Nintendo announced last year that it is planning to generate more money from its world-famous characters by licensing them out to other companies, and that has led to one of the most bizarre crossover mashups at the influential Electronic Entertainment Expo game industry event in Los Angeles with Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. But the tactical role-playing game was also one of the best playable demos on the show floor.
Ubisoft announced Mario + Rabbids on Monday during its recorded media presentation, and fans weren’t sure what to make of the combination, which is due out August 29. “Fans” in this context refers to people who adore Mario because … are there Rabbid fans? When the show opened on Tuesday, GamesBeat’s Jeffrey Grubb and Mike Minotti headed straight to Ubisoft to try the game out.
And we’re happy to report that it’s way better than you probably think it is.
Jeffrey Grubb, GamesBeat PC gaming editor
Uh … I think this is could be a great game. I was never as down on it as some were, but I felt like the addition of the Rabbids only hurt. But after playing it, I’ve come around, and I now believe that many people who play that game will come away with at least some affection for Ubisoft’s proto-Minions.
Mike Minotti, community manager
I was down on it. I do not like the Rabbids. I find them annoying, and I resent that they’ve become more visible than Rayman, the franchise the Rabbids spun off from. This project almost sounded like an insult. It seemed ludicrous to put something as sacred as Mario (or as sacred as you can be after starring in several Olympics games with Sonic characters, anyway) and pairing him with these screaming creatures from some hell.
But it’s fun, and it’s hard not to like it. It’s familiar, but it has just a few mechanics that make it feel new.
I’m surprised how different it is while still being XCOM at its core. I think that putting those mechanics in a whimsical world of mutant bunny children along with Mario freed Ubisoft up to redefine turn-based tactics. Yeah, you’re still running from cover to cover and laying down protective fire, but you can also do things like slide tackle enemies as you run past them or get a huge movement advantage by bouncing off one of your teammates.
Kingdom Battle also revealed some deep strategic elements that have me excited. In a later battle in the demo, you come across a giant Chain Chomp and a slew of ‘roided-out Rabbids that carry around giant pillars. All of these enemies are effectively invulnerable, and to succeed you have to get one character from your team to a safe zone on the other side of battlefield. The chain chomp will always attack the nearest target — even if that is one of the evil Rabbids. And those giant Rabbids are counter-attackers, which means they will always go after the person that hit them.
This created an excellent situation in which I used the movement capabilities of my Rabbid partners to get to the goal while Mario kept the counter-attacking muscle bunnies in the range of the Chain Chomp so that the rest of us would stay safe. I played the game for 10 minutes, and it was thrilling to uncover that I could develop and employ a battle strategy almost instantaneously.
That whole “run through enemies to do melee damage during your turn” thing is what sold me. In one turn, I got out of cover, ran into a warp pipe, emerged next to a Rabbid, hit him, ran into a different warp pipe, went into cover, and then shot at a different Rabbid. It was one of the most satisfying turns I’ve ever had in a strategy game.
I’m wondering if I’ll like this more than XCOM. I enjoy those games, and the base-building stuff is fun, but sci-fi military isn’t my biggest jam. Seeing all these colors and whimsical charactesr put into this kind of an experience that’s exciting. My only concern is the difficulty, since turn-based strategy games need challenging levels to keep you engaged.
I don’t know how Ubisoft and Nintendo will scale the difficulty, but they don’t have to make tough stages. Instead, we could get a huge variety of missions that keep things fresh in other ways.
But let me wrap up by finishing my early thought about players falling in love with the Rabbids. I think some Nintendo and Mario charm will rub off on these oddballs, but Ubisoft is also doing a ton of great work with the character animations and personalities. The Princess Peach Rabbid has a sassy attitude, and it’s not just in cutscenes. She does this incredible strut when she moves across the playfield, and then she strikes a pose or takes a selfie when she gets behind cover.
I’minto everything Mario + Rabbids is doing, and I cannot wait to play it when it hits my Switch in August.