“Hey Mario, where you goin’ with that gun in your hand?”
It took the tears of an Italian man to convince me to give Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle a chance. Not Mario’s tears, though I suspect his eyes watered at the thought of sharing equal billing with… ugh… Rabbids. During the 2017 E3 demonstration, Shigeru “Daddy Kong” Miyamoto introduced the game and complimented the efforts of creative director Davide Soliani:
“Since this project first started I’ve been very excited to see what kind of humour the Rabbids could bring to the Mario world so when I met Davide-san, who is the creative director of this game, I had just one condition for this project: I said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t try to make a jump game or a Mario platformer. Try to make a Mario game that has never been made before’. And it’s great.” Davide Soliana Cut to Davide in the crowd. He stands and bows, tears of pride in his eyes, face beaming. It’s a touching moment.
Urgh. What a turgid introduction. This is one of many draft articles idling away on the Split Screen server. I played Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle back in 2020 and I’ve taken so long to finish writing this article that the sequel has been announced, developed, and released. Look forward to reading my thoughts on that in, I suppose, 2034?
So let’s edit this down to what impressed me so much about Kingdom Battle.
Strike-through: Written in 2020, discarded in 2023.
- Grey text: Written in 2020, deemed acceptable in 2023.
- Red text: Added in 2023.
That isn’t to say this type of game has never been made before. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a Turn-Based Tactical Role-Playing Game, often abbreviated as XCOM. That’s my reference point, certainly. The 2012 reboot XCOM: Enemy Unknown won my coveted award for Best ‘Game of Last Year’ Of The Year award at the Screenies 2013 colouring my dalliances in the genre (the underrated Massive Chalice and the perennial next-on-my-list-to-play, Invisible, Inc). Control a squad of characters across grid-based battlefields taking turns to move and shoot against enemies who, like the other shoppers queueing two metres apart to get into your local supermarket during coronavirus lockdown, politely wait to take their turn. Make no mistake though, they are your enemies. Even with my novice eyes, I see what Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle brings to the genre.
Kingdom Battles is an XCOM-style turn-based tactical shooter. I think that is what I was trying to say here.
Despite ‘+’ being in the title, it’s the ‘-‘s that shine. By that horribly formatted sentence, I mean to say that Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle simplifies and subtracts to great effect.
Let’s talk numbers. XCOM is bloody full of them
and most of the numbers are full of it too. Is it better to have an 86% or and 88% chance of shooting the enemy? Does that two per cent make a difference? Not to me. I doubted the validity of their math anyway. And I was right to do think so.
In an interview from Gamasutra, XCOM 2 lead designer admits to faking the percentages:
“There’s actually a number of things that tweak that number in the player’s favor at the lower difficulty settings […] That 85 percent isn’t actually 85 percent. Behind the scenes, we wanted to match the player’s psychological feeling about that number”. They boost the numbers: 85% is more like 95%, 95% is more like 100%.
Mario – honest Mario the truthful accountant – keeps it clear. You only ever have a 100%, 50%, or 0% chance of hitting an enemy with an attack, depending on whether the target is fully exposed, in half-cover or in full cover.
This simplification made for a deeper tactical experience. I was better able to mentally evaluate the different options and combinations in a world where Therefore, it’s only ever ‘definitely will’, ‘definitely won’t’, or ‘maybe’. Also, an enemy in full cover can often be exposed by destroying their cover. Guaranteed tactics, like this, felt satisfying and weighty in a way that XCOM’s roll of the dice, real or otherwise, didn’t quite deliver for me.
On Environment & Squad
main Story mode has you undoing the accidental merger of the world of Mario (Mushroom Kingdom) and the world of the Rabbids (France?). A gentle twist on the familiar with a pleasant remixing of the classic Mario voyage through world 1-1 zone, sandy desert, ghost town, and lava land. They play with scale, they play with light; the trek across the interconnected battle arenas is rather pleasant. The Rabbids provide Aardman-style sight gags and punchlines. Your mileage will vary directly in proportion to how funny you find the word “bums”.
But who is trekking? While the full roster is Mario, Luigi, Peach, Yoshi and their Rabbid counterparts, I played the whole game with the three starter characters. Mario has melee attacks, Luigi has a long-range sniper and Rabbid Peach can heal. Sorted. This isn’t a criticism, mind you. Sometimes set menu beats à la carte.
I’m sure the other characters have utility with their own special abilities. I like the fact I could play my way through to the end.
Each character comes with their own skill tree of unlocks and upgrades so there isn’t a complete escape from number crunching. In an act of Nintendo Kindness, you are able to reset the skill tree and re-assign points with no penalty.
This modular tech tree helped me experiment and flex my team’s abilities when needed.
In that decidedly Nintendo way, there are no difficulty levels and, for me, the fights proved challenging.
There is a A decent variety of enemy types that keep battles engaging. Always keeping the door open for new players, you can When I needed a little help to beat a level, I could choose to boost the characters’ health before a fight. This is My First XCOM for ages 6 and up where I ( 33 35 and up) still took advantage of the health boost for the occasional fight appreciated the option to pick fun over adversity.
Mario moves. We know this. Here, in the biggest departure from XCOM, movement between spots matters and can deal massive damage. XCOM largely emphasised positioning your team and then attacking. Mario + Rabbid‘s introduces dash attacks and jump stomps into your movement arsenal. Now moving characters from A to B allows for a quick diversion to C to dash-attack a nearby enemy on your way to
find new cover.
Gone are the XCOM slow grid-by-grid crawls across an arena, spamming overwatch and conservative positioning aka the Cautious Craig Caravan.
While not quite at the level of DOOM (2016), you are encouraged to dive in to the fray and be aggressive. Dealing damage through movement gives depth to turns. How you choose to order your attack/movement/special ability actions can radically change each turn’s effectiveness. It’s all so satisfying and crunchy.
On Boss Fights
My draft notes are basic from here on out. Let’s decipher.
– Donkey Kong
– They didn’t need to do this.
Kingdom Battle has fun boss fights. The Opera Singer steals the show and I’m going to lazily link a YouTube video of it for you to watch. If there is one takeaway from this article, this is it:
– Arenas connect
– Tangible. Prefer to fly in/out.
– Sight gags
– Aardman fun
The world you traverse is made up of battle arenas and puzzle areas. I appreciated the effort