Ubisoft have struck gold with Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. What was once something I would have laughed off a year ago has, without a doubt, become one of my favourite games of 2017. Kingdom Battle is special in so many ways, and continues to drive home the Switch’s main selling point of versatility and working with your needs. It’s smart, funny, and charming, and is wrapped up in a package that’s uniquely Nintendo, minus the welcoming difficulty we’ve become so accustomed to seeing over the years.
Let me get this out of the way from the beginning: Kingdom Battle is challenging. It’s a game of tactical awareness, strategic planning, and quite a bit of luck. It won’t hold your hand in its latter stages, and it’s going to make you frustrated. But with perseverance comes reward, and getting through the harder stages left me with feelings of both reward and excitement to finally continue on. That said, there is an easy mode option that you can make use of prior to every battle in the game which ups your health by 50% and heals all of your characters, which should help those that are truly struggling. In my experience, though, I’d suggest sticking with it and getting through with gritted teeth — the reward is all the more worth it.
The premise of Kingdom Battle is a fascinating one, with the SupaMerge, an augmented reality headset, pulling Ubisoft’s Rabbids into Nintendo’s Mushroom Kingdom, in turn breaking the Kingdom itself apart, separating Mario and co. from one another, and causing chaos across the land. Some Rabbids are merged into quirky Nintendo counterparts, like Rabbid Mario and Rabbid Peach for example, and join Mario on his quest to find the Rabbid with the SupaMerge and fix the Kingdom before it gets too crazy. It’s a whacky, zany premise of course, but for an IP of this nature it absolutely works from beginning to end — Kingdom Battle is confident in its delivery of story, and it’s a joy to play throughout.
Throughout the journey you’re guided and instructed by Beep-0, an artificial intelligence bot that assists in the use of the SupaMerge, who takes you around a handful of varied worlds, with each getting harder as you progress. The game pits you up against a plethora of varied enemies, each with special abilities, tactics, and skill sets, and consistently challenges you to quickly adjust to new environments, challenges, and encounters.
For those with any bit of XCOM experience, you’ll feel right at home with Kingdom Battle. At its core it’s a strategy game much like XCOM, with stat percentages, weapon upgrades, and status abilities all playing a major role in progressing through each area.
While a good chunk of Kingdom Battle’s encounters task you with eliminating all of the Rabbid enemies in an area, some also require getting to a specific area, escorting a character to a particular spot, or taking out a specified number of enemies in order to progress. Each objective is somewhat different, and forced me to change up my play style each time. It never felt boring or repetitive, either, and even having to replay missions didn’t frustrate me too much — I knew, at some point, I’d eventually find a way to make it through.
Kingdom Battle is divided up into 9 chapters in each of its four worlds, with each chapter usually comprised of at least two to three battles. Unless you do some exploring (or get lucky) and find a mushroom, you won’t be able to heal your characters before heading into the second or third battle. It can be annoying if the battle prior hurt your team pretty badly, but a quick character change — which takes place in the game’s Battle HQ menu — allows you to swap out your three-person party and bring in characters you didn’t use who aren’t hurt in any way. That said, Mario is always required in the party, as is at least one Rabbid, meaning if the former took some serious damage you’re going to have to deal with it and battle on. Battle HQ also allows you to upgrade your weapons, choose specific skills and abilities for characters in the skill tree, and, of course, select who you’re taking into battle.
As you play through the game you’ll earn coins, and that’s the currency you’ll be using to buy new primary and secondary weapons to do more damage against the Rabbid forces. As well as this, you’ll also eventually unlock the skill tree and start earning power orbs, which will allow you to upgrade and buy new abilities for your characters. It’s quite a dense and deep system underneath the pretty graphics and kid-friendly presentation, and certainly adds a degree of complexity to Kingdom Battle that’s well appreciated.
Similarly, the game embraces a plethora of different super effects and abilities, and it’s something to keep an eye on throughout the adventure. Some weapons come with effects like burn chance and percentage — which will send enemies running around holding their bum in an effort to extinguish themselves — or bounce chance, which will send enemies flying out of bounds or in a particular direction across the map. Each super effect is useful in some way in Kingdom Battle, but can also be used against you if the enemies you’re taking on have the right equipment in tow.
In the end, it was during these times, where I’d be bounced out of cover on the first enemy turn and then obliterated by enemy fire from all angles, which left me frustrated with Kingdom Battle. It’s not that it’s unfair, it’s just that even if you don’t make a mistake in Kingdom Battle you can still be punished. And with only three characters usable in battle at a time, you can find yourself at a disadvantage extremely quickly. It’s all about luck in some circumstances, which can at times get pretty annoying.
After completing each world you’ll also unlock a co-op campaign that’s themed around that world, as well as an extra chapter to revisit in single-player if you want to venture back and collect everything there is on offer. It’s a nice touch, with most areas sprawled throughout Kingdom Battle having little areas you’ll need to come back to after unlocking some sort of ability further in the story to get to. These were as basic as getting the ability to move blocks, to being able to interact with certain objects that changed the way the area functions.
Besides some niggling difficulty issues, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is one of the most unique IP’s to hit the market in a long, long time. The game prides itself on its whacky story, its gorgeous looks, and its deep and complex gameplay mechanics, and this is all capped off with a great soundtrack, a fantastical setting to mix in both the Rabbids and the Super Mario universes, and gameplay that continues to feel rewarding and satisfying as you make your way through the game’s 10 to 15-ish hour story. I never felt like repetition became an issue, either, and as someone who spent a fair bit of time in the XCOM series I’m grateful to have something similar to take with me on the go, and to continue to replay for many hours to come.
Ubisoft have crafted something extremely special in Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, and it’s absolutely worth the time, effort, and patience to see it all the way through to the end. The references, the tone, and the way it all works with the Switch’s portable nature makes it one of the platform’s best by a good mile.
It’s not often you get something like Kingdom Battle, and while I feel like kids expecting an easy adventure through the Mushroom Kingdom will be in for a bit of a shock, those craving a deep, strategic, and uniquely different escapade through the Super Mario universe will be met with a game that shines as one of 2017’s best.