During E3 week, I managed to get my hands on the franchise mash-up that is Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. I didn’t write anything of the experience, mostly because I was still gushing from how incredibly weird and cool Super Mario Odyssey was. The common sentiment on the show floor though, is that Ubisoft and Nintendo’s baby was little more than an XCOM clone; a cynical view, but accurate.
After getting an extended gameplay session with the title last week at Ubisoft’s Sydney offices, I can confirm that Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a lot more than those glib assumptions. There’s XCOM DNA in there to be sure, but the tactics game has a depth to it – most of which comes from its character customisation, and the way that different skills interact.
Also, it’s completely savage.
For the uninitiated, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a turn-based tactics game, which sees Mario and crew working alongside Rabbid versions of themselves. You can take cover behind terrain, with stats and other positional data influencing the success of your shots. Augmenting this is a movement model which lets you launch-pad off allies to cover extra distance, or barge into enemies en route to your destination.
Each character also has access to unique skills, which have their own recharge timer. Mario for example can take shots at enemies that move (like XCOM’s overwatch ability), while his Rabbid cousin can taunt specific foes or tank up and absorb bonus damage. What make these abilities standout is how they interact with each other – often in unpredictable ways.
One particularly rough encounter had me face-off against shield-wielding Rabbids; enemies which completely deflect head-on damage. The only way to harm them is to move into a flank, and even then you still have to chip away at their massive health pool. After several failed attempts, I somehow stumbled onto a solution.
By activating one character’s skill, I managed to knock an enemy upwards. This triggered Mario’s overwatch ability, shooting them mid-air and ignoring their shield. This then synergised even further with Mario’s weapon, which featured a passive knockback skill. The result was the enemy being thrown off the map, taking them out of play entirely.
It was unexpected, rewarding, and just one of the examples I found in my two or so hours with the game.
But that combination could only be accomplished with specific characters. I imagine much of the game – especially later encounters – will have you swapping out party members and weapons to suit the situation. Unlike something like XCOM however, you aren’t heading into your encounters blind.
Before each fight, there’s a planning phase, which lets you look at your enemies and the battlefield. The view is welcome, especially in lengthy fights which task you with traversing large environments to reach your goal before too many enemies spawn.
But even with that tool, I was occasionally overwhelmed by the visual density of the levels. The game looks sharp, but trying to track the ins-and-outs of all the different pipes, paths, sections of cover, and vertical cliffs could be a bit much at times.
Some levels also have their own mechanical quirks, like Chain Chomps or Boos. These often prove to be environmental hazards, which will harm or fatigue you if you get too close to them.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is more than an XCOM clone. It takes inspiration from it, but puts its own unique spin on the genre. Active skills and abilities overlap and combine in strange and unpredictable ways, giving battles steep – but enjoyable – learning curves.
We won’t know until the game’s launch on August 29 if that momentum will persist throughout the game.
Keith travelled to Sydney, courtesy of Ubisoft.