Oh, how the tables have turned. Three weeks ago, folks were laughing at the exclusive Switch title from Ubisoft featuring Mario and the Rabbids. "I hate the Rabbids," we said. "Silly baby game," some wrote. We joked and jeered.
Then Ubisoft showed it at their E3 press event and the tide slowly turned. The game looked... good? Nay, it looked great. A delightfully colorful take on the gameplay found in the XCOM franchise, infused with the heart of Mario and the weirdness of the Rabbids.
That first impression carried over to my time with the game. Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is bright and bouncy, while also retaining a good deal of solid strategy.
I was dropped into the world, with Mario, Rabbid Peach, and Rabbid Luigi on a quest to save the real Luigi. Your party follows Beep-0, the floating Roomba and living cursor that seems to be know what's going on in the Mushroom Kingdom.
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is split between two different types of play. Mario and company march across an isometric world, with varying paths forward across a series of connected platforms and islands. On some islands, there are puzzles and challenges to solve. In my demo, I had to collect red coins as moving platforms blocked my way, shift islands around with a series of buttons, and rush in a timed puzzle to grab blue coins.
The other type of stages are all about fighting. These platforms are noted by a series of flags, letting you know battle is imminent. You have a chance to take a look at your team, make sure everything is square, and then go barreling into the fight.
The core of Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle's gameplay is tactics strategy in the style of XCOM. Cover is key to survival and victory, and Mario even has an ability called Hero Sight, that works like XCOM's Overwatch, attacking enemies who move into his line-of-sight.
What surprised me were the changes that Ubisoft made to the XCOM formula. There's a mid-movement attack: if your movement path crosses that of an enemy, you'll slide through them, doing a bit of damage without taking up your attack turn. Or the team bounce, where if you move onto a teammate's spot, they can boost you to another, farther area, after which you can still move if you have movement points available.
Levels with tubes allow for even more options without consuming movement points, letting players move around the combat space from high to low ground. Cover is destructible in Mario + Rabbids, but there are also special cover blocks. These cover blocks, if destroyed, cause different area-based effects to happen, like stunning enemies or setting them on fire.
So far, there does seem to be a bit of streamlining on the character side of things. In XCOM, you have loadouts and abilities to work with, while special techniques in Mario + Rabbids seem to be character specific. I mentioned Mario's Hero Sight, but Rabbid Luigi could call on a personal shield and Rabbid Peach can heal folks within a specific range. (These techniques have turn-based cooldowns.) Likewise, weapons seem to be character-specific, as I found a new wepaon of Mario with a powerful pushback ability.
At the end of the day, I left my playthrough pleasantly shocked by Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. It looks good in video and played well in my hands. Hell, even the visual presentation is top-notch, with crisp and colorful environments, great animations, and even some cinematic-style breakouts for certain actions in battle. I only spent 30 minutes with Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, but so far, it's a real winner.
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is coming for Nintendo Switch on August 29, 2017.