When the Mario+Rabbids: Kingdom Battle poster leaked earlier in the year, most fans weren’t excited. Many thought that, if it was real, it would be a minigame compilation featuring one of the most beloved characters in the world of video games and, well, the Rabbids. Sure, Mario has done these things before, most notably with his former adversary turned sports buddy in the Mario and Sonic series. But I don’t think anyone expected an XCOM-styled strategy RPG instead. But here we are, it’s E3 2017 and legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto joined Ubisoft on stage to announce just that. Now on the show floor, Mario+Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is playable, showing the whole world how this weird cross-over has the potential to be a must have on the Switch.
As a strategy RPG title, Mario+Rabbids: Kingdom Battle seems to hide a whole lot of complexity under its adorable skin. Players control Mario and his familiar looking Rabbid comrades with a cursor that they follow. During my demo, I encountered three battles, all of which got progressively more difficult. In battle, selecting a character will highlight an area they can move to and players simply click and move, preferably to cover. Those are destructible by the way, so camping in a favourable position won’t quite work out. Slowly as more attacks are hurled, players can see chips of the blocks they’re hiding behind slowly wither off until it completely crumbles. Obviously the cartoonish art style doesn’t really show this in great detail, but it’s visible enough to inform players when to get a move on.
If you’ve every played a strategy title there isn’t anything new in that design, but considering the aesthetic, some children will have to adjust to the play style. My play through wasn’t entirely difficult, but there were some harder battles, so even older players will have something to enjoy. There’s a deep progression system as well that allows players to manage blaster and weaponry upgrades for Mario and his friends—which is a sentence I’d never thought I’d write—and other purchases for upgrades. I’m not entirely used to seeing Mario in this setting, and seeing him covering behind a half wall looking up to shoot from an arm cannon is a little strange, but it all fits in the world that’s created here.
Ubisoft made sure to bring in classic Mario elements to compliment the gameplay. At one point in the demo, I had to traverse a maze where walls would rise up to block my way, something every Nintendo fan can remember from a handful of games. Going one way gave an upgrade option and going the other gave actual story. It was a nice variant on the gameplay and helped the demo feel so linear. Outside of that the core battle mechanics—outside the wall cover—are straight out of the Mario series. To gain a tactical advantage, players can help their allies jump in the air, giving them a wider movement spread. There are also pipes strategically laid out throughout the battlefield that will take players to other parts of the stage, which could be on a higher level, giving a more tactical advantage as those on higher ground can shoot others who are lower, and players on lower ground can’t retaliate. In a strong enough run, players can vault in the air over to a pipe and run to cover behind an enemy to take them out. Obviously enemies can do the same, and it’s worth considering where the players are across the map.
Another thing to consider are non-allied variables. In the final battle I was introduced to a Chain Chomp on the battlefield. He wasn’t necessarily an enemy, but he would attack if my units went too close. The idea in battle though was to try to draw out the enemies to get in his sight, leaving me somewhat protected. Throwing these kinds of situations at a player honestly makes the game feel fresh and unique, a completely different direction than anything we’ve seen from Mario in that regard, and that’s a great thing. The Switch really does feel like a new era for Nintendo, and the fact that a crossover with Rabbids is an XCOM-lite only reinforces that idea.
In an E3 absolutely dominated by Nintendo announcements, Mario+Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is probably the strangest, yet most satisfying of them all. Though we’re still a few months away from the game’s physical release, the fact that this game exists is great. With relatively deep progression, a great sense of strategy, and the ability to create memorable runs, this is a game that absolutely oozes with potential. And it’s all underneath the adorable cloak of the Rabbids franchise.