida. The Rabbids appear in the young genius' Nintendo-themed basement, and it doesn't take long for all heck to break loose. Not only do the goggles end up mixing the Rabbid reality with the Mario Bros.-themed one in the house, they also somehow open a portal to the Mushroom Kingdom. The Rabbids aren't just content to wreak havoc in one world, they've got to mess up three or four in the process.
As a story premise, the plot of Mario + Rabbids certainly lives up to the ridiculousness of Ubisoft's white Minion-esque creatures. It's charming and cute to a degree, and gives some clever background to how Mario, Luigi and Peach ended up with Rabbid cosplayers in a world full of oversized underwear, villains and some truly strange weapons. Some of the jokes don't land quite as strongly as they are clearly expected to, but Ubisoft's approach gives Kingdom Battle personality that extends beyond the casting. It also helps Kingdom Battle stand out from the typically serious strategy crowd by having a little fun. That carries over into the gameplay too, where Mario and the Rabbids engage is some easily accessible and deep grid-based combat.
Melding the real world, the Mushroom Kingdom and whatever dimension the Rabbids inhabit, Kingdom Battle gives players a handful of carefully crafted worlds to fight across and explore. Though not an open world game, Mario and your other party members of choice will wander around each locale in search of the next big fight, special items, and secrets, with the occasional puzzle thrown in for good measure. Exploration gives you a reason to backtrack, as new traversal tools open up the deeper into the game you get. If wandering around isn't your thing, you won't have to put any more time in than necessary to get to the battles.
Each of the eight chapters in a given world can host up to four different fights, with Mario and the rest of his team unable to recharge their health until all those battles are complete. You will be able to switch party members to keep everyone as fresh as possible, but early on you're very limited in how much swapping around you can actually do. New characters are doled out slowly, but as the cast expands to five or six characters, you not only won't have to worry about health quite as much, but you'll also be able to get really creative with how each character's powers work together.
Mario, Luigi and the Rabbid cosplayers all have personal weapon sets and powers they can use in a battle against their displaced enemies. The weapon sets all fit the familiar archetypes, with all-around assault blaster characters mixed with snipers and support characters, and so on. All the weapons have different iterations you can find and purchase along the way, with some being as simple as adding boosted damage, and others adding status effects to swing the tide of battle in your favor. The personal powers are what really make the difference in a combat scenario though, and learning the ins and outs of how to maximize your damage every turn will play a big part in how quickly you'll advance.
Characters like Mario and Luigi have Hero Sight and Steely Stare respectively, which act as an overwatch type of ability. Anytime an enemy moves on the battlefield and they're in range, Mario or Luigi will fire a shot off in their direction for a guaranteed hit. When you combine those with something like Rabbid Mario's Magnet Dance, which attracts all enemies in its radius to move towards him, you can create a devastating damage combo that quickly puts the villainous Rabbids at a disadvantage. All the powers have a cooldown, but most only last a few turns. That gives you the chance to use them early without worrying about having to save them for more crucial moments. The bad guys have these powers too, with the same restrictions of course, so you will have to deal with them just as often as you use them yourself.
On a given map you'll also have to contend with the terrain, which can be used to your advantage or against you in favor of the bad Rabbids. Short walls and pillars offer you a small bit of cover if you're behind them, and lowering the chance an enemy can even hit you. The bigger the wall, the better the cover. You've also got to take attack angles into account, both offensively and defensively. Even keeping all those elements in mind, it's easy to grasp thanks to the simplified Switch controls. With everything you can do at your disposal with just a few button presses, there's not a lot to memorize. The only thing you can really screw up is accidentally ending your turn too early, or mixing up which characters you wanted to act before another.
Every turn really does come down to how you move and arrange everyone on the terrain in order to provide a great attack on the current turn, and set up the next few while you're at it. Moving around is easy, as you just have to select a character and move them within their preset range. However, you can improve that range with team jumps, which allow characters to give a boost to a partner. You can also attack on your movement stage with dashes and squashes depending on who you are and how close the enemy Rabbids are at that time. Kingdom Battle has a number of ways to give players the advantage in a fight, but you've got to be willing to put a little bit of time in to get the most out of not just every encounter but every turn. You can skate by on just trying to overpower foes in the opening area, but after that, you have to be smarter about how you play.
Though there isn't a competitive online component, Kingdom Battle does offer some couch co-op. As you play the single-player story, you unlock new cooperative challenges that can be accessed from the hub world. There you'll partner with a friend on a series of new maps and stages to beat up on some more Rabbids. You'll each control two different teams of two characters, but you'll still have access to the complete armory and powers you've unlocked to that point. The matches are generally short, which makes them good for quick bursts of play when you want to show Kingdom Battle off, or just have a few minutes to kill while traveling.
Like the co-op challenges, there are also challenges sprinkled through the single-player worlds. Once you complete a world, you can revisit past battle spots to find new encounters waiting for you that will test every last one of the skills you've acquired and learned while playing. Most of the time, they challenge comes from completing a task like eliminating X-number of enemies or reaching a goal line within a certain number of turns. The odds will be stacked against you more than ever, though the difficulty ratings on these challenges could sometimes be deceiving. Still, it's a good way to keep learning more strategies, earning more coins and skill points, and giving you a break if you're up against a particularly frustrating story mission.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle takes familiar characters to very different places than we've seen them before, and the experiment works. While the premise is about as ludicrous as one would expect from the Rabbids, there's a real strong game underneath all that goofiness. The strategic action isn't quite as punishing as some of the more established franchises in the genre, but Kingdom Battle still manages pack some smart gameplay tricks into a welcoming experience for Switch owners.
This review is based on a download of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle provided by the publisher for Nintendo Switch.