Crossovers tend to have a crucial link that ties the two franchises together. Freddy vs. Jason brought two iconic horror movie villains together, while the time when The Flintstones met the Jetsons was down to them both being owned by Hannah Barbera. Games do this sometimes as well, such as the slightly disappointing Street Fighter X Tekken fighting game mash-up, but it’s hard to pinpoint why Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a real game, let alone a tactical RPG. Somehow it still works.
The story is a bit of a mess, truth be told. Rabbids have invaded the Mario paraphernalia filled bedroom of a young inventor, whose crowning achievement is a pair of goggles that mixes two item together. One of the Rabbids begins messing around with it too much and distorts everything – causing the Mushroom Kingdom to get sucked into this alternative dimension.
I’d never previously been a fan of the Rabbids, they seem too similar to the Minions from Despicable Me to really resonate with me, despite predating those films, but their use here has some amusing touches. One of the more characteristic Rabbids is the one that turns into Princess Peach. She pouts, struts around, and takes selfies while acting all smug in a manner unbecoming of the Mushroom Kingdom’s ruler. The humour in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is charming, even if Ubisoft take liberties at times; having Bowser Jr own a cell phone, for example.
Visual touches mimic the Mario universe wonderfully as all the typical level tropes are represented, and while the music is oddly more reminiscent of Banjo Kazooie than Super Mario, though there are familiar motifs within the hub area. Rabbids have left their mark as statues, some of them a little on the crude side, but certainly in keeping with the tone of the game.
Gameplay is broken into two parts in a mostly linear game. First are the exploration segments where you can gather coins and solve light puzzles in the environment. These clear the way to the next battle as well as open paths to treasure containing new weapons to buy and unlockables for the hub. It does flesh out the game somewhat, but really the puzzles aren’t anything too complicated.
It’s the turn-based battles where the meat of the game lies. You control a party of three characters, moving them one at a time to hide behind varying levels of cover and fire on enemies. It’s essentially a simplified version of XCOM where the percentages to hit are fixed. Characters are upgraded with skill points earned after battle, as well as weapons bought in the Battle HQ.
Where things become slightly more complex is in movement. Characters can move anywhere in the highlighted areas, but also link up multiple kinds of move. You can, for example, run over to an enemy and slide tackle them for damage, then run off and into cover. However, that’s just a single simple combination, and you can still enter into a pipe, extending the movement on the other side, as well as run into a teammate and use them as a jump pad to leap further afield.
This results in some really bizarrely complex turns where, depending on upgrades, you can hit several enemies and travel across most of a map, and still be able to shoot. It’s utterly broken sounding to those who have played similar games, but really just becomes a useful tool. Given that each shot is powered up if you’re shooting from above and some weapons have the ability to inflict status conditions, the amount of power you have is staggering.
Yet it’s not like the Rabbids are going to take it sitting down. Each battle has you completing an objective, such as eliminating all enemies, getting to a particular point, and even escorting a toad. Enemies do have the capability to flank you quite easily and they will use abilities to their fullest, making battles a real challenge. The only issue is that occasionally they will shoot through walls because the rules regarding line of sight aren’t fully followed, but this is rare.
As for the enemy variety, the Rabbids range from grunts, healers, giants wielding melee weapons, and more. They’re introduced in an organic fashion with plenty of battles to get used to how they work. Some do follow generic tropes seen in similar games, but those that abuse the mobility mechanics are somewhat unique.
Worlds generally have eight acts that consist of one or two battles, yet there are also mid-bosses and world bosses that change the dynamic nicely. Unlockables can consist of being able to replay older levels, challenge levels, and alternative modes that include local co-op multiplayer options and amiibo features. It’s a full package in that sense.
As strange as Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle sounds on paper, there are some really good ideas in the mix. Having XCOM’s battle gameplay presented in a more light lighthearted fashion and greatly enhancing character movement are both excellent touches. It’s not perfect, but there’s a lot to like from this unlikely combination.