In hindsight, I’m not sure if I picked the best or worst time to play Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle (Switch, 2017). When I got it a few weeks ago, I knew that Mass Effect Legendary Edition was in the wings, and I was already headlong into my Mass Effect: Andromeda replay. As well, Neverwinter had recaptured my attention, I retained some Fallout 76 tendencies, and my backlog was still a thing, too. But, something in the masked winds of the recent past made me dust off my Switch and start looking for something different, something familiar, something old and new. Also something shorter and more compact, considering the sprawling games I had been playing. I hadn’t bought any new Switch games since The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, and with the console back in hand, I started thinking about all the games I wanted to buy when I first got the system. When I found one of those somewhat-forgotten games in Nintendo eShop on sale – Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, specifically its Gold Edition, containing extra content – I took the plunge. Was it money well-spent? Well, as I’m in the midst of the game’s second world, my current answer is a resounding “yes!”
Without getting into the weeds, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle tells the story of two worlds that become accidentally merged no thanks to the ever-mischievous Rabbids. After time-traveling their way into the room of a young inventor and world’s biggest Mario fan, one of the Rabbids toys with the inventor’s newest contraption. Called the SupaMerge helmet, it can merge two things into one. Things go utterly berserk when the Rabbid puts on the helmet and starts merging other Rabbids with everything in sight. The fabric of time and space is ripped apart, and everyone ends up in the Mushroom Kingdom, where the little Rabbid with the SupaMerge helmet continues to merge things uncontrollably. Eventually, the SuperMerge Rabbid is scooped up by the Bowser family, because, of course. Our old pal Mario is tasked with making things right again in the messed up Mushroom Kingdom. Helping him are merged Rabbids – Rabbid Peach, Rabbid, Luigi, and I just opened up Rabbid Mario (whee!) – along with his regular cohorts. (For now, that means only Luigi, but I assume other characters will join in the fray at some point.) Joining Mario and his crew is an adorable and forthright robot named Beep-0, formerly the young inventor’s assistant until getting swept into the Rabbids’ time vortex, who serves as something of a guide, narrator, and mover of blocks and other obstacles. There’s also a mysterious someone called “F.B.” who sends messages to Beep-0 when Mario needs help the most, or just to give out nice compliments.
While I knew that Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle was not your typical Mario game, I didn’t expect to be greeted with it’s tactical, turn-based gameplay. Based on what I wrote in my first paragraph, it goes without saying that strategy games are not in my wheelhouse. But gladly for me and this game, they aren’t completely unfamiliar. For the sake of comparison, it’s a little like South Park: The Fractured But Whole, only without all the bad words and off-color humor. (Though, the Rabbids themselves, which I find endlessly hilarious, can be raucous at times. But their actions are hardly offensive.) In the game, you control a team of Mario plus two companions, each of whom can have different skills, depending on how you level them up. At everyone’s disposal is some kind of long-range weapon, and short-ranged weapon or melee attack, and then two offensive and/or defensive tactics. Comprising the enemies are various Rabbids that have been “merged” with different attack schemes. During any given battle, players can perform up to three actions – move within a specified range, attack, and use an ability — for each character. Once all three of the good guys have done their thing, the enemies take their turns, and so on until one side (hopefully the enemy side!) is defeated.
Within each world, there’s more to do than just battle Rabbids. While there is a set path that leads from battle to battle, including mid-bosses and final bosses, there are puzzles to solve, secret areas to discover, coins (gold, red, and blue) to gather, and collectibles to unlock. In addition to leveling up the team itself (thanks to orbs that are won in battle), the always-present Beep-0 learns different skills during the journey and uses them to help the team progress. And I just recently learned that when Beep-0 acquires new skills, the team can return to previously-beaten worlds to access certain closed-off spots. The worlds themselves – speaking only for the Ancient Gardens (World 1) and the Sherbet Desert (World 2) – are vivid, colorful, and very inviting. Each environment blends the bright, tactile landscapes associated with later 2D and 3D Mario games with the Rabbids’ playfulness and goofy sense of humor. And the artifacts of each world are amalgamated in the most entertaining ways. While each world contains branching paths, there’s no open-world exploring or bouncing around from one place to the next, as Mario and his team are forever set in a follow-the-leader configuration with Beep-0 always in the lead.
At the moment, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle’s most appealing aspect is that it’s playable in short bursts. I’m no strategy master, but I’m finding that I can tackle most battles in thirty minutes or less, which is perfect for when I only have thirty minutes or less to play something. Since the game saves after every battle, it’s easy to pick up, put down, and start back up again without worry. Even in cases when the game starts back up at its main hub, Peach’s castle, upon returning to the world you were in, it starts at the end of the last battle completed without any unnecessary backtracking. This combined with enjoyable characters, colorful environments, and well-paced, mindful gameplay is making for a very good time Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. It’s going to be a slow burn what with Commander Shepard now vying for my attention, but even just a few minutes a day spent with those rascally Rabbids in the strangely merged Mushroom Kingdom is time well spent.
All images, including lede, were taken by author during gameplay of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle (© Ubisoft, Ubisoft Milan, Ubisoft Paris).