Originally, I was going to review Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battles, but upon getting my hands on it, I discovered this probably wouldn’t be achievable in such a timely manner. Since then, I’ve had a rather, ‘shakey’ experience with this absurd cross-over. I went through stages; five distinct stages that made me feel a bit ‘iffy’ about the overwhelmingly positive response to this title. Let me clarify, I enjoyed a lot of my time with Mario + Rabbids, however, more often than not, the drawn-out design of it had me fatigued and doubting my ability to finish. At some point, it became a game I was relieved to put away. So, without further ado, here are my five stages with Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battles.
Stage 1: Glee
Mario + Rabbids was the neatest thing I saw coming out of E3; a blend between Mario and XCOM. Weirdly enough, I was pretty confident it would be good. And it was, for a while… The best word that I can use to represent the opening sequences of the game is just: Glee. I was instantaneously struck by its absurdity — the distortion of the Mushroom Kingdom, as if it was thrown into a blender along with comical largeness, a mishmash of fractured land, tortured Goombas, and Rabbids. It’s a distinct level of charm that fails to cease throughout the four playable worlds. Every pathway is woven beautifully, and each environment offers a unique ‘brightness’ which is a joy on both the TV and the handheld.
Also, the Rabbids are ACTUALLY funny! I know it’s hard to believe, but their foolish nature tied to their overconfidence and inability to accept they aren’t the real Mushroom Kingdom character is simply great. Rabbid Peach hogs the limelight in this respect, and she has a tremendous moment at the end of World 2. It emits a joyful level of immaturity I couldn’t help but be amused by. Even the main boss fights expand on this charming aesthetic in a unique way. Suffice to say, I loved the atmosphere of Mario + Rabbids.
Stage 2: Strategy
It’s around World 2 where I began to grasp the direction this title was heading. Players are slowly introduced to the game’s key components: Skill trees, character abilities, and slide-jumping. When all these mechanics combine, it becomes a beautiful symbiance of turn-based action that resembles more of a puzzle game than a traditional XCOM-like strategy title. Soon enough, you’ll discover that your objective is to maximise each character’s abilities so that they can perform the MOST possible damage per turn. This even includes mid-turn tactics, such as how you can set up Mario in (essentially) Overwatch mode, and have him shoot an enemy which has been forced to move by another character’s ability or weapon.
Additionally, the other forms of missions, such as escort goals or ‘make it to the zone with one character’, offer their own opportunities to experiment. At times I even felt as if I was subverting game design, like when I used Luigi’s double jump and extra movement capabilities to get to the end zone 4 turns ahead of Par.
Ultimately, the game becomes misleadingly complex. Mario + Rabbids is NOT a kids game. The disconnect between the gleeful and charming nature of the title, with the actual difficulty, is staggering. The second World found a way of demonstrating that complexity, without overwhelming the player with difficulty, frustration, or tedium.
Stage 3: Frustration
Stage 3 occurs around the third “World”. This is when the game takes a strong leap to ‘legitimately hard’. I admit that my impatience means that I am not the best at RTS, but the game became increasingly frustrating, and not just due to difficulty… Each world is broken into separate levels, with two or three combat encounters per. Breaking these levels up though, are small puzzles. Mostly box puzzles. So many box puzzles… They get so damn tiring. Even the other types of puzzles are just variations of a similar formula! When all I wanted was to get to the guts of this game, the repetition found in its overworld became too tedious to bear. That being said, even if it were all combat, it would still be a drag. Coming in at 25 hours, I can’t help but believe that Mario + Rabbids would have been better served if it was a lot shorter.
If it hadn’t been for the ‘easy mode’ option, one that increases heroes health by 50% at the start of the fight, I probably wouldn’t have finished the game. I was overwhelmed; maps have so many pathways, and enemy units have such huge movement capabilities, that planning for scenarios went out the window. It’s at this point that small issues became huge sticking points for me. In particular, the inability to target specific areas of cover, unless an enemy was behind it and you had a 0% chance to hit them, was noticeably annoying. The mere fact that the developers implemented cover that more or less serve as ‘explosive barrels’, seems useless because the majority of the time, enemies don’t take cover directly behind them.
Stage 4: Acceptance
A significant part of the way through the third World I realised something: This game wasn’t going to end anytime soon. I wanted to get it off my conscience immediately, however, that wasn’t the way to play it. I tried to relax, and decided to take breathers; complete the encounters gradually when I was in a good mood. There were still quite a few scenarios which felt like they were designed with trial and error in mind, but its persistent charm and glimpses of strategic ingenuity kept me coming back.
Stage 5: Relief
At long last, after 25 hours, I finished Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battles. And boy was I ready. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t lend itself to the ‘lose yourself in time’ that a title like XCOM draws out of you. Traversing the world is fun, and it never loses its personality, however, the repetitive use of puzzles to break up the unnecessary amount of combat encounters wore me down. The best way to play this game is slowly. Given the first two worlds are so inviting, it can be a challenging approach to take, but the latter level difficulty and a drawn-out game design turned me away for weeks.