Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is a weird unexpected game that nobody wanted. It appeared out of nowhere, promising a tactical movement turn-based shooter in Mario’s Mushroom Kingdom with added toilet-humored bunnies. To be honest, I wanted nothing to do with it. The genre has never hooked me and I didn’t have any desire to consume the trademarked Rabbid humor. Yet, I took the plunge (Get it, because Rabbids like plungers) and somehow, I discovered the entire experience is wrapped with a neat, charming bow that enthralled me from start to finish.
The story in the game isn’t something you’d expect from the Mario game. It keeps to the Mario formula in many ways, but it isn’t a story of saving the stolen princess. Rather, it’s an adventure of saving the corrupt world. At the beginning, a young scientist is shown with her robotic assistant, and the main protagonist, Beep-O. Her room is filled with Mario related items, referencing she is an enthusiast. While working on a device that can merge any two objects together, a time machine washing machine full of rabbids blasts into her room. Rabbids take the device, begin to merge various things, including Mario characters and Rabbids. The merging device is merged onto a Rabbid (Stuff got merged, basically). Just after that, is where it truly begins and the Rabbids and Beep-O are pulled into the washing machine and into the Mushroom kingdom during a ceremony to celebrate Princess Peach. Rabbids and characters are falling out of the sky, and the mushroom kingdom is overrun by Rabbids. Beep-O meets with Mario, Rabbid Luigi, and Rabbid peach, beginning their adventure to stop the breach in the sky by finding the Rabbid with the invention on its head.
Without getting into anything deep in spoiler territory, I greatly enjoyed the story direction. It didn’t take itself too serious, and the story felt engaging. Characters and conflicts were introduced at a good pace. The ending and final battle was much more than I anticipated, and the presentation was top notch. I won’t tell you exactly what it was, but I wonder what the final boss would be in a Mario game?
Somehow, the ridiculous explanation for the Minions-before-minions video game rabbits into the world of Mario simply works.
Gameplay in Mario + Rabbids is divided into two main parts: combat and exploration. Exploration is the lesser of the two, existing as a diversion from the main event of combat. This act of providing breathing room between battles consists of exploring a world stuffed with things to see, and simple puzzles to access unlockables or progress forward. In the overworld, the game flows your path mostly with linearity, moving from area to area in chapters. Each of the 4 worlds has a unique theme and sub-themes within that reek of charm. Rabbids are spread into the terrain doing silly acts with each other alongside large Rabbid-infused Mario world objects, which can be viewed with witty captions from the main protagonist, Beep-O. Appearing in great numbers, these points of interest were always a joy to behold with their humorous references to pop culture and past Mario games.
The puzzles in the overworld all followed similar ideas (pulling from about 4 different types), but added a new twist to each one. No puzzle wowed me, and they were all fairly easy to solve. Yet, I didn’t find them tedious. Most puzzles in the middle of a combat chapter had a main, easier solution that led to the next point, but also a more difficult solution to reach a chest or a mushroom to refill the team’s current health. The majority of the puzzles can be solved through trial and error eventually, making the game more accessible. While I would have enjoyed deeper puzzles, I will admit that some did catch me off guard and force me to consider the solution.
Now onto the main attraction: the combat. Mario + Rabbids contains turn-based shooter gameplay with a focus on cover, similar to XCOM. The main premise is moving 3 selected team members around a tile map to complete an objective. Movement is a major focus, and it shines evident in the mechanics. As to the core idea of Mario, the battle stages contain pipes and massive jumps. Team jumps allow any character on the team to hop into the muscular arms or legs of a teammate in range, to propel into the skies even further to areas across gaps and positions of different altitudes. Opening up an extra layer of placement strategy, team jumping further builds onto the idea with extra abilities. Every character has an option in their skill tree to remove negative status effects put onto a teammate upon jumping off them. When landing, certain characters offer specific abilities, such as Peach’s area of healing, and Rabbid Yoshi’s ground pound that inflicts harm on all enemies and characters in the damage radius. So much joy can be found in the simple jumping idea and it truly opens up to new strategic depth I didn’t anticipate.
During team positioning, the major concern is gaining cover from enemy fire behind blocks. These blocks are most often destructible Mario bricks that come in a full size, and half size. Placing a character behind a full block means they have zero chance of being hit by a shot coming from the other side. Furthermore, a half block for cover provides an exact half chance, and standing completely open in the field means a shot fired will be a guaranteed it. The same concept applies to the enemies, which are all different forms of Rabbids. These three states of cover simplify things by providing exact information on your shot.
