E3 2017 Hands-On: ‘Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle’ Somehow Works

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Though we all pretty much knew it was coming, no one could be blamed for raising their eyebrows when Ubisoft announced Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, their bizarre crossover featuring the chaotic and maniacal bunnies known as the Rabbids thrust into the cheerful orderliness that is the Mushroom Kingdom. It was a bit surreal seeing wholesome Nintendo characters like Mario and Princess Peach wielding hand cannons as if auditioning for the next Die Hard, and the goofy, rabbit-eared caricatures of those icons elicited an uncanny sort of feeling. Still, Nintendo fans have seen mash-ups before, and Mario has no problem kicking the bejesus out of his opponents in Super Smash Bros., so maybe this wasn’t going to be so strange after all. Except that instead of the kind of bland party-style game that this merger would normally precipitate, Kingdom Battle is a turn-based strategy RPG?

With Nintendo you sometimes just have to roll with whatever sort of unfathomable idea they’ve come up with, and apparently Ubisoft is drawing water from the same well, so when I had the chance to check the game out at Nintendo’s booth, I dove in with the enthusiasm of a psychoanalyst studying a particularly interesting case of two weirdos combining forces. What I discovered was a fairly charming creation that somehow managed to make sense, so far offering a tactical genre somewhat accessible to everyone, and with the potential for great depth. Most importantly, Kingdom Battle is actually quite a bit of fun.

Our demo found us kicking things off by running around an overworld, engaging in a sort of (very) light exploration. It should be noted that players don’t actually control Mario or any of the other team members (I had Rabbid Luigi, Rabbid Peach, and the “normal” Princess); instead, some sort of Roomba thing (official Nintendo rep lingo) leads the way, with everyone in tow. It wasn’t long before the first battle occurred, starting off very much at a friendly tutorial level, easing players into this stupidly entertaining concept by demonstrating how basic movements work (anyone who played Codename Steam will get it – which I suppose means hardly anyone. Fine, X-COM then). The playing field works like a grid, and players can select any spot within the character’s range to move to. Figuring out what area gives the best chance at striking enemies while preserving oneself and one’s allies is the goal of each maneuver, something the first fight explains fairly well by suggesting spots to take cover from. A meter that estimates the odds of a successful attack or defense was also pointed out to me, which can certainly aid in decision making.

I enjoyed plotting paths for my team that would see them get more than one hit per turn by taking them in for a melee attack before backing off behind some cover in order to fire some shots, and there is also a way to cover more ground by having one character toss another, which can certainly be of benefit when wanting to reach a tactically important spot first. The early stages also showed off a couple of different objectives, from simply destroying everyone in your path, to reaching a highlighted area on the other side of the map as quickly as possible to avoid being overrun by spawning reinforcements. As someone with relatively little experience in the genre, nothing felt overwhelming, but I could definitely see the potential for some devious challenges requiring smart planning cropping up later in the adventure. I could feel Kingdom Battle slowly teaching me how to play, but whether those as dumb as me will be able to keep up with the expected increases in difficulty is something I’m very curious about. It will be interesting to see who Kingdom Battle is really for; balancing the impression of inclusiveness that these family-friendly characters imply with a genre whose depth and difficulty appeals more toward the veteran gamer could be tricky, and it remains to be seen if Ubisoft will pull it off.

Nevertheless, I had no problem utterly wrecking my insane enemies in the few battles I played and was even able to showboat a little. Watching Mario walk up and stone-coldly execute a Rabbid with a single gunshot to the face elicits conflicted feelings, but also awesome satisfaction, and sending Luigi sprinting to the finish line while the others provided a battlefield distraction, having him dodge just enough attacks to reach the goal with a sliver of health left, definitely got the blood pumping. I can’t say I was playing the game well (a sentiment that I’m sure would be echoed by the patient Nintendo rep, who was supremely polite about not laughing at every self-destructive move I made), but I did get a sense of progression, and I liked it. With over 250 different weapons to be acquired, finding a play style shouldn’t be too difficult, and the combat so far is compelling enough to make me want to see more.

Ubisoft has crafted a Mushroom Kingdom that contains the usual colorful assets, but given it their own isometric spin, lending a fresh(er) feel to the expected, and even early on there were some variation and size in the Rabbid enemies (many of which take on aspects of the Mushroom Kingdom, like dressing up as piranha plants), and that a giant chain chomp would not only eat me but also my opponent was a devilish discovery that led to Mario baiting hapless foes into the danger zone. Environments contain multiple paths, warp pipes, and degradable cover. The overworld in the demo didn’t have much going on yet, though there was a section where the crew had to navigate a shifting wall maze and collect 8 red coins, but perhaps things will get more interesting as the adventure continues. Regardless, the draw here is Mario and Co. engaged in turn-based strategy, and strangely enough, it works.

Try to look away from the weirdness of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle when it releases for the Nintendo Switch on August 29th.

Patrick Murphy grew up in the hearty Midwest, where he spent many winter hours watching movies and playing video games while waiting for baseball season to start again. When not thinking of his next Nintendo post or writing screenplays to satisfy his film school training, he’s getting his cinema fix as the Editor of Sordid Cinema, Goomba Stomp’s Film and TV section.