Reviews

Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope review – A spark of inspiration

In September I was invited by the Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope crew to experience an early demo of the game. During that time, we played through the opening of the game, half of the first world, and the second half of the second world. The developers all spoke multiple times about “New Tactical Possibilities,” and it really showed with all the upgrades I saw during the demo. I was impressed by the game at that time, so when I had the opportunity to review the game my expectations were high. Let’s just say, there’s a spark to this game that I’ve not felt in a while. Let’s take the Warp Pipe in and talk about it.

From a story perspective, we’ve really taken Mario everywhere at this point. Going from a plumber who started his journey by rescuing princesses from castles to now fighting interdimensional chaos beings is quite the jump. We start with a beautiful day in the Mushroom Kingdom as Rabbid Mario has lost his overalls. Your job? Find Rabbid Mario’s overalls. Once you do, there’s a cute cutscene and then you see a mysterious glowing stingray-like being flying overhead, absorbing things in its path – one of those things being Rabbid Peach. With a little help from Princess Peach herself, Mario jumps into action. After a short tutorial, the real story begins as Mario and his band of friends from the Mushroom Kingdom and the newer Rabbid friends try and figure out what in the spaghetti is going on (a reference to the Super Mario Brothers Super Show if you’ve seen it) and how they can rid the galaxy of the Darkmess (what they call the gunk that’s all over the different worlds).

 

Gameplay wise, the game “feels” like Mario + Rabbid Kingdom Battles, but with some major upgrades. So if you’ve played the first one, you’ll have no trouble figuring it out. Meanwhile, players who are new to the franchise will have an easy time picking the mechanical systems up quickly. The game does a great job of giving you all the tools you need to succeed as you play the game. There are three difficulty levels; relaxing, average, and high. There were very few times I was irritated or annoyed by the tutorial like I am with most games these days. One of the biggest changes for this game is the switch from a grid system to a more “free movement” system. You get a white area of the field you can freely move around in, testing angles, using dash moves, and using the team jumps. It’s all there for free during your movements. Once you attack with your main weapon though you’re stuck, so don’t get overconfident and leave a character in the open to take punishment. You get two “actions” during a phase. This can be a weapon attack and a special attack, or a special attack and a Spark attack. It’s up to you, but in the end, you get two actions per turn. Something different about the weapon loadout for this game is that each character has one unique weapon to them (Mario has dual pistols, Luigi has a bow, Rabbid Peach has a three-missile cannon, etc) and then a unique special (Mario, Luigi, and Edge have their own versions of a movement lock-on attack, Rabbid Luigi and Princess Peach have buffs for the party, Rabbid Peach heals, etc.) for the duration of the game. All of these attacks and specials can be boosted, added to, etc. with the usage of your level up points. They can add to the amount of slides, range of specials, and damage boosts. It’s quite extensive for what you might expect from a game so cartoony, but it’s so well thought out that I was heavily impressed and even sometimes overwhelmed by my choices. But next up, we need to talk about something that is unique to Sparks of Hope, which are, of course, the Sparks themselves.

The Sparks (named from a funny conversation I won’t spoil) are a mixture of Rabbid and Luma. This worries the Mushroom Kingdom cast because they’re now aware that Rosalina may be in trouble. The Sparks are all unique little friends that provide attack boosts, healing buffs, defense buffs, or do attacks themselves. Using one of their main attacks will use an action, so be careful to leave an action for attacking if you’ve just buffed yourself, and don’t leave yourself open to attacks. At the beginning of the game you get the usage of one Spark per character, but after a while you get access to two per character. Each Spark has active and passive bonuses, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities for those “New Tactical Possibilities” that the crew of Sparks of Hope discussed. You can boost your Sparks using Starbits (see Mario Galaxy for that), giving their bonuses even more of a “spark.” These Sparks also help with attacking enemies with different elemental weaknesses (showcased in Beep-0’s new scanning abilities that you can use at the start of the battle and during your turn). I found myself combining a lot of weapon sparks with Mario to boost his dual pistols since he gets two shots per action (where you can also target two different opponents) while using more defensive sparks to boost Rabbid Mario’s tank style of play. And then you have Edge, who I gave the slide Sparks to boost his sliding attacks. Oh, Edge? Let’s talk about her and the new characters for Sparks of Hope.


Out of all the new characters, Edge was the first new character I played during my time with the demo. She was by far my favorite character in the game at that point, and that stance hasn’t changed one bit. She gets an ability addition that adds to the amount of slides she can do in a turn. So during her free movement phase (before the main weapon attack) she can do a TON of damage without even using an action just because you can slide into enemies so much. Hint: If you boost her, using a ___Dash Spark ability, she can do even more damage and there you can also use the elemental damage. She has a giant “Cloud Strife-esque” sword that she can throw at enemies like a boomerang. Her story is one of the most mysterious, so I won’t tell you much, but you can tell she knows the enemy and you don’t fully understand her motives. The second new playable character you meet is Rabbid Rosalina. She’s one of the funniest characters in the game, giving a very “sleepy/aloof” personality during the game. She has a machine-gun style gun that shoots out multiple starbits at the same location, perfect for breaking down enemy cover so someone else can come in and do damage without anything in their way. Her storyline happens on the second planet and is such a sweet story. Finally, of the showcased playable characters, we have Bowser. You find him in an altercation with a Spark Hunter (one of the enemies of the game) and he agrees to help you as long as he’s the leader of the group (you’ll see the reaction to this and understand the way I meant that sentence to be read). Bowser has a giant cannon gun for his weapon, and then his special has some minions attack the closest enemy with an explosive attack. These three additions were perfect for Sparks of Hope giving you plenty of “New Tactical Possibilities” for you to try. Honestly one of the hardest parts of the game for me was choosing my character loadout. My main three for a while were Mario, Rabbid Peach, and Edge. However, with the addition of Rabbid Rosalina and Boswer, I found myself putting new squads together to maximize a specific style of attack. For instance, I did one grouping of Rabbid Mario, Princess Peach, and Bowser to do massive amounts of area-of-effect damage and added Sparks to boost the tank-styles of Rabbid Mario and Boswer, while giving Princess Peach some of the more healing or attack boosting Sparks. Beyond the new character, returning characters include Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Rabbid Mario, Rabbid Luigi, and Rabbid Peach; all with those unique weapons and abilities. Your job as a gamer is to find the groupings you like, and try all the “new tactical possibilities” at your disposal.