Each character, being Mario, Peach, Luigi, Yoshi, and their respective Rabbid forms have different main and sub weapons, along with special abilities. Main weapons range from shotguns, to yo-yo-like orbs, to gatling guns, and sub weapons are equally unique with rubber duckies, bazookas, and close range hammers. The weapon sets for each character influence how you select your team of three. Unfortunately, your team selection option is very limited. Mario is a requirement to be on your team at all times. That eliminates one slot option, but even more so that you are required to have one Rabbid character on your team. I initially found these restrictions unnecessary, but it does enable you to have a decently balanced group. I found an issue arises when I wanted to have Luigi and Peach. I prefered Peach over Rabbid Peach for her healing abilities, but Luigi is the only long range character. Thus, I had to give up either range or my preferred healing.
In comparison to many similar games to Mario + Rabbids, there is much more freedom in a single turn. Within one, you can use a special ability, shoot, and move. Moving around, the game even considers diagonals as only one space. The allowance to do so much in a single turn makes each battle last a good amount of time, and I often found the amount of turns it took me to complete were much fewer than I had expected.
Within the objectives beyond defeating a specific amount of enemies, there are not-awful but not-great yet not-horrible escort missions with toad and toadette. These were often the most difficult for me, and forced me to really consider the positioning of the toad. Luckily, they weren’t very abundant, and introduced a new twist to keep it interesting.
Mario+Rabbids’ combat initially feels simply accessible and introduces new mechanics at a spectacular pace. After quickly ramping up the difficulty, the game doesn’t expect you to be more capable than you should. That being said, the game is much harder than I anticipated. It often took me multiple tries to complete a battle, which could be exhausting at times where battles immediately followed another, and failing meant you started back at the first battle in the chapter. Luckily, an easy mode is provided as an option before every battle, so if you are worried about making it through a difficult game, you are in luck.
Each battle really felt like it did something different. No battle felt like I had experienced it before, even though it was mostly the same enemies. Because of the quirky anti-realism of the game, levels could have a completely free design, without regard for making sense. This was greatly beneficial to create interesting ideas and keep me on my toes for every new battle. At the end of the game, a part of me wanted more, but I also had the realization that everything that needed to be done had been, and I love that.
While extra challenges were offered, and the Washing Machine could allow you to redo levels with an extra twist, I didn’t feel any desire to backtrack to receive the rewards, as I could usually make it by with the abilities I had unlocked for my characters through natural progression.
There is also a multiplayer mode which should be mentioned. You’d expect it to be player vs. player battles, but it is actually co-op challenges where each player controls two characters. Game progress is actually transferred into the battle arena, so going in too soon will mean challenges are far too difficult, while too late led them to be very easy. Because of this, I mostly avoided the mode entirely.
Kingdom Battle presents itself with a softer visual take than Mario traditionally does. The soft, yet detailed cartoonish look does wonders for the game. Colors pop and objects contrast. Visually, the style is top notch.
Upon going into Mario + Rabbids, I expected the juvenile, slap-stick humor that rabbids are known to have. While their form of comedy is still present, it was very much dialed back. Throughout the game, there were many genuinely funny moments. Rabbid Peach might be my favorite, with the ridiculous ego, and taking selfies and inappropriate times. While making fun of modern stereotypes, the game even referenced the past and things all around the world. Mario was treated like the pop culture reference that he has become, and it worked beautifully.
The world three boss was a comedic highlight, with an opera ghost taunting Mario and his past. Joking about his karting adventures, his plump shape in pipes, his relationship with peach, and even his mustache, the entire experience from cutscene to battle to music was a highlight, and an amazing experience.
Animated cutscenes are greatly emphasized and appear pretty often. The attention to detail and scenes as a whole were absolutely beautifully done. Outside of cutscenes, animations were fantastic, but often didn’t have smooth transitions, or contained pop-in sequences. At the end of every battle, characters popped out before the victory screen which was jarring when noticed. The music in the game was another highlight. While the soundtrack had beautiful composition and I adored the songs and the energy of the battle music, none of it stuck with me. While it isn’t a fault, it was simply that none of the music left a lasting impression compared to the catchy tunes of Mario’s past.
In short, I was wrong to judge Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle from my initial impressions. The game is a perfect example of not judging a game by it’s cover or its proposition. Offering challenging, interesting gameplay, with the added flavor of genuinely comedic humor on a decently compelling story, Mario + Rabbids is a completely amazing package that wowed me beyond my expectations. If you have any interest in Mario, the strategy genre, or Rabbids for some reason, I highly recommend you take the chance to play it.
- Challenging, engaging gameplay
- Beautiful soundtrack
- Interesting story
- Solid humor
- Occasional animation skips
- Restrictive team selection (AKA Can’t always play with Rabbid Peach on your team)