Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is one of the strangest premises for a crossover game that I’ve seen in recent memory. Take Super Mario Bros, the Raving Rabbids, and XCOM, mix em’ all together, and you’ve got Kingdom Battle. This combination sounds like there’s almost no chance of it working, but just like the equally-strange-sounding combo of french fries and a Wendy’s frosty, they really come together to become something wonderful. The end result is a fun and challenging turn-based strategy game that is not only legitimately funny, incredibly polished and surprisingly deep, but also one of the best reasons to own a Nintendo Switch thus far.
Our story starts off with what seems to be a young inventor in her room (covered wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling in Nintendo and Mario paraphernalia) celebrating her invention — an augmented reality headset with the capability to merge two objects together — being featured in some science magazine, while lamenting that the article doesn’t fully express the capabilities of her creation. She demonstrates by combining a flower and a lamp, claiming that this technology could be used to solve the energy crisis, end hunger, all those sorts of world-benefiting things — so I’m already prepared for the Rabbids to come along and screw it up. Right on cue, as soon as the girl leaves the room, the crazy white buggers show up in their combo washing machine/time machine and start wreaking havoc on the poor girl’s bedroom. The usual Rabbids humor (that is to say, being the Minions before the Minions were invented) abounds, and though it’s never been my favorite, it did manage to get some chuckles out of me. I think since I haven’t seen the Rabbids featured prominently very much recently, it gave their style of humor some time to breathe, and while it’s still nothing very special or mature, it did make it less annoying.
So, of course, a Rabbid gets its mitts on the headset, and starts combining things around the room, inadvertently creating Rabbid versions of Luigi, Peach, Mario, and Yoshi in the process. The time machine malfunctions, and the Rabbids, along with several objects from the bedroom, are transported to the Mushroom Kingdom, literally tearing it apart in the process. Mario leaps into action, trying to save the Toads, Luigi, Peach, and Yoshi, but is ultimately pulled into the rift that the Rabbids have created along with everything else. The Rabbid wearing the headset seems to merge with the headset himself, and nearly everything he looks at, he accidentally merges — including several Rabbids with household objects. These Frankenstein-style Rabbid creations seem to be more bent on chaos than usual, and it’s up to Mario — and his new unlikely allies, Rabbid Luigi and Rabbid Peach — to stop them. This whole game is built upon unlikely combinations, it would seem. Broom Rabbids, Piranha Plant Rabbids, even Rabbid Kong — all crazy on paper, but they work excellently within the wacky world of this game.
Launching right into the gameplay, the AI tied to the headset, Beep-O, has physically manifested into the Mushroom Kingdom to guide our heroes through combat. You’re given a goal at the beginning of the battle — defeat all the enemies, defeat a certain number of enemies, reach a certain area, and other objectives. You’re given the option to look around the battlefield before combat to scout out enemy abilities and ranges, find good positions, the usual strategy game flow. Once combat starts, our heroes go first, choosing from several options available to them. You’re limited to how far you can move around the battlefield, and cover — some providing full defense, some only half cover, some destructible and some not — dots the grid. You can switch between characters at any time, and can choose the order in which you take actions; you could move and then attack, attack and then move, use a special ability first or last, that sort of thing. The movement options are numerous — you can dash into enemies while on the move to deal damage and be launched further by allies with Team Jumps, either to gain more distance, get the drop on enemies behind cover, or reach higher ground to gain strategic advantages. Each hero has a unique set of primary and secondary weapons and special abilities, and utilizing them in tandem is key to achieving victory. One of Mario’s special abilities, for example, buffs weapon damage for all allies in range by 20%, which can be just enough to take out an extra enemy this turn to save yourself some damage. Rabbid Peach has an AOE heal that can help you hold out for one more turn, which may swing the entire battle in your favor. I was surprised by just how much depth and strategy there is in the basic gameplay. Throw in a skill tree with tough decisions to choose from and limited resources for upgrading your weapons — there aren’t enough coins to buy every gun for every character on your first run through the world — and you’ve got critical choices that make for a rewarding strategy game and make you strongly consider what weapon effects you want and which party members to use for each battle.
The game certainly contains a healthy difficulty curve, as well. The earlier stages I cleared without breaking a sweat, but even before the end of the first world I started to have to strategize for a bit before even starting the stage, and even missed out on getting perfect scores for a few battles. The game is divided up into 4 worlds, each with 9 chapters and 1 secret chapter (unlocked after the world’s initial completion), with each chapter containing 1-4 battles variably. With interesting terrain, stage design, and enemy placement, each battle feels fresh, and adding layers with each fight of the first world adds a satisfying feeling of progression from tutorials to trials and tribulations. The gameplay itself runs flawlessly, and the movement is very fluid — even just watching the battles is enjoyable thanks to excellent camera direction and smooth animations that tie together well.
Exploring the world to uncover secrets between battles helps keep the gameplay from becoming monotonous, and the world itself is lovely to run around in — the Mushroom Kingdom is dotted with real-life objects that, while small outside of this realm, are huge with regards to Mario and friends. The design is bright and colorful and fun to look at, and using these objects at this scale, while not a new concept, still lends plenty of wonder and imaginative landscapes to the game’s setting.
Overall, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a strange and superb addition to any Switch owner’s library. Fun and deep turn-based tactical gameplay, colorful and stylized graphics and level design, and the extensive upgrade and progression system all come together in a quirky and enjoyable result to provide strategy game fanatics an excellent new IP to sink their teeth into.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle features excellent turn-based strategy gameplay and buttery smooth combat and animations. A fluid and fun must-have for Switch owners and strategy fans alike.