From a technical perspective, everything looks smooth both on the flat screen and handheld. There were very few times I had any lag at all. The only exception was after I chained a combination of Mario’s special with Edge’s slide attack against an explosive enemy. With all those explosives, it lagged for a second and then went back to normal. Other than that exception, the game has run smoothly no matter how I have played it. The UI is perfect for this game, in my opinion. There are all the options you need while never taking up too much of the screen with useless information or icons. I appreciated being able to see the health bars of all the characters while moving around, but also seeing my choices for the actions during my attack phases. Something else I loved was controlling the “leader” of your team instead of Beep-0 in the overworld. They used Beep-0 as the HM-Pokemon, giving them all the new abilities in the overworld such as the sonic blaster that breaks up ice and rock shards and a scanning ability to find hidden objects. I feel like this gives you much more of a “free movement” mentality in the overworld, which is much more open to your exploration than Kingdom Battles was in their overworld.

The worlds themselves are beautiful. Each one gives you a unique experience where you can see them go from the Darkmess infested to their natural states. I especially loved the Palette Prime world where it went from a grimy almost “spooky season” look to a beautiful fall look full of colorful leaves and wonderful animal life. I also loved how every time you made progress in destroying Darkmess on the planet, you saw the progress in the overworld. On the first planet especially it went from sad, rainy, depressing vibes; and every time you defeated a Darkmess entity, it got a little brighter on the beach until the end of your time there; it’s a completely different vibe from when you landed. As someone who is very task oriented; games like this keep me invested because I want to see the transformation, I want to clean the Darkmess. I had to really push myself through the game telling myself “you can come back and finish up later.” While Kingdom Battle had some amazing worlds attached to their HUB world, Sparks of Hope pushes them into a whole new experience giving us unique and fun worlds to fully explore.

Another beautiful aspect of this game is the music. There were three composers who tag-teamed this game. Grant Kirkhope returns for Sparks of Hope and you know exactly when one of his songs is playing. I’ve been listening to his music since Banjo-Kazooie on the N64 and have multiple of his albums in my library. Big fan. Meanwhile, they’ve added two renowned composers in Yoko Shimomura (Kingdom Hearts, Super Mario RPG) and Gareth Coker (Halo Infinite, and both Ori games) to the team to create one of the most diverse and fun gaming soundtracks I’ve experienced. I’m a huge fan of soundtrack music, actually composing music for DND content creators myself, and so I’m always excited to see what games have in store for me from a musical perspective. Not only can you tell that the composers put time and love into their music, you can tell the developers and crew behind Sparks of Hope took pride in how amazing the music is for the game. They’ve posted multiple times on their social media about the music and are even hosting a launch party on October 20th with Grant Kirkhope doing a Q&A. It’s great to see that not only was there attention to the game from a graphical or gameplay standpoint, but even down to how important it was for them to get the music right. Kudos to them for that.

While there are twists and turns along the way, Sparks of Hope is a game that can be picked up, put down, and played at your pace. None of the main story is time sensitive, so if you’re a “I must do all the side missions first” or a “I just want story” player they’ve actually made it so the levels of bosses and mini-bosses are doable in either case. If you’re a “every side mission” you’ll clearly have an advantage, but it’s doable if you don’t.

 

You can tell as soon as you pick up Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope that there was a significant amount of love and time put into this game. From the event I attended, they mentioned it’s been in production more than four years. There are so many ways to play, so many of those “new tactical possibilities,” and it can be fun for so many types of gamers. From improving gameplay and performance, to updating the rosters and weapons, and then adding all the Sparks, Sparks of Hope really give me hope that games can give me that feeling of being finished and ready to go at launch.

Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope will be available on October 20th, 2022 on the Nintendo Switch.

100

Phenomenal

Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope

Review Guidelines

Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope launches with a spark of life. There are improvements and expansion of the gameplay and performance of the first game. Three new heroes to the game including an original (non-Mushroom Kingdom related) Rabbid character named Edge. There are brand new unique weapons and special abilities for each character. Oh, and Sparks galore. This game is pumped full of “new tactical possibilities” for every kind of gamer.

Adam is a musician and gamer who loves his partner in crime, Regan, and their two pets Rey and Finn. Adam is a fan of Star Wars, NFL Football, and gaming in general. Follow Adam on Twitter @TheRexTano.

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