I had zero expectations when Mario + Rabbits Kingdom Battle was first leaked to the world. With the number of Mario games there are in existence, I’ve no shame saying I don’t get excited for every new plumber themed game that comes along, and I didn’t have much experience with Rabbids; in fact, I only knew about the game by its reputation. During E3 last week I found myself in the fortunate position of sitting pretty on the balcony of Ubisoft’s press conference when Shigeru Miyamoto took the stage to show the world what this crossover was all about. It was the first game I previewed during the show, and after that event and a hands-on tour of it with a member of the dev team, it ended up being one of my favorite titles of E3.

Humor

The most apparent aspect of the entire experience has to be the humor, and while I normally lean towards smart writing and delivery over slapstick, physical comedy, the combined minds of Ubisoft and Nintendo know how to make these characters work. The Rabbids themselves are manic and alive, with those modeled after the Mushroom Kingdom’s finest, carrying distinct personalities (despite their outfits). For instance, Rabbid Peach isn’t trying to be the princess; she’s a selfie-snapping attention seeker who’s ready to set Instagram on fire. Mario and friends are similarly well animated and portrayed. The classic Nintendo charm is in full effect with the combination of the Rabbids and the game’s story.

Gameplay

Playing the game felt good, with only a bit of time needed to get the hang of the controls and prompts. One of the trickier aspects was the lack of control over Mario (or whichever character is leading your lineup); control, instead, was assigned to a small robotic rabbit-Roomba hybrid named Beep-o. Even with the top-down view, it was a little tricky to keep tabs on Beep-o when I kept expecting to have control of the larger and more distinct Mario model, though that didn’t make grabbing coins and exploring the environments unenjoyable. With time, I warmed up to this array and got a handle on directing my line of characters to tour the mashed up sights of the Rabbid-mixed Mushroom Kingdom.

Aside from exploring, where you’ll encounter light puzzles and other environmental elements, battles are the other main form of gameplay — and this is where the game really shines. In my demo I had control of Mario, as well as Rabbid Luigi and Rabbid Peach. The core strategy in a given battle comes down to understanding the terrain and knowing how to get around it while maintaining cover. Brick blocks are dotted around and make it difficult for attacks to land when hidden behind, preventing them entirely if line of sight is blocked. Other environmental features like pipes, ledges and even dynamic cover options add new elements to battles to both take advantage and be mindful of. One of these was a block with a flame symbol and plenty of dangerous looking equipment poking out that, when attacked, exploded and moved whoever was caught in the blast away from the spot. With positioning being so key to success, it really added to the experience, being able to both damage and move characters in one go.

Weapons and mechanics

Light RPG elements were also in the game in the form of equippable weapons. Various chests gave me new guns to use, separated by character (Rabbid Luigi couldn’t use a Mario weapon, for example) and featuring different types of modifiers and properties. These weren’t limited to chests though, as via the menu screen I could purchase others with found and earned coins. With stats like attack power and critical hit rates, they’d be pretty standard affairs, but some had unique properties with trigger chances. Rabbid Luigi had a gun that might activate a Vamp effect, for example. This activated at a great moment for me later in the demo, making it so that when the enemy it activated on was damaged by me I’d gain back a portion of the given damage as health. Others like this included Bounce, which would push the enemy a set distance away. In a game where positioning is so important, that was definitely a lucky break. It was handy to have the enemies moved away, for it kept them from attacking for a while, which gave me ample time to better my placement after a bad move and allowed me to prepare myself for a new round of attacks.

A mechanic that allows characters to jump off of others to skip large sections of the map is another useful tool in the game. This made it possible to move to an ally, vault off of them, keep moving to some kind of cover and then execute an attack from a better position than before. Flanking was nearly always the best way to lay on the pain, eliminating the chance of missing and feeling oh-so-satisfying.

Special attacks were another way to liven up the experience, giving new abilities to my party. Mario was able to have an attack at the ready, meaning even on the enemy turn, any foes that passed into his line of sight would be attacked immediately. My Rabbid allies instead offered a protective shield and a group heal, which was handy during the demo’s boss fight against a hard-hitting Piranha Plant/Rabbid hybrid. Bringing together all the knowledge that I had learned throughout the demo to use to take on this tougher enemy felt good; this easily reminded me why I love strategy games. Sure, I made some sloppy moves, but unlike a more serious title, it ended up creating a humorous moment in its own right when my Rabbid got slapped around by another. Learning from these mistakes and turning the tables only added to the fun.

Looking forward to more

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle impressed me, to say the least. While chatting with the Ubisoft team member running the demo, it was extremely apparent that he had a passion for the work put into the game, and he seemed genuinely excited to teach me all he could. I’m excited at the prospect of learning the game’s mechanics once the full version launches — and seeing more of what these crazy characters have in store for me (and for Mario). Look forward to its release on August 29th: I know I am.

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Written by Ricky Berg

When he isn’t writing for Nintendo Wire, Ricky’s anticipating the next Kirby, Fire Emblem, or if the stars ever align, Mother 3 to be released. Till then he’ll have the warm comfort of Super Smash Bros. to keep him going.

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