E3 2017: Hands-On Impressions with Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle

by: Patrick -
More On: E3 2017 Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

I liked Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle.

Yes, I, Patrick, the same writer who on this very website wrote the now infamous (not infamous) hit-piece (it was a news post) "Image leaks for Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, gaming's time of death revealed", have been proselytized into the cult of Mario + Rabbids after my playing it at the Ubisoft Event. While I am an inveterate skeptic when it comes to cross-over media, there are plenty of examples of this working out in gaming (Capcom v. Marvel, Smash Brothers, Kingdom Hearts) so it's not so surprising that Mario + Rabbids is such a blast to play. What is surprising is how effortlessly the game weaves the two universes distinct personalities.

Mario + Rabbids has been referred to as "X-COM" light, and that certainly holds up. But it's also reminiscent of Final Fantasy Tactics and Shining Force, with exploration that isn't related to either of those games, and feels more like a traditional RPG. Each battle involves your party up against a small battalion of enemies, all Rabbids in this demo, who want to stop you from saving Luigi, who has been kidnapped. I played as Mario and two other Rabbids, one dressed as Luigi, the other as Peach. In a game with no speaking characters, this duty falls on a little companion robot to provide context for your actions. 

What I played involved running around super vibrant, colorful space, where you can collect coins and solve simple puzzles, each task funneling you into a different battle strategy-RPG battle. The music was of course delightful, spritely, dancing brightly along to the on screen action, and the design was, while somewhat difficult to understand from the isometric camera, gorgeous and well-designed. 

The combat itself is where the game shines. Each battle involves your party up against a small battalion of enemies, all Rabbids in this demo, who want to stop you from saving Luigi, who has been kidnapped. The battles in the game are strategy RPG encounters involve positioning, economy of movement, and special abilities to help you succeed. It's fueled by ranged combat courtesy of the laser guns each of the characters have (which are actually charming and somehow work in concert with the Rabbids and Mario universe).

You have a classic blue grid that shows a character's movement for their turn, like in Fire Emblem, and you can move behind different forms of cover, which will lessen the chance of you getting shot at by an enemy on their turn. You can also move towards an ally and use it as both a vertical leap up to another level in the map, AND as fuel for additional movement. The key is to pass by enemies in your movement, and then position yourself for a shot. This is because passing by enemies while moving will initiate a slide attack that does a sizable amount of damage. If you can do that and dash behind cover, and set up a shot with your laser gun, you're golden. Linking up movements between characters, repositioning and using heal abilities (courtesy of the Peach Rabbid) and shield abilities (courtesy of the Luigi Rabbid) is a ton of fun, and has an obvious depth that I can't wait to see explored.

The game is light and playful, but it's not automatically forgiving. Towards the end of my play through, I watched as a Rabbid was corrupted by a Piranha plant, which became a boss fight. I lost Mario in this round because I wasn't thinking smartly about who could hit me and who couldn't, when I should and shouldn't use warp pipes, as well as the turn order for both allies and enemies. I left Mario in the open for a lot longer than I wanted, and failed to have Peach Rabbid and Luigi Rabbid triangulate and provide support.

Part of this is getting used to the rules that allow for certain damage to be dealt when. For example, flanking an enemy means you have 100% chance of contact, but certain cover had me at a 50% chance of hitting the enemy, and others were 0% chance of hitting. This works both ways for your characters as well. Luckily, when your moving your curser around to decide where to move, the percent chance of hitting an enemy changes for you depending on where the end of your movement will be. Overall, I think with more time to grow familiar with the visual landscape of the battlefield I'll be able to more effectively gauge which areas would have a higher chance of hitting an opponent/getting hit by an opponent.

That being said, the most surprising part of the play-through was how obvious Rabbids and Mario can gel. Mario is kind of like Mickey Mouse at this point, where, in the right hands, the character can fit most situations, tones, and genres in gaming outside of the truly mature titles. I use Mickey Mouse as an example because Mario is similary iconographic. He's ubiquitous, and has a defined personality and character, but is also highly subject to interpretation and appropriation depending on the individual or even cultural attitudes (i.e. Kingdom Hearts). Thus, Rabbids, who are silly, and somewhat annoying, but 100 times more charming and less ideologically unsound as the Minions (DM me if you want to know what I mean by that) work perfectly as collective comedic foils to the more plainly cheerful Mushroom Kingdom crew. It works really well, and I want to see these bouncy, colorful characters interact more.

My only reservations for this title involve some minor camera stuff (I am, in general, wary of isometric cameras), and whether the game will be so linear, and the RPG elements so stripped, that it will fail to offer a compelling reason to stick to it other than the simple joy of inhabiting the world, which isn't so bad. Briefly, you can use the coins you collect to buy new weapons, and there is a skill tree and more team members you can unlock (if the menu we got to see was believed). The Skill Tree is hopefully more dynamic than the linear feel the game offered for customization. Not that there is anything wrong with linearity, but strategy RPGs tend to benefit from customization since there usually isn't the same kind of variability and exploration that other games offer.

Overall, I am really excited for this game, and I hope it delivers. Good luck, Nintendo. I am now rooting for you.

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