Banjo & Kazooie. ToeJam & Earl. Mario and… Rabbids!? No, this isn’t a parallel universe, and NO, you aren’t having the world’s tamest fever dream. Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is very much a real game exclusively for the Nintendo Switch, and it happens to fill a currently very-empty void in the Switch’s gaming library. Not only is this game technically the first Mario title on the new console (sorry, Odyssey), it is also currently the only tactical strategy game available. And if that last sentence seemed completely confusing given the stars of Mario + Rabbids, trust me, I understand. To be perfectly honest, that’s kind of the entire point of the game.
Let’s be real: A Mario + Rabbids crossover sounds about as appealing as a wheat and grape sandwich (I tried one in college; not great, trust me). But believe it or not, Kingdom Battle is a competent game that really brings out the best of both franchises. The Mario characters play it straight and have about as little personality as they do in their own titles. And the Rabbids are pure id, nothing but personality Bwaa-ursting at the seams. This age-old formula of Straight Man and Comic Relief holds up well through the game’s hour or so of cutscenes and keeps things lively amidst the slow and methodical gameplay.
The characters don’t feel particularly out of place, which most likely comes from the Mario universe’s aforementioned benign-ness and the fact that the Rabbids have been invading other games since their own creation back in Rayman: Raving Rabbids. The result is a game that finds a good balance between the two, but which never takes itself too seriously, except where it counts. The musical scores were done phenomenally by Grant Kirkhope and shine as yet another testament to the man’s mastery of video game composition. Never before have I played a game where I’m actually afraid to play on mute for fear I’ll miss a great song. In addition, the overall design of the game looks great. The environments won’t give you that same awe and wonder as the ones in Breath of The Wild, but the silly-factor will have you looking around to admire them all the same.
Mario + Rabbids is actually a challenging game, especially for strategy game newcomers. Unlike similar titles like Fire Emblem, there is very little you can do to strengthen your character to a point of overpowering your enemies. Rather, you’ll often find yourself working hard to keep up, as your funds and weapon selection are limited. In this title, strategy wins the day over grinding, which is a welcome design choice.
Unfortunately, you won’t find yourself with quite as much creative control as you might like. There are essentially for classes of weapons and sub-weapons, and 8 characters to choose from. Teams consist of three characters, and you can swap characters out from battle to battle. Bafflingly though, Mario must always be on your team, and your team must always contain at least one of the four Rabbid characters. Right off the bat, you’ll notice yourself choosing between 2 or 3 team combinations rather than getting creative and mixing and matching.
Characters will use a designated weapon class and cannot switch between them. They will, however, have access to 2 different element types, which range from things like Honey and Stone, which are mobility hampering statuses, to more offensive elements like the life-stealing Vampire. The use of a skill-tree also lets you level up your characters as you see fit, which provides added flexibility to your roster (you can also just let the game choose the best upgrades for you, if you’re not into that sort of thing). There’s also a great deal of over-world content, where you explore the map and try to find hidden secrets or solve puzzles to advance. These segments serve as in-betweens for the battles and give you a chance to unlock new weapons, skill-tree orbs or earn extra coins.
The actual battles themselves are very enjoyable. Learning how new enemies and bosses function and outsmarting them is a treat, and the battles give you a real sense of satisfaction. And while it should be said the campaign isn’t extraordinarily long, the individual chapters of the campaign move rather slowly, providing a rewarding overall experience. This is a mostly single-player experience, with local multiplayer being excluded to just a few additional stages. And for those of you who enjoy additional content, DLC campaigns are on their way.
It’s impossible to get any farther into this review without addressing some of the game’s flaws. Most noticeably, I occasionally came across 7 second periods of gameplay where my picture would freeze, but the game would continue to play. The game would then catch up as if nothing had happened. This isn’t a game-breaking bug, but it did occasionally cause me to have to retry certain time-based over-world challenges, and it makes the game feel less polished and professional than you would expect from a Mario title.
Therein lies my biggest problem with this game; while overall it is a very solid game, its flaws feel more jarring when you’re experiencing them in a game that includes Mario, largely because usually Mario titles are some of the cleanest games Nintendo creates. Every time my game would hiccup or the music would awkwardly fade out after the last enemy was killed, I was reminded that I was playing a third-party game.
This game has about as much polish as the previous Rabbids titles did. That is to say, it’s a fine game, but it doesn’t go above and beyond like one would expect from a game starring Nintendo’s titular character. Everything about it feels very “Ubisoft”, and that isn’t meant to criticize the company as much as it is to highlight just how much better 1st party titles on Nintendo consoles seem in comparison.
All that being said, Mario fans have a lot to love from this title. The first boss is particularly charming, being a fusion of a Rabbid and a particular Mario series character. In fact, almost all of the bosses are expertly done. Without spoiling anything, let’s just say you’re in for a few treats as you progress through the game. My one exception to this was the boss of World 2. It seemed so much less thought out and creative compared to the rest of the big baddies the game throws at you. Even so, the actual battle was still a treat, so it’s hard to be too upset.
Unfortunately, low-rank enemies are much less referential, and tend to just be generic enemies whose designs loosely fit the environments they’re found in. It’s a shame, because there’s so much material to work with in this game. Enemies that were fusions of classic Mario enemies and the demented bunnies would have been so much more enjoyable to look at while you’re battling.
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is a creative concept, and a game that plays very well. It’s biggest shortcoming is that for such a wacky fusion of two different game universes, there really isn’t much being done creatively. Sure, there are the aforementioned boss battles and a handful of fun environmental scenes, but overall it feels like a missed opportunity. It’s an enjoyable game, it’s funny, and it’ll give you some really challenging moments. If you pick this game up knowing what you’re getting, it’s a blast, and the game can’t be faulted for its gameplay, which is excellent. Mario + Rabbids is an example of what could have been. It’s a good game, yes. But with a little more creativity, polish and heart, it could’ve been a really great game.
FINAL SCORE: 3/5