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Posted on Sep 15th 2017 at 08:00:00 AM by (slackur)
Posted under Bwaaaah, Mario, Rabbids, Switch, XCOM, Strategy, turn based, bwa bwa bwaaaaaah

Pic from Nintendo.com and my 9 Year-Old's-imagination

Some creative mash-ups end up working so well they seem obvious in hindsight.  And then there are those that still don't make sense afterward, even if the end result is far greater than the some of the respective parts.  I don't know what is the bigger surprise, that Mario Plus Rabbids: Kingdom Battle even exists, or that it is easily among my favorite games this year.

When I first heard about the collaboration between the Mario and Rabbid franchises, I assumed some kind of platformer, or perhaps a variation on a party game or even a sports theme.  After all, both IPs have those type of games in their history and let's be honest; both are known for milking franchises.

About the last thing I would have thought would happen would be to put arm-cannons on our heroes and plop them into a Mushroom Kingdom meets XCOM via turn-based strategy game.  Nothing in either game universe has a precedent for this.  Some purists may have had a tough time accepting Link and company or the Fire Emblem cast in a Dynasty Warriors game.  For those folks, minds are going to be blown after seeing modern strategy staples like the move/attack grid, classic "overwatch" attack, and cover mechanics with Yoshi and a Rabbid dressed like Princess Peach.  I'm still wondering if I actually ate the wrong mushroom in real life.

It seems weird that there would even be a perceived clash of properties considering how surreal and offbeat these two fictional universes already are, not to mention loaded with their own inconsistencies between games in their respective franchises.  Even the most recent Zelda game followed some and rewrote other rules of its own franchise.  Perhaps it isn't as surprising to see our beloved former-plumber shoot apart cover in front of a deranged rabbit-like creature while Luigi pilots a lethal explosive drone behind it.  And yet there's a sentence that still feels like fan-fiction.

Yeah, pretty sure one of my kids drew this a few years ago.  Pic from Ubisoft.com

Despite a bit of lowbrow humor, the zany Rabbids invading the cartoony Mushroom Kingdom feels like a more natural fit than may be expected.  After a little admittedly forced narrative to set things up, the story quickly carries our heroes from one tactical battle to the next with a mild bit of exploration and simple puzzle solving to hold it all together.  The offbeat setting results in an even more vibrant and colorful Mushroom Kingdom than usual, with goofy and effective animations for characters and backgrounds.  There's no mistaking the graphics and sound for a true Mario experience interwoven with a heavy Rabbids flair. 

Despite Nintendo quality presentation, the whole experiment would still certainly flounder if the tactical combat, i.e. the meat of the experience, ended up too simple or lackluster.  Thankfully here is where the game pulls off its greatest trick; the turn-based action is near perfect.  Starting with an efficient team of three heroes from an eventual roster of eight, each character has lots of weapon elements and tools as well as character upgrade options, and mobility options are perhaps the star of the show.  Mario Plus Rabbids: Kingdom Battle does a satisfying job of distilling an intimidating genre to the best core elements while still offering genuine tactics, options, and variability.  While obviously starting small, in short order the game develops its ten-to-fifteen minute battles into head-scratching tests of thought and skill.  Even better, the difficulty balance is pleasantly robust, offering a decent challenge in the campaign.  The Bosses and Midbosses generally require new tactics, extra challenges open up for upgrades and other rewards, and the younger and tactically-challenged have an option for an "easy mode" for each battle.  It's very tough to make these kind of games just right for beginners and experts, but Ubisoft should be complimented for how well Mario Plus Rabbids caters to a broad spectrum of player skills. 

In fact, the greatest criticism of the gameplay itself comes down to a very "Nintendo" way of adding luck into the mix.  In most tactics games of this ilk, the likelihood of hitting a character in cover is the result of a complicated algorithm consisting of many combined factors.  In Mario Plus Rabbids, you get three; out-in-the-open 100% hit, in-total-cover 0%, and then... half cover at 50%.  That last one is the issue, since unless you successfully flank (most maps do allow it) you will at times have to depend on a flip of the coin either way, with no sure-fire way to up the risk/reward.  Thankfully, the game does mitigate this by usually making partial cover destructible (even tossing coins in as a reward) and since very few battles go on too long, a quick restart in the menu means you don't miss much when resetting to try again.  In fact, anyone who's missed a 90% headshot that cost a valuable unit in the recent XCOM games may prefer Mario's method.

And now Mario misses his plunger.  Pic from Ubisoft.com

The only other real complaint I've heard is one of the more comical consistencies found when reading about this game.  Many critics and gamers started with the same type of comments; "despite hating the Rabbids," or "I've never liked the Rabbids, but..." or "Even if like me, you can't stand the Rabbids,..."  If a review has a "cons" or "negatives" list, the fact that this game features Rabbids is frequently listed, as if their very presence is understood as a strike against it.  Yet the maligned oddball critters never seem to keep praise from being heaped upon this title.

