Developer: Ubisoft Paris/Ubisoft Milan – Publisher: Ubisoft – Platform: Switch – Release Date: August 29, 2017
At A Glance
Either a cruel joke or an abomination born from the seventh circle of Hell.
Upon Further Inspection
A surprisingly competent XCOM-light meshing gaming’s most treasured property with the Rabbids.
What’s The Story?
Ubisoft barely attempts to make sense of how these two disparate universes collide and that’s the best move all around. Basically, a kid who is both techno-whiz and Mario fanatic invents a VR headset capable of breaking space and time. The Rabbids arrive, get all Rabbid-y by screwing everything up, and cause the headset to zap them and all the Mario-themed bedroom decor. Somehow, that drops the Rabbids (as well as the kid’s now giant-sized furniture) into the Mushroom Kingdom. Is it silly? Yes. Is it stupid? Yes. Does it need to be anything more than that? Nope.
The adventure felt like a Mario-themed fever dream and it’s more entertaining than it probably has any right to be. The humor doesn’t always land, but there was enough to make me smile and earn the occasional chuckle. One standout, though, involves a clever and hilarious musical number during a boss battle that stands as one of my favorite gaming moments of the year.
I love that this feels like a non-Nintendo game in the best way. Stuff like censored profanity and Luigi dabbing would never fly under the big N’s umbrella, yet it comes off as more charming than insulting or needlessly edgy. For me, that’s partly because Ubisoft still treats Nintendo’s titans with reverence; yes, even the Bullet Bill with underwear strapped to its head. Placing Mario in such situations can be surreal at times, but it works in a “fish out of water” kind of way.
More importantly than anything else, the Rabbids never got on my nerves and felt perfectly acceptable. They serve their roles fine as goofy foils to the Mushroom Kingdom straight men, and I even grew to like my cosplaying invaders by the end. Even the selfie-obsessed Rabbid Peach got on my good side.
How Does It Look?
The same way most every 3D Mario game looks, Pinky: vibrant, crisp and beautifully rendered. Giant-sized real world objects give the game distinct visual flair, such as the first world’s tower of haphazardly placed blocks. A few visual glitches abound, however, like invisible Rabbids in the brief environmental scenes. I’ve never been particularly fond of the Rabbid’s design, but the Rabbid impostors look kind of adorable in their dumb outfits.
How Does It Sound?
Grant Kirkhope’s (notably of Banjo-Kazooie fame) cheery score provides earfuls of delight. Otherwise, the Mario cast perform their standard emotes and the Rabbids do their weird kind of yell/cry.
How Fun Is It?
Do you enjoy turn-based strategy? If so, Mario + Rabbids contains plenty of depth and challenge to sink your teeth into. Have you never touched these types of games? No worries, as this is one of the most newcomer-friendly offerings the genre has to offer in all of the right ways.
Players take a team of three into battles under stipulations such as eliminating all enemies/ X-amount of them, reaching the finish line, or escorting an ally to said finish line. Escort missions easily rank as the least fun of these and occur more often than I would have liked (to the point that the game even pokes fun of itself for it).
Emerging victorious comes down maximizing turns via the flexible mobility. In addition to general movement, characters can slide into foes along their path. Exiting pipes grants additional steps and leaping atop allies also extends range. I loved squeezing the most coverage/damage out of each turn, and meticulously planning moves often feels more akin to a good puzzle game. It also speeds up the game in a way other strategy games don’t, simply because scores of enemies can be quickly dropped if you play your cards right. The same satisfaction applies to successfully countering the movements of your equally nimble (if not more so) opponents.
Each character sports a primary firearm and secondary weapon, such as a mallet or homing RC car, as well as two special abilities. Mario and Luigi have XCOM overwatch-style moves where they blast foes that move within their sight range. Rabbid Peach heals allies, and Rabbid Luigi can weaken the enemy’s strength. Though useful on their own, the game allows for some awesome combinations of these moves for players savvy enough to figure them out. For example, one of my go-to combos was using Rabbid Mario’s ability to draw enemies near him and into the range of the Mario Bros.’ primed overwatch shots.
Weapon status effects create additional depth. Ailments such as movement-nullifying Honey or health-draining Vamp can turn the tide in big ways. Especially if, again, you use them in conjunction with other moves, like using Bounce to launch someone airborne only for Luigi’s Steely Stare to snipe them mid-air. Though I wouldn’t say the effect lineup has any duds, I did find some to be more universally useful than others. Plus, the game never gave me a reason to differ much from my preferred three (Vamp, Bounce, Ink, if you’re curious).
As I alluded to earlier, Mario + Rabbids removes the genre’s more hardcore aspects in favor or accessibility. There’s no permadeath, and players can respec skill points anytime with no cost whatsoever. No penalty exists for losing an encounter beyond starting it over. This gives the game a welcomed relaxed atmosphere on top of all the strategy. Good performance gets rewarded, though, with a post-chapter meter doling out rewards based on the number of party members who survived and if encounters finished under the turn limit. Though as far as I could tell, battles don’t display turns, so you have no idea how to plan for the limit in a very strange omission.
You can grind in a sense by completing challenges to earn more coin/skill points. They’re decent fun, but even when the difficulty spiked in World 3, I never felt the need to turn to them for a boost. And unless you play the challenges immediately after finishing a world, the somewhat meager rewards don’t make them worth the effort later when you’re overpowered.
Beyond challenges, the only between battle activity is solving environmental puzzles that often feel more like busy work than actual fun. Most are easy to deduce but tedious to execute and basically felt like being forced to eat meat before rewarding me with pudding. Additionally, the hassle of backtracking through completed zones to open up new areas isn’t worth the general rewards of concept art and music tracks.
As fun as the game is, it does tend to lose steam during longer sessions. I recommend playing in small doses; 2-4 battles per sitting was my sweet spot. Although this next point has little bearing on its overall quality, Mario + Rabbids makes for an excellent handheld experience and was my preferred mode of play (though playing on a TV with a pro controller works dandy as well).
File this under the “Pleasant Surprise” category. I remember dreading Mario + Rabbids when the rumors became reality; now it’s one of my favorite games of 2017. The game is approachable without sacrificing depth, it oozes humor and charm, and flaunts some appealing eye-candy to boot.
I have to tip my hat to Ubisoft for putting the effort into crafting a quality strategy experience when this likely could have sold on the combined name value alone. Kudos to Nintendo as well, for handing off their biggest mascot like this in the first place. All in all, Mario and his Rabbid cohorts don’t always have the smoothest go of it, but this is a far cry from the trainwreck many feared it would be.