It’s certainly a strange concept, but this turn-based tactical crossover of the Mushroom Kingdom and Ubisoft’s Raving Rabbids is wonderfully fun to play. Many Nintendo fans had reservations about Mario meeting the ludicrous creatures, yet the charming and unique experience for the Nintendo Switch is undeniably brilliant.
The Rabbids have been an Ubisoft staple for over a decade now, with the wacky rabbits making their first appearance in Rayman Raving Rabbids back in 2006. While they originally only appeared in mini-game collections, the Rabbids quickly moved into other genres as they grew in popularity. Developed by Ubisoft Paris and Milan, this crossover RPG sees a return of the Rabbids after a few years away from the spotlight.
In the 15+ hour tactical RPG, the Mushroom Kingdom has fallen into complete chaos after being invaded by the troublesome pests. Unusual for a Mario game, Mario + Rabbids opens with a five minute pre-rendered cutscene set in the real world. After creating a device called the SupaMerge, a Mario-obsessed inventor has her creation stolen by Rabbids. Abusing the SupaMerge’s powers, the Rabbids are quickly thrown through a portal to Mario’s world. With his usual cohorts scattered, the plumber is forced to team-up with a group of cosplaying Rabbids to try and restore order.
Mario begins his adventure with only Rabbid versions of Peach and Luigi for help, but he is eventually reunited with some of the Mushroom Kingdom’s finest. However, as this is a tactical RPG in the vein of Fire Emblem or X-COM, the player isn’t directly controlling the heroes. Fortunately, the inventor’s wisecracking robot Beep-0 also got sucked through the portal and acts as a cursor during battles.
Unlike Fire Emblem, Mario + Rabbids follows the X-COM model and has every character’s default attack set as ranged. This means that Ubisoft has provided our beloved Mushroom Kingdom heroes with firearms. Each weapon is comically large and colourful, but it’s still odd to see Yoshi wielding a shotgun-like weapon.
However, this doesn’t undermine the fun of the game’s battle mechanics. As well as the more traditional ‘Defeat All’ objective, Mario + Rabbids features unique missions such as escorting Toad or Toadette across the battlefield safely. Yet it’s in the creative boss battles where the game really shines. Players will have to fight a giant Donkey Kong, an opera singing Boo Rabbid and many other wacky creatures. Each boss features a unique gimmick to defeat them, resulting in some of the game’s most intuitive battles.
Battles in Mario + Rabbids are only hindered by the game’s frustratingly restricted camera. Although it can be controlled with the right analog stick, it only jumps between four locked perspectives. This isn’t too much of a problem in more open areas, but it can be a nuisance on some of the game’s more complex battlefields. It often means that characters are obscured from view when moving through tight passageways. While the ‘Tacticam’ allows for a temporary overhead perspective, only ‘Combat View’ allows players to actually fight.
Mario and his Rabbid cohorts are able to explore the game’s limited overworld in between battles, but it is often just a straight path to the next group of enemies. Although it does occasionally feature simplistic block puzzles, it is the interesting scenery that saves the overworld from becoming such a chore. The usual pristine Mushroom Kingdom now reflects the silliness of the Rabbids, as Mario’s world becomes littered with giant toilets and underpants. Beep-0 will often comment on these oddities when prompted, triggering some of the game’s more hilarious lines.
However, this amusing wit doesn’t mean that the RPG isn’t as challenging as other games in the genre. It often requires thought-out tactics to overcome some of the game’s more difficult battles. As it’s only possible to have three characters on a team, it’s incredibly important to weigh up each character’s abilities before jumping into a battle. While Luigi’s attacks have incredible range, Rabbid Peach has healing abilities and Rabbid Mario deals massive melee damage. The game does force you to have Mario and at least one Rabbid on every team, but it’s still important to consider your options.
Another important strategical element of the game is each character’s Skill Tree. While Mario + Rabbids lacks the traditional RPG staple of levelling up your fighters, Power Orbs can be spent to unlock new abilities on each character’s Skill Tree. As well as increasing a character’s HP, Power Orbs can be exchanged for the ability to place sentries or perform melee attacks. It’s crucial to consider how you’re spending this commodity, since a well thought-out Skill Tree is often the key to winning battles.
Many were sceptical about Nintendo lending out Mario for a Rabbids game, but this unique tactical RPG is a prime example of why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. While it’s not developed by Nintendo, it retains that distinct Nintendo charm and polish throughout. If you’re looking for a deep RPG for the Switch, Mario + Rabbids’ quality might just surprise you.