We’ve seen a lot of weird, original and unexpected games lately, but not one compares to this unholy unity between Nintendo and Ubisoft; between beloved Super Mario and minionesque Rabbids. And yet here we are. There was fear, there was disgust and there was curiosity. But in the end, the final product tramples all prejudice. Ubisoft can make a great game and the rabbids can work side by side with Mario and not be annoying. This is the game that defies expectations – and the one you have to play.

Ubitendo

Mario + Rabbids: Битва за королевство
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

Yeah, I know you’re suspicious. No, nobody payed me to say this. Sure, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is more bizarre than anything Nintendo has put out lately. And I know, comparing this to XCOM may seem blasphemous, but hear me out. There’s no doubt it’s these games that inspired Davide Soliane to create a Mario game in this new genre.

I mean, think about: are there any genres not yet touched by Mario? He’s been in RPGs, driving games, educational games, fighting games. Well, everywhere. Expect in strategies. And now, thanks to good people from Ubisoft Paris (their last noticeable games are Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands and Watch Dogs) and Ubisoft Milan (Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands and Assassin’s Creed Rogue) the famous Italian plumber has truly been everywhere.

You can’t argue that the idea to make an XCOM with Mario in it is solid. The rabbids, on the other hand, are something different. I honestly though they’d ruin the franchise. Thankfully, these crazy rabbits are not nearly as annoying as I had feared. They have been toned down and now I quite like them. And after numerous Sonic at the Olympics games, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle doesn’t look like something that weird. Just another crossover.

Colorful XCOM

Nintendo rarely make games with strong plots – especially with Mario in the title. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle continues this tradition. It’s pretty straightforward, really: in our world (supposedly) a young girl invents a device that allows her to merge any object with another. The device is breakthrough, but very unstable. One thing led to another, and from a portal come rabbids, in all their yelling glory. But they don’t stay in our reality for long, and after some time they disappear into a time travelling washing machine (but of course) and travel to Mushroom Kingdom.

There, another ceremony at princess Peach’s goes wrong (nothing should surprise her at this point) and all hell breaks loose. Rabbids are everywhere, good and bad, mad and even madder. Finally, a couple of merged rabbit mutants that look like Peach and Luigi decide to fight for the good guys (namely, Mario). Why – who knows? We now have a crew and the adventure officially begins.

Nothing too exciting, but this is Mario, where gameplay is the king. I want to say “thank you” to the developers for making such an inviting first area of the game. No infuriating boring tutorials, no walls of texts. Just good ol’ “play and learn” formula. And it works. Sure, I have hours of experience in XCOM, but the game shows all necessary tricks early on and lets you experiment for yourself. Loosing is not that scary – you only loose time. This is a game for those who couldn’t handle hardcore strategy games, often unforgiving when it comes to newbies, and children. Can you remember another child-friendly strategy game? I know I can’t.

Mario + Rabbids: Битва за королевство
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

So yes, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is easier than XCOM, but it doesn’t lack depth. There is progression, a skill tree (all heroes are upgradable), a lot of weapons to buy. The game surprised me with this: there is a lot to do here, and nothing seems rushed or simplified. A full-blown game, which is only natural, considering the price.

While the game is made by Ubisoft in Europe, it is still the Mario we know and love. The Mushroom Kingdom looks dashing thanks to proprietary Snowdrop engine. In terms of style, there’s nothing too different from Nintendo titles, safe for some additional rabbid stuff, which, honestly, didn’t bother me one bit. Along the way you’ll meet heroes both well-known and new, including Nintendo stars and their rabbid “knock-offs”, including Mario himself, who, in rabbit form, likes to play… banjo? I mean what is going on.

And yes, rabbids. They are here not only to be baddies, but also to impersonate Nintendo characters, making them a constant comic relief and, sometimes, a nice satire of modern realities. I’m talking about rabbit Peach and her obsessiveness with selfies. She is a funny character, no doubt, although it’s a bit strange seeing modern technology in a Mario world, which has always been very isolated.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle has a lot of humor, although I don’t know whether you’ll enjoy it as much as children would. The game has way more gags than a “normal” Mario game – some of them even toilet-related. The horror, I know. Although after Wario games it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. As I have said previously, rabbids here are pretty tame. You won’t find anything outrageous. I like humor in this game, and the overall tone. The game is both a fresh take on Mario and something moderately classic. The balance is in Nintendo’s favor, as well – there’s a lot of “Mario stuff” than “Rabbid stuff”.

But none of it matters if the gameplay is subpar. Thankfully, it’s not. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a lot of fun, and it’s balanced perfectly. It is never too easy or too hard. It respects the player, but lets us choose the difficulty. Both strategically-impaired and experienced players will find something to like. I am a big fan of XCOM games, but Mario + Rabbids never looked to me like a simplified reproduction. It has depth, it has customization – although it is streamlined a bit.

For example, 50 percent here means 50 percent and not “miss” like in XCOM. It’s easier to know where you’ll hit or miss – there can be either 0%, 50% or 100% percent of success. The game is also a lot more physical and dynamic. You won’t spend the majority of your time crouching behind cover; instead, you’ll move constantly, dashing through your opponents and utilizing various special abilities. True to its predecessors, Mario + Rabbids has a lot of green pipes which help to travel around the level, flanking enemies. Team jump is another great invention, allowing one character to become a trampoline for another, letting him or her access faraway places out of reach.

