I came into my playtime with Mario + Rabbids with a certain degree of trepidation. After my initial surprise at seeing these two properties being mashed together, I quickly began wondering about how well the franchises could play together, and also worried about the idea of a tactical combat game being the genre in which they would merge.
After an extended gameplay demo, I’m happy to say that many of my concerns have been assuaged. Kingdom Battle is a charming and colorful affair, and it offers plenty of homages to the Mario fiction and gameplay for devoted fans. Meanwhile, the core combat loop is engaging and nuanced, riffing heavily off the formula established in the recent XCOM games, but adding humor and mechanics that evoke the adventures of Mario and his crew.
Gameplay is split between two primary phases. In the exploration mode, you guide a party of three adventurers — Mario, one of the Rabbids, and any one other character you’ve unlocked – as they move through a Mushroom Kingdom that has been thrown into disarray by the arrival of the Rabbids. These exploration phases are mostly a chance to see the world and gather coins, but they also provide some puzzles and mini-adventures. In one spot, I had to enter a maze and collect eight red coins in a time limit. In another area, I completed a puzzle that provided access to a special room where I could unlock a treasure by picking up blue coins. Once new weapons are acquired, I could pay coins from my collection to fully unlock them for play.
Battles play out on an isometric, rotatable map in which your team takes on opposing teams of Rabbids, many of whom have morphed into Mushroom Kingdom-esque enemies, like a Piranha Plant (Pirabbids). On your turn, you can move each of your three characters, use their weapon, and optionally trigger their special ability.
Movement offers more strategic options than it might first appear. By running up to Mario, you can catapult off of him to reach distant areas using a stomp jump. Alternately, run into a Rabbid pipe to zip instantly to the far side of a map and flank your enemies. In addition, you can use your move to slide tackle an enemy target and do damage in advance of when you fire a weapon, and then continue your movement beyond the slide into an advantageous position.
Each character can have a different weapon equipped, and new weapons unlock on a regular basis. Each weapon can have different damage values and super effects. A honey effect can be used to glue enemies to the ground. Burn damage makes your enemy run around in a wild circle, potentially lighting other enemies on fire. And push damage can move your foes out of cover. Those are just some of the effects that Ubisoft is promising.
Characters also have special abilities that only recharge after a certain number of turns. For instance, Rabbid Peach has a heal that affects herself and nearby allies. Careful use of special abilities at the right time is key to victory.
The battles I played weren’t incredibly difficult, but they did a good job of showcasing the potential of the combat engine. Cover points are scattered all around a map, and they can be degraded by doing damage to them. Some maps include multiple vertical levels to deal with, so it’s easy to get up above the bad guys and shoot them from the high ground.
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is releasing for Nintendo Switch on August 29th. Just a few minutes with the game left me far more enthusiastic about the concept than how I felt going in, and I’m eager to see if the tactical battles ramp up in difficulty to become a genuine challenge.