Mario + Rabbids: King­dom Bat­tle

A sen­sa­tional strat­egy hybrid that’s any­thing but a bwaaah- d idea

Games Master - - CONTENTS -

Mario’s got a gun! Ap­par­ently when those pesky Rabbids in­vaded they trig­gered the Mush­room King­dom’s sec­ond amend­ment rights.

With hind­sight, the ap­pear­ance of Shigeru Miyamoto at Ubisoft’s E3 con­fer­ence was a clue. The sight of Mario’s creator stand­ing back-to-back with Ubi pres­i­dent Yves Guille­mot, both wield­ing King­dom Bat­tle’s cu­ri­ously Mega Man-es­que arm can­nons, made it clear this was some­thing more spe­cial than your av­er­age col­lab­o­ra­tion. The pride of its pub­lisher, and the ap­proval of Miyamoto, were well-placed: some­how amid this col­li­sion of wildly dif­fer­ent worlds, the pieces slot to­gether quite beau­ti­fully. More mirac­u­lously still, it may have sold us on the Rabbids as a force for good. No, re­ally. At first, you might not be quite so con­vinced. The open­ing se­quence is a well-re­alised bit of CGI tom­fool­ery which sees a young sci­en­tist tin­ker­ing with a head­set that can com­bine two dis­parate ob­jects into one. Un­wisely leav­ing her of­fice unat­tended for the night, she’s not present to wit­ness the ar­rival of the Rabbids, who burst onto the scene in a TARDIS-like wash­ing ma­chine, cre­at­ing their usual brand of noisy havoc. (If you’re not fa­mil­iar with them, think De­spi­ca­ble Me’s Minions, only with longer ears, more gorm­less ex­pres­sions, and even fewer brain cells.) One of the Rabbids dons the of­fend­ing gad­get, which, along with a nearby Mario poster, re­sults in the Mush­room King­dom and the world of Rabbids merg­ing.

It’s not a smooth blend, but part of the joy of this strange hybrid is see­ing the wonky con­trast be­tween Mario’s world and that of these clumsy in­ter­lop­ers. You’ll see 80-foot bub­ble wands, hand mix­ers whip­ping up lava into soft, fluffy peaks, and stat­ues of Rabbids read­ing on the toi­let – the lat­ter prompt­ing a poo gag that’s surely the most crudely hi­lar­i­ous thing in a Mario game to date.

You’ll wit­ness dozens of these bizarre jux­ta­po­si­tions as you ex­plore King­dom Bat­tle’s four sprawl­ing worlds, each split into ten large and of­ten labyrinthine sec­tions. Along the way, you’ll solve a va­ri­ety of sim­ple puz­zles: a hand­ful of these are manda­tory but many more are en­tirely op­tional, tucked away down paths that splin­ter off from the route to the next zone. Each of these yields col­lectibles and other un­lock­able secrets, so you’re al­ways re­warded for your cu­rios­ity. The puz­zles them­selves may be rel­a­tively straight­for­ward for the most part, whether you’re plac­ing stat­ues on plinths to open stone gates, chip­ping away at stone block­ades, or nudg­ing blocks onto pres­sure plates, but they’re well put to­gether and act as use­ful pace-break­ers. The ex­cep­tion to these are spo­radic mini-game chal­lenges, which can be awk­ward to com­plete against the strict time lim­its given that you’re not ac­tu­ally

“You’ll see 80-foot bub­ble wands, and stat­ues of rabbids read­ing on the toi­let”

con­trol­ling Mario him­self. In fact, you’re led by a coaster-shaped AI as­sis­tant named Beep-O, who han­dles the bulk of the ex­po­si­tion and text di­a­logue, while guid­ing you through­out the ad­ven­ture. Still, Mario’s the de facto leader of the group, and in­deed must be in your three-strong team when you pass through the gates that in­tro­duce each of the game’s bat­tle zones, where you’ll face off against squads of Rabbids gone bad.

While Mario glee­fully spreads his arms wide as he scam­pers around be­tween skir­mishes, it’s here that the game re­ally stretches its legs. If any­thing, the ‘Mario XCOM’ ob­ser­va­tions we made when pre­view­ing the game un­der­sell it: this is a turn-based strat­egy game boast­ing ideas that give it a very dif­fer­ent feel from its peers. That’s not to say it doesn’t em­brace a few genre stan­dards: the very idea of a Mario game fea­tur­ing an over­watch me­chanic might be hard to get your head around, but it’s here, and you’ve got cover, high-ground at­tack bonuses, and the dreaded RNG be­sides.

Pipe dream

King­dom Bat­tle folds these fa­mil­iar el­e­ments into a mix that’s spiced up with a host of fresh in­gre­di­ents – and oth­ers that have been smartly re­pur­posed. Un­til now, the Mush­room King­dom’s pipes have been lit­tle more than a quick way to get from A to B – or some­times Q or V if you’re lucky. Here, how­ever, they fac­tor hugely into how you tra­verse the bat­tle­field. They’re so im­por­tant, in fact, that ‘pipe exit dis­tance’ is not only a gen­uine stat, but one you can up­grade. When pipes are po­si­tioned close to one an­other, that means you can chain them, of­fer­ing you a use­ful es­cape route when you’re backed into a cor­ner, or let­ting you flank a shielded en­emy to at­tack them from be­hind.

