TL; DR(eview) - Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle puts a nice new game type into the long lineage of Mario titles. It waters down the X-COM formula a little too much and has far too many Rabbids to make it a truly great game but it’s a solid entry into the genre nonetheless.
When rumors started leaking about the Mario and Rabbids crossover game, I immediately assumed I’d be passing on the title. The humor of the Rabbids - much like their spiritual successors the Minions - has just never resonated with me. But the showcase Ubisoft provided for the game at E3 really turned me around on it. The tactical strategy of something like X-COM is one of my guilty pleasures and not having a PC strong enough to dive into X-COM 2 meant I was looking to fill that void so I wound up picking the game up.
After an overly long, nonsensical cut scene that loosely establishes why and how the Rabbids have ended up in the Mushroom Kingdom, you started fighting through the weird mash-up version of Mario’s world and the real world filled with absurdly juveline jokes, including one about a Rabbid pooping on a pipe. As you battle through four-themed worlds, each with a mid-boss and a final boss, you face off against a variety of enemy types in a variety of scenarios. There are straightforward “Defeat All Enemies” engagements, missions where you have to defeat a pre-set number of foes, those where just have to reach a set location, or those where you have to escort Toad to a set location. These different types provide a nice change of pace to the flow of the game in the early going, but they become somewhat repetitive to the point that I found myself just going through the motions by the time I was about halfway through the game.
As you progress through the game, you build up your full squad, comprised of 8 team members: Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Yoshi, and their Rabbid doppelgangers. Each character has their own unique weapon types and skills to differentiate them. Each battle has you taking in a squad of three, but there is an unspoken rule that you must always have at least one Rabbid in your party (and you’re always locked in with Mario). So if you wanted to utilize Luigi’s sniper rifle, Yoshi’s ability to dash through up to 5 enemies at once, and Peach’s healing jump attack, you are out of luck. You’ll also collect coins and orbs throughout the game (both in the overworld and through battle rewards). Coins allow you to purchase new weapons for your team (after you’ve gained access to them either by beating certain boss checkpoints or by discovering them in some of the game’s hidden chests). Orbs on the other hand will allow you to upgrade your passive and active skills.
While the game adds a few new elements to the X-COM formula, it also simplifies some of the standards to its detriment. A nice new feature is the ability of your characters to jump off one another, often with a special bonus. As mentioned above, when Peach jumps off of an ally, she lands and heals herself and other allies within her landing radius. Mario can jump off an ally onto an enemy to do some extra damage. These various techniques can be mixed and matched to provide a myriad of different tactical combinations based on which party members you enter a match with. Where Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle simplifies things is in its likelihood of success rates. Barring an obstruction, everything is a guaranteed hit, with only the likelihood of a critical hit really becoming a variable. The only exception to this is if an enemy is behind cover, which drops the success rate to a flat 50%. This all or nothing approach takes out the random chance that can often exhilarate or frustrate combat in the traditional X-COM experience.
There’s also no quick save functionality in the game so if you find yourself deep into a fight and wanting to try one tactic, you run the risk of having to restart the whole battle. There’s a pretty significant difficulty curve late in the game where you just start being overwhelmed by the number of enemies. I didn’t have the patience to go back and grind through the pre-defined battles (there isn’t a lot in the way of randomization here) so I instead started triggering the Easy Mode at the beginning of the encounter: an option at the start of each fight that will automatically heal your team to 150% of normal health. There’s no trade off for doing this (your end of match rewards remain the same) so I probably finished the last world or so with this approach when I got frustrated trying the same engagement ten or more different times with assorted strategies.
Unlike X-COM, which just throws you into each fight, Mario + Rabbids has you traversing the various overworlds, occasionally solving environmental puzzles to proceed. These are enjoyable enough the first time through a world but subsequent trips, either to grab treasure chests that become accessible with the new overworld abilities learned after each boss or to grind coins and orbs, reveal how very empty the world often feels. The combat is always confined to pre-built arenas that exist as part of each level and there’s often a whole lot of nothing walking between them which really destroys any interest to explore or revisit each area for the challenges that unlock afterward.
All in all, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is a fun, if somewhat forgettable affair. It’s an interesting experiment for Nintendo: giving the IP to another studio like Ubisoft to build a new exclusive spin-off. But I think it tried to mash-up too many ideas to really excel at any single one of them. Fun enough to enjoy and complete but probably not anything I’ll try to 100% or ever revisit.