This dynamism is what separates Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle from other game of this genre. It’s unlike the others in many ways. It reinvents a lot, adding its unique brand of strategy.

Every one of the characters is unique. Not only in behavior and animation, but also in choices of weaponry. The differences between rabbids and heroes are refreshing after XCOM 2 with nearly indistinguishable soldiers. Here, heroes are different. I adore every single animation of Rabbid Luigi and Rabbid Peach. The animation is, indeed, brilliant. Every character behaves realistically, ducking when they are about to be hit and hiding behind different objects. The animation is fluid and smooth – a great achievement. Watch the gameplay and you’ll understand what I mean.

In terms of weapons, there’s a lot to choose from. Dozens of guns (yep, Mario uses guns here), hammers, bazookas and so on can be bought for coins. Weapons have different stats and perks – it not child play, you see. I was even able to use my Luigi amiibo to unlick some cool stuff. I previously though that the game only supports new amiibos, but, luckily, my ancient Super Smash Bros, figurine worked just fine. A neat feature.

There are also a lot of unlockable skills. Earn orbs and make Mario into a killing machine. A lot more depth than I anticipated – another good surprise.

Mario + Rabbids: Битва за королевство
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

In terms of graphics, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is very nice. While it’s not groundbreaking for a home console, it’s downright beautiful for a portable. The game runs in 900p / 30 fps while docked and 720p / 30 fps in portable mode. On TV, the game is colorful and bright and very sharp. It doesn’t look at all like a game for a portable thanks to Snowdrop engine. I still think there was a way to make it work in 60 fps, but it’s not critical for a strategy.

I’ve encountered no serious bugs – a serious achievement for Ubisoft, known for botched game releases. The game is more suited for portable gaming thanks to its structure, which favors playing in short bursts. The game tends to get a bit repetitive – a norm for the genre – and breaks help to keep it fresh. In order to keep the players interested the developers added a lot of different enemies. With a new enemy every second battle, you’ll have to adapt and change the strategy. There are also different goals. Sometimes, you’ll have to kill everyone, other times just get to the destinations. There are escort missions as well – yay…

Variety may not be this game’s forte, but the developers tried really hard to make it as rich in detail and activity as possible. The world reminds me if isometric games of old. It looks bright and sharp. Background is always busy; there are always scenes involving rabbids or creatures from the Mario universe doing silly stuff. To my surprise, there are a lot of side-activities here, mainly puzzles. Puzzles are not hard, but you might need to take a couple of minutes to figure them out. The world is full if surprises and secret passages leading to bonus areas and treasure chests. Inside – new weapons, pieces o soundtrack or character models.

The last bit reminded be of other Nintendo games like Super Smash Bros. or Kirby and the Rainbow Paintbrush. You don’t need to collect those, but you know you will. As a result, you come back, and the game seems even bigger. A neat trick that many of us will appreciate.

The main hub (Princess Peach’s castle with THAN track from Super Mario 64!) features a museum where you can admire your findings.

The world itself should be praised. Unlike XCOM 2, every bit of it was created by hand – not procedurally generated. As a result, every battleground feels perfect. I really sensed that the developers cared about what they do, while fully understanding that anything but perfection won’t make the general public accept such unorthodox Mario game. And it is unorthodox. Surprisingly, it is its main strength.

Mario + Rabbids: Битва за королевство
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

Not only puzzles and characters scream NINTENDO, but also the exceptional soundtrack. Every new world has a theme and a song. Some of them are brilliant and very, very catchy. Great presentation all around.

Another very “Nintendo thing” to do is to add a cooperative multiplayer. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle has that as well, but first you have to finish world by yourself. It is unfortunate that the whole campaign cannot played this way, but what can you do. This type of game also needs a multiplayer, which has the potential to be fun as hell.

I may sound like an overly enthusiastic fan boy, but that’s only because I’m genuinely happy that the Switch got another great – and totally unexpected – exclusive. Nobody counted on Ubisoft, but they delivered, giving us one of the best games for the Switch – even better than some of Nintendo’s own games. Sure, there is some Ubisoft stuff we could live without. Like a Season Pass. Nobody likes a Season Pass, and in 2017 stuff like that already feels old-fashioned and plain greedy. Sure, they may add some genuinely awesome stuff, but until we know for sure I’m writing this off as a con.

Verdict

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is an unexpected gem of a game. Sure, it’s not without its problems, but who expected it to be that good? I surely didn’t, being one of the first haters upon the official unveiling. It looks silly and it is silly, but since when is Mario serious?

Mario + Rabbids: Битва за королевство
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

You might be asking yourself “who should I buy this game”, but the answer is obvious: buy it because it is fun. It is fun mostly because the genre works so well. We’ve seen Mario spice up a lot of stale genres, adding fun to numerous sports and activities. Now it’s time for strategies. It is accessible enough so that even children will get it and deep enough to interest more experienced gamers. With a lengthy campaign, additional cooperative mode and collectibles this game truly warrants the big price tag. Let’s hope the game is a success and in the future we’ll see another collaboration between the two famous studios.

Highly recommended.