Two great tastes sometimes taste great together! Peanut butter and jelly is a classic, for instance, and some people will swear by the mixture of ketchup and mayonnaise. Not so sure about that latter one, but I’m even less sure about combinations like dipping Cheetos in milk. Who knows, though? It might be a surprisingly decent idea, like taking Nintendo’s Mario characters and Ubisoft’s Rabbids and mixing the two into a strategy game.
Yes, that really happened. It’s Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, and it’s available on store shelves for your hungry Switch right this second. Welcome to 2017, enjoy your stay.
Much to everyone’s shock, it turns out that the Rabbids are incredibly negligent when it comes to the safe use of technology! Well, they’re incredibly negligent with pretty much everything else as well, but in this case it’s especially relevant because they’ve gotten their paws on the SupaMerge, a gadget that’s able to combine the properties of any two objects. Through a series of mishaps, the Rabbids have ended up combing aspects of our world, the Mushroom Kingdom, and their own rabbity selves, causing chaos that threatens to destroy the Mushroom Kingdom as we know it. Thankfully, you can’t mess with the Mushroom Kingdom without getting Mario’s attention, and he’s going to team up with his usual pals like Luigi and Peach as well as, er, Rabbids dressing up as his usual pals like Luigi and Peach to try and get the situation contained.
Ordinarily you’d expect this to mean a run-and-jump adventure in the classic Mario style, but, well…that’s not what’s going on here. No, in a completely inexplicable move, this is XCOM starring Mario and the Rabbids. I’m not even kidding. Our characters are armed with guns (nonlethal guns, naturally) of various sorts and engage in strategic battle over four worlds. If my mind was blown when I first saw Super Smash Bros. as a kid, it’s doubly blown now. Mario XCOM. This is the best of all possible worlds.
It’s Mario XCOM instead of just XCOM, of course, so Kingdom Battle has its own flavor. Aim and hit percentages are drastically simplified, for instance; a character out of cover will always be hit by attacks, a character in partial cover will be hit half the time and a character in full cover can’t be hit at all. That doesn’t mean there’s no reason to take shots at a character in cover, since said cover is often destructible and repeated attacks will break it, but it takes a lot of the luck and guesswork out of the formula; a coin flip is a bit more reliable than the hilariously low hit percentages common to XCOM, for instance. Likewise, the physicality of a Mario game is incorporated into the strategy here, since characters are able to physically smack each other around in the process of moving as well as using each other as springboards to extend their movement.
There’s still plenty of strategy involved, of course. Properly positioning characters is absolutely vital to victory, since, as mentioned, cover plays a huge role on how much damage everyone takes. Characters also have special abilities such as defensive shields and healing that can swing the tide of a battle. What’s more, there are status effects to consider, explosive bits of cover that can cause problems for combatants, and various types of upgrades to spend your hard-earned coins on. There’s a lot going on here and while every effort is made to make Kingdom Battle accommodating, it’s still got some of that XCOM blood. You should expect to have to replay battles every now and again, and you need to do well to keep enough income flowing in to stay on top of the upgrade curve.
The weirdness inherent in the Rabbids and Mario characters teaming up to star in a tactical strategy game extends to Kingdom Battle’s look, feel and writing, naturally. Classic Mario characters like Goombas are caught in the Rabbids’ insanity, while the Rabbid foes you fight have crazy quirks of their own, like high-flying luchador Rabbids that love to bounce around the maps. Said maps are also about as charming as you’d expect, constructed as they are from Mario-styled bits and bobs. That charm extends further to the heroes and villains; Rabbid Peach was a personal favorite, sassily leaning against cover and mocking the actual Peach whenever possible.
It’s a strange experience but once that’s worth having; Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a game that nobody would have expected to exist, much less exist and be any good at all. Shockingly, these characters and this gameplay work and play fantastically well together, like soy sauce and french fries. I’m serious, try that sometime. Also try Kingdom Battle while you’re at it.