‘Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle’ Preview: Here’s what we thought of co-op and single-player

‘Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle’ Preview: Here’s what we thought of co-op and single-player

I got to preview a few hours of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle courtesy of Ubisoft and I’m pleasantly surprised to say, if nothing else, that this absurd crossover event could actually serve as a good intro to the X-COMs of the world.

Turn-based tactics games have never made sense to me. Arbitrary limitations on movement, brutal learning curve and dice-rolls that feel unfair have always turned me away from the genre. Yeah, I could take the time to learn to get around that stuff, but I’m not a teenager with unlimited free time anymore. However, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is the first game in the genre that I’ve played that didn’t make me feel the way I usually do.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle’s mash-up works better than you’d think

If you’ve been out of the loop on Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, here’s what you need to know: The Mushroom Kingdom has been invaded by sinister versions of Ubisoft’s proto-Minions, so Mario, Peach and the others team up with a few friendly Rabbids to restore order. Each world (from what I’ve seen) is a series of X-COM-esque battles separated by linear paths filled with coins and the occasional puzzle or optional challenge.

‘Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle’ has all the trademark visual flair of a ‘Mario’ game. Ubisoft

Since this is set in Mario’s outlandish cartoon world, the color palette is more varied than you’d see in some of its contemporaries. The first world, a generic grassland environment like you’d see at the start of a Mario platformer, had a warm, welcoming look with some goofy set dressing if you felt like looking for it.

Grant Kirkhope, whose music you may recognize from pretty much every classic game Rare made as well as the recent Yooka-Laylee, has put together nice symphonic arrangements of classic Mario music as well as some newer material. It’s a fun game to look at and listen to.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a tactics game for people who don’t play tactics games

Your team is made up of three party members that you choose from a larger roster. They each have wildly different abilities: Mario is a balanced offensive hero while Peach offers healing, damage reduction and a ridiculously powerful shotgun at close range. My favorite was Rabbid Yoshi, who had really versatile movement abilities and could take out enemies in a ton of creative ways.

Don’t let the cutesy look fool you; this is a deep tactics RPG. Ubisoft

Where Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle distinguishes itself from other turn-based tactics titles is in its movement mechanics. If you put the cursor over one of your teammates who is within movement range, you can actually bounce off their head and extend your movement range even further. Mario-esque pipes also line the levels, which you can use to transport yourself behind enemy lines for an ambush.

This allowed me to set up a turn where I bounced Mario off Rabbid Yoshi’s head, stomped on an enemy’s head to do some damage and then used Mario’s hammer to inflict area-of-effect damage on two enemies nearby. Peach has an ability that allows her to heal all allies within range after a bounce jump, meaning it paid off to keep my team grouped together rather than rely too much on long range.

Setting up combos was really satisfying once I figured out the full breadth of options at my disposal. The nice thing is this game uses the visual language of the Mario games to ease the learning curve. In the first world, cover points just look like regular Mario blocks. You immediately know what a pipe does the first time you see it. Little details like that make this a potentially great starting point for people who are new to turn-based tactics gameplay.

This boss is a giant, opera-singing ghost Rabbid. Ubisoft

However, it’s not lacking in depth or difficulty. Each character has a full RPG skill tree that you can fill out as you gain experience points in battle. Different weapons do different kinds of damage and have different status effects. Honey damage, for example, has a percentage chance to trap enemies in honey, leaving them immobile for a turn.

Later in the demo, I was transported to a more advanced part of the game, set in a spooky graveyard world. It featured ghostly Rabbids who could teleport around the map and snipe at you. Most sinister were the Boos who dotted the landscape. When you run by one, it hovers over your head before teleporting you to a random point on the map at the beginning of the next turn. The nice thing is they’re neutral, so they do this to enemies, as well.

It took me a few tries to get through that encounter, with my second attempt being derailed after just two turns because of some bad decision making on my part. There is an easy mode if you’re tired of dying, but this game requires thoughtful decisions and plenty of situational awareness.

Strategize with a friend in Mario + Rabbids co-op challenges

After playing a couple hours of Kingdom Battle’s single player campaign, I got to try a short co-op challenge with Mashable’s Kellen Beck. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to try the second challenge because of time constraints. Still, it gave me a decent idea of what to expect from the game’s multiplayer component.

Team up with a friend to take down Rabbids in co-op battles. Ubisoft

Our objective was simple: Kill the assigned number of Rabbids. We each chose two characters from the game’s extensive roster to control, meaning we had a total of four characters to work with rather than the three-man parties you get in the single player. Our characters spawned in different areas of the map, as did the Rabbids we needed to kill. Once we killed some, others spawned. All we had to do was survive until we had completed our dark, but necessary task.

From what I saw, there aren’t a ton of unique co-op mechanics in Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. It’s the same game but with two players and four characters. The characters and stages you have access to will depend on how far you are in the campaign, so that’s clearly the main attraction here.

Prepare to spend a lot of time in the skill tree for each character. Ubisoft

That said, it’s fun and you can play it with just one set of Joy-Cons if you want. The way characters’ abilities work together in this game means you can get up to some fun business as long as both you and your friend have a deep enough understanding of how the game works. I didn’t see if there will be objectives beyond “kill all the Rabbids,” but in a game about killing Rabbids, that makes sense.

Since I’ve never enjoyed a turn-based tactics game before, I went into this demo fairly skeptical about Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. After a couple hours with it, I’m optimistic about its place in the Switch’s already-strong first year. For a crossover that arguably shouldn’t exist, Ubisoft has made something fascinating here.

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