Personally, despite not typically caring for The Three Stooges-like comedy, I have to admit to enjoying the Rabbids since their debut on the Wii.  It's probably strange that I completely understand why Rabbids so readily and easily annoy folks and yet I find a ton of amusement from their oddball antics.  I can't be alone, given their cross-media success and plethora of games and cultural presence. I still find them in the "plus" column, but if you can't stand them, I get it. 

And yet, much like the aforementioned critics have said, I highly recommend this game!  Despite the source material the game features genuine challenge and a myriad of options while trimming the experience to the best elements of modern turn-based strategy games.  In fact, by focusing on a three-character party, a huge emphasis on movement options (including pipes and hopping on friendly characters), and character advancement trees that can be reset at the press of a button, Mario Plus Rabbids is not just a perfect introduction to the genre but also a great addition to longtime fans with tons of tactical games under their belt.  It is rare to find a strategy game that feels worthwhile for newcomers and experts, but this one really goes out of its way to be both, with enough that is familiar and yet tweaked to keep things fresh.

Toss in bright and vibrant art, the Switch's portable nature, and battles that rarely go past ten to fifteen minutes, and Mario Plus Rabbids is the easiest recommendation I could give to those even remotely interested.  In a game full of surprises, that is the best one of all.


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Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. It's on my Switch list for games to buy but I've heard the difficulty ramps up considerably in world 4 and isn't much fun. How far have you played?
I haven't finished everything yet, but I'd say that if you are willing to use the Easy setting to boost HP for the campaign, even the last few matches are do-able before unlocking the last, best weapons and upgrades.  Without the end-game gear, yeah, the challenge is tough but not outside the genre norms.

Going back and finishing up the challenges for maxing out your characters is important for the end game, as well as switching out characters in your roster on the world map and being willing to sacrifice some to keep others fresh for the latter battles, as well as respec-ing characters for each of the harder matches.  About halfway through the game, the characters' specialties really come to light, and then you know how to, say, spec Rabbid Peach as a healer, or Luigi as a sniper.  Then you have to read the match and reset to what you need.

An important lesson specific to Mario Plus Rabbids is mobility; you almost never want to have a character sit, even if they are attacking, and using the rush-through hits and ally/enemy stomps to get extra hits and wipe out adds even before using attacks, as well as getting to near every corner of each map.  There is an efficiency required for each character's multiple actions and interdependency that easily rivals other strategy games, even with only three characters at a time.   

That half-cover 50% element is what can make-or-break some matches, and unravel good tactics, but given how relatively fast each battle is and how easy it is to restart and respect, even the frustrating "Nintendo Luck" can be overcome.  Frustrating at times, but IMHO less so than other tactics games.

If you enjoy tactics games, I'd definitely go for it; it is easily one of the most fun (and least intimidating) examples of the genre.

My son has shocked the masses by declaring he wants a Switch for Christmas instead of a PS4 or Xbox xoXO ("Because I can just get those games on my PC").  That boy just melts my heart.  This game is absolutely going on my list, of nothing because I dig the art style and I find the Rabbids crass but lovable.  Plus Mario with a mega buster.  Yep.

I picked this up first day and quite enjoyed it. It fell flat for me in two areas, but otherwise hit all the spots I wanted it to. The first world was so great. There was a ton of cool fan service like the Toad Rabbids for challenges, Mid-Boss Pirana Rabbid and Rabbid Kong was just amazing. I entered area 2 and was quite saddened to see that kind of fan service just stop for almost the rest of the game. Elemental Rabbids, Ghost Rabbids (Not even Boos come on!), Valkrie Rabbids, Big Rabbids that smash stuff and Shield Rabbids were just wastes IMO. I wanted more mash up stuff. Was pleasantly surprised very late with Bwaario and Bwaaluigi but even the final boss was uninspired. Felt like after world 1 they just didn't care, or maybe Nintendo wouldn't let them use more of their characters.

The gameplay though was very fun and very solid. Lots of different types of missions some deeper than others. I kinda liked the linear exploration areas between missions to try and uncover treasures as well. Music was charming all the way through.

My other complaint was it was too easy! I had the game 100% in just a few days of playing. Never had to touch easy mode and nearly all of the final stages including the "Ultimate" challenges were beaten on the first attempt and all but two of the Area 4 missions were finished with Gold ranks on the first attempt. Only took one try to bump them up to Gold afterwards. Nintendo usually has tough challenges to 100% their games so that was a bit disappointing.

Overall enjoyed it though despite my complaints.
I was really excited about this, but it just didn't click with me. Perhaps my ~200 hrs of XCOM have ruined me for strategy games, leaving me with unfair expectations. M+R was weird for me because it left me feeling like it was both too simple AND too difficult at the same time. As such, I'm planning to get rid of my copy. :\

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