For some reason that is certainly somehow connected to the demeanor of a caveman who roamed Africa millions of years ago and Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, human beings have a tendency to be quick to judge. As creatures who live in a supposedly civilized society, people do try to fight that instinct with certain consistency; still, as much as most like to think otherwise, reason cannot always overcome nature. When it loses that battle, our judgmental ways shine through. What both our prehistorical ancestor and the British naturalist did not know, though, is that such a negative behavior would manifest itself quite strongly when Nintendo and Ubisoft decided to join Mario (one of the world’s most beloved characters) with the Rabbids (one of the planet’s most disliked videogame entities) into one game.
Under the direction of Kimishima, Nintendo has been quite clearly much less protective of their properties than it used to be in the past. In just a couple of years, the company has taken their franchises to mobile platforms, green-lighted the construction of theme parks, and hinted at future movie projects. In a way, therefore, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a reflection of that strategy; as it would be hard to imagine the Nintendo of a not-so-distant past allowing another studio to take the reins of a Mario adventure and much less letting that studio pair the plumber’s gang up with an unpopular set of characters. Yet, this is where the gaming world stands: as Mario and the Rabbids walk hand-in-hand into the living rooms of millions in a partnership that, a few months ago, sounded like sheer lunacy to almost everyone.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, because it shows the Rabbids are not inherently bad characters. They are just unreasonably disliked due to how, besides starring in average games, the world looks at them as having displaced Rayman, a major gaming institution that tended to take part in excellent adventures, when Ubisoft is actually the one to blame for the lack of new games with the limbless hero. Secondly, because as much as Mario has branched out to other genres, the turn-based strategy field was an area he had yet to explore. And finally because despite all the initial unfounded and unnecessary reactions, it is hard not to be intrigued by the title’s concept.
More importantly than being interesting, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is great. The madness of its plot and of the way through which both universes are joined works because Mario and the Rabbids exist in worlds where events do not need to make sense. Moreover, the concept is supported by solid gameplay. Alternating exploration segments where Mario and his two partners of choice need to solve puzzles in order to progress through one of the four worlds; and strategic and challenging shooting affairs where alternatives need to be analyzed if players are to succeed, the game clicks and finds a way to embrace newcomers to the genre, which its charming presentation and colorful characters are bound to attract, and veterans too, who will flock to it once they hear of the tight design of its strategy gameplay.
Truth be told, there is nothing particular remarkable about the exploration portion of the game. The puzzles are simple block-pushing or button-pressing activities, but walking around an innocent and beautiful Mushroom Kingdom that has been extravagantly corrupted by the Rabbids’ wildness and uncovering its many secrets makes the experience be engaging enough. The star of the show, needless to say, is the battles themselves, for besides having nicely programmed AI that will not miss the opportunity to take advantage of gamers’ mistakes, they are also constantly evolving challenges that are always requiring new ways of thinking: be it by introducing new menacing enemies to the mixture or by shifting the focus of the battles through the construction of the arenas. That means that while some put emphasis on finding higher ground or looking for solid covers, others force players to survive or take a more offensive approach.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a welcome and unexpected addition to the catalog of the Nintendo Switch. Ubisoft has done an incredible job in uniting two totally disconnected franchises; more impressively, it has done so by sewing them together on a ground (that of strategy gaming) that is completely alien to both. Therefore, instead of capturing gameplay elements of both sides and putting them together, the core of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle rises pretty much out of nowhere, and perhaps that is what makes it so completely alluring. If the game is indicative of what Nintendo’s more open approach to their main franchises will yield, fans of the company might be in for a quite productive and fun new era.