Brick blocks, mean­while, are scat­tered across each arena, hand­ily pro­vid­ing cover – al­beit tem­po­rar­ily. If they’re partly buried, you can fire over them, but you’ve got a 50 per cent chance of be­ing hit. You’ll need to peek around the larger ones to fire, but they of­fer to­tal pro­tec­tion from in­com­ing at­tacks. But against such mo­bile en­e­mies, pro­tec­tion from one side rarely means pro­tec­tion from all sides, and they’ll nat­u­rally look for a bet­ter an­gle of at­tack on their turn. Switch­ing to the top-down tac­ti­cal view lets you high­light en­emy range, which cov­ers a dis­turb­ing amount of the map. When most grid spa­ces will see you get hit, you have to work out which en­e­mies are the big­gest im­me­di­ate threats and try to take them down quickly.

Al­ter­na­tively, you can set up an am­bush and wait for them to fall into your care­fully laid trap. You have three ac­tions per turn per char­ac­ter: you can move, fire ei­ther your pri­mary or sec­ondary weapon, and use one of two abil­i­ties bound to cooldowns. Leave some­one tempt­ingly ex­posed – but be­yond an op­po­nent’s range or sight lines – and if you’ve ac­ti­vated Hero Sight for Luigi, Mario, or Peach, they’ll stum­ble into trou­ble, as your cho­sen units au­to­mat­i­cally open fire. You can even trig­ger it on your own turn, by ag­gro­ing

“a mario game fea­tur­ing an over­watch me­chanic might be hard to get your head around”

the lum­ber­ing Smash­ers who’ll im­me­di­ately stomp to­wards any­one who’s fired upon them. Then again, they’ll be fur­ther en­raged by the sec­ond shot, so you’ll need to be care­ful that your sec­ond unit’s at a safe dis­tance be­fore try­ing it. Or it might be time to de­ploy Rab­bid Yoshi’s fear­some roar, which will scare them into re­treat­ing a few spa­ces.

Melee ad­dict

If you pre­fer to mix it up at close quar­ters, you’ve got plenty of op­tions, too. Dash­ing into an en­emy’s space lets you slide-tackle them, and with the right upgrades you can re­peat the trick three or four times per turn. Pass through an ally’s space, and they’ll give you a boost: in Mario’s case let­ting him de­liver the kind of head-stomp we’re used to see­ing in his more tra­di­tional out­ings. In­stant re­sponses are all the more likely with this kind of strat­egy, of course, so it’s of­ten best re­served for char­ac­ters with shields that can split dam­age, cush­ion blows for a turn, or com­pletely ab­sorb a sin­gle at­tack be­fore break­ing.

Then again, if you land a crit­i­cal hit, you might not need to worry. A range of sta­tus ef­fects can be trig­gered with a lucky die roll: honey binds an en­emy for a turn, let­ting you tackle them and duck be­hind nearby cover with­out fear that they’ll re­turn the favour. Ob­scure their vi­sion with ink and they’ll be able to move but not fire. Weapons with the Push abil­ity can nudge units back – with a domino ef­fect if they’re lined up. Bounce sends them fly­ing back­wards, some­times launch­ing them into po­si­tion for a Hero Sight shot or two. Boost the abil­ity’s dam­age and num­ber of shots per turn, and even a pow­er­ful en­emy can see their HP oblit­er­ated within mo­ments. Find­ing new com­bi­na­tions of skills is a gen­uine thrill: this is the kind of game where you’ll restart a stage not be­cause you lost a unit, but be­cause you’ve fig­ured out a more ef­fi­cient (or just plain sat­is­fy­ing) way to take down your op­po­nents.

It helps that the camera lends an ex­cit­ing dy­namism to each turn, widen­ing the view to let you see Mario fire off a shot that bounces an en­emy Rab­bid out of bounds, or zoom­ing in tight as Luigi sends a sen­try down a pipe and pulls off a cel­e­bra­tory dab. It’s a game full of vis­ual treats, though a few take their toll on an oth­er­wise-ro­bust tran­si­tion of Ubi’s Snow­drop en­gine. The res­o­lu­tion down­shifts in places when there’s a lot go­ing on, and there’s the oc­ca­sional bout of slow­down. It’s noth­ing too trou­ble­some, but it does mean King­dom Bat­tle falls just short of the tech­ni­cal per­fec­tion we’ve come to ex­pect from Nin­tendo: it’s one of the few things (along with the ugly type­face) that re­mind you this was de­vel­oped in Mi­lan and Paris, not Ky­oto.

Yet the fact that you’ll of­ten for­get speaks vol­umes. True, the whims of the RNG can oc­ca­sion­ally screw you over, though com­pared to XCOM it’s rarely quite so ran­dom or so bru­tal in its pun­ish­ment, not least as there’s no per­madeath here. But even that’s not new to a Mario game: any­one who’s ever been hit by a blue shell will know Nin­tendo’s fond­ness for for­tune as a lev­eller. Its hu­mour is cheeky and self-ref­er­en­tial, yes, but no more so than the Mario & Luigi se­ries. The fur­ther you get, the more you un­der­stand Miyamoto’s en­dorse­ment. This is a game with a spirit of play­ful creativ­ity at its heart; it looks and sounds great; it’s funny and clever and ac­ces­si­ble, but with plenty of gen­uine depth and chal­lenge, par­tic­u­larly in its later stages. It may be a Ubisoft game in Nin­tendo clothing, but like its mixed-up Rab­bid stars, it’s a sur­pris­ingly suc­cess­ful hybrid.

Health me­ters re­fill at the end of each zone but not be­tween bat­tles, so you may need to switch out a party mem­ber or two, or hunt down a heal­ing mush­room.

For­mat Switch Pub­lisher Ubisoft De­vel­oper Ubisoft ETA Out now Play­ers 1-2

If en­e­mies are clus­tered around a spe­cial block, you can some­times hit it to trig­ger a lo­calised ex­plo­sion.

You’ll un­lock Rab­bid Mario at the end of the sec­ond world. He ser­e­nades en­e­mies to lure them out of cover.

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