Mario + Rabbids is the Best Game Nintendo Never Developed

Nintendo has historically been protective about their main man Mario being loaned out to other developers, especially after the ’90s saw some horrible edutainment abominations such as Mario is Missing. When news that Mario was going to be involved in a crossover with Raving Rabbids developed by Ubisoft hit the street at E3, many had their interest piqued. Rabbids have their assortment of games but its doubtful any of us expected to see them cosplaying as Mario characters in the Mushroom Kingdom. As bizarre as this crossover might sound, Mario games are typically released to universal acclaim and Ubisoft is no slouch when it comes to making memorable games, so this project sounds like it may have the talent behind to deliver something special.

Originally a spin off from the Rayman series, the Raving Rabbids are generally featured in party games, though they have ventured into platforming and fighting game territory before. Mario is a portly renaissance man who has starred as a race car driver, RPG hero, tennis player and countless other roles, but he is best known as the high jumping, pipe traveling, mushroom connoisseur who is always bailing Princess Peach out of trouble. A platforming adventure seems like a logical conclusion to draw when forming expectations of Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, but it would be incorrect and shameful to make such an assumption based on nothing other than what types of games these franchises have delivered in the past. This is a turn-based tactical RPG and a ridiculously fun one at that.

During a routine visit to Princess Peach’s castle for purposes unknown, Mario uses his keen observation skills to notice a massive vortex is swirling in the sky. This vortex, as vortexes tend to do, somehow opened a gateway between the Mushroom Kingdom and the world populated by Rabbids, who end up pouring through the vortex and wreaking havoc on the Mushroom Kingdom. While not the most threatening looking creatures based solely on appearance, there is something creepy about Mario’s trademark warp pipes being turned white and sprouting bunny ears. To clean up the ruckus caused by these otherworldly rodents, Mario teams up with Luigi, Peach and Yoshi, along with four friendly Rabbids who for whatever reason decide to cosplay as their new Mushroom Kingdom friends. This seems to be a bit strange, but maybe cosplaying as people you’ve just met is a good way to make friends. Oh and Mario and company are all packing massive laser guns which seems out of character for Mario in general, but works well in this context.

From what was available in the playable build, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle has the gameplay divided into two different sections. The first is an overworld map where Mario and his Rabbid companions freely explore the world and and traverse to different locations by traveling through pipes and can partake in other activities such as visiting collected artwork in a museum. The second part is the battles, which are turn based tactical affairs. These battles involve the player controlling three of the party members and there is quite a lot that can go on during this. Moving to a new location on the battlefield is part of the turn, and during their movements the player can choose to do additional actions such as rushing an enemy for damage before ending in their final location where they can take action. Some characters will have the ability to travel greater distances by jumping off other characters or with the right skill unlocked landing on an enemy to inflict damage. Some of these can be chained into highly damaging series of actions and can result in the character traveling much further in the turn than their regular movement would allow them. Hiding behind cover plays a major role in battle, but in addition to structures that provide protection there are other structures that can catapult a player to their demise should they choose to hide them. The choice of characters selected does play a role in how the battle will go down as well. Each character has their own unique skill tree and strengths and weakness. Princess Peach, and by extension the Rabbid dressed up as her, specialize in healing abilities while Luigi seems to excel at ranged attacks.

A classic element of Mario games that seems lacking in many modern games comes to Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle and that is couch co-op. This feature is one that shows off a major strength of Nintendo’s Joy-Cons. Each player takes one, or one half (not sure what the exact itemization of Joy-Cons are), and uses it to control their characters. If I was playing with a friend, I would take the blue Joy-Con and the friend would use the red one. Because you’re only using half a controller, the button input gets slightly remapped, but the game uses on screen prompts to help guide what the new control configuration is. Co-op mode has the two players fighting battles together; the party has been upped from three to four and each player controls two characters.

Turn-based tactical RPG combat and two player co-op are not phrases that generally go together but this approach is actually enjoyable and doesn’t feel like a tacked on gimmick. A lot of care was put into making this unorthodox two player format feel natural and it seems to have paid off. While only seeing a limited selection of what this mode offers, enough was observed to state the battles have quite a range of difficulty and communicating strategies with your partner does enhance the fun and likelihood of success.

Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle shows potential to be an impressive title when finalized, especially considering the unexpected premise. The amount of care that went into representing Nintendo’s most famous property is evident in that if I didn’t know this was developed by Ubisoft I would swear it was developed by Miyamoto and his henchmen. Mario and Rabbids are two worlds I never thought would collide, but the goofy sense of humor people have come to expect from Rabbids games is equally represented in this Mushroom Kingdom that has been violated by the rift in the video game space time continuum. Regardless of whether someone is a bigger fan of Mario or Rabbids, this title captures the essence of both franchises and creates an experience that is unique among both worlds of the source material. Mario + Rabbids: Battle Kingdom is scheduled for release on August 29 and should be on the radar of any fan of Mario, Rabbids or tactical RPGs in general.

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