Very few were surprised by the reveal of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle when it was showcased during Ubisoft's conference last Sunday. Even if you were only loosely invested in keeping up with gaming news, it was almost a given that you knew about the title many months before its acknowledgement on stage. Some were skeptical, and many were filled with trepidation by the thought of the two franchises being combined together. However, many nerves were expedited the second that Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot welcomed Shigeru Miyamoto to the stage, as the Nintendo icon passionately gave his blessing to the Ubisoft team in front of hundreds of thousands of fans. He even praised the game's creative director, Davide Soliani, who became emotional after Miyamoto had given him the recognition.
Having had a chance to sit down with an opening segment of the game, there's relief that Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle does exude a lot of quality. Ubisoft has created the most 'Nintendo' title it possibly could, and if we hadn't known any better we would've said that without a doubt it was developed by the big N itself. It's quite captivating, the level of polish and detail that has been achieved, and it stands as a testament to the dedication Ubisoft is putting behind this partnership.
Our demo started with a manageable three party members to utilize, with the promise of many more. The titular Mario needs no introduction, while a slumberish Rabbid which is dressed as his younger brother Luigi, and an arrant Rabbid draped in Princess Peach's attire, make their debut in the slice that we played. It's a motley crew from the beginning, but quite spontaneously it drifts from being jarring to being surprisingly dynamic. It's interesting to see how just a couple of otherwise homogeneous characters, like the Rabbids, have been granted so much personality with the added attire and character.
The gameplay, like the concept, also represents a new diversion for Nintendo's franchise. As Mario is known for his platforming, and the Rabbids are known for their zany minigame collections, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is naturally a tactical RPG with shooting mechanics. If you've played Intelligent System's Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. - or more tellingly something like XCOM - the gameplay will be familiar, as the player takes turns between the enemy and themselves, lining up attacks and hiding behind cover in order to outsmart opponents and dispatch enemies in a given arena.
With Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, however, there's a bit more involvement in the combat. Extra layers of the game add not only strategy, but also a tremendous level of fun. Some enjoyable features include the ability to cover greater movement distance by jumping off of other party members, destructible cover which can leave enemies or your party member vulnerable, and the added ability to attack while moving past an enemy. All the additional special moves, too, feel right at home in the Mario franchise and add an arcadey feel to the tactics.
Within the first battle we were already setting Mario up as a party member that could allow other players to jump off of him to get better flanks, Rabbid Luigi as someone who would get as close to the enemy as possible to tank damage and make sure the enemy would be attacked at least once in each round, and Rabbid Princess Peach would level the battleground by chipping away at enemy cover and taking potshots when possible. Everything about the strategy and tactics feels satisfying and easy to utilize, even if you're unfamiliar with the genre.
When we talk about a tactical RPG's gameplay, it's unusual that we commend a title of the genre for its 'feel.' In Mario + Rabbids this 'feel' is commendable due to the overall polish of the experience; menus, animations and controls feel very tight and fluid. The entire game's design also nourishes the idea of fun, and even just walking around during the exploration segments is satisfying; the Mushroom Kingdom environments being chaotically united with the Rabbids aesthetic is captivating. The gameplay mechanics are also deeply engaging even in a short initial session, and its easy to envisage how players could evolve their own styles and approach with further progress and weapon / ability unlocks. While we didn't reach this point in our demo we're also excited to see how boss fights will work, and the Nintendo Treehouse presentation below covers this nicely.
Having finally played the once mythological Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, we can say that it's a title which any owner of the Nintendo Switch needs to check out, or at least give a second look-over before passing judgement. Nintendo games have always been about the player having fun every second of the game, impressing and entertaining gamers whether new or old with the highest levels of quality. Combined with its previous experience in developing big-name action games, Ubisoft seems to have nailed this prerogative of Nintendo games, and fully adopted its own style along with Nintendo principles. With Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle we have a style of Mario game that hasn't been seen before, and our early impressions are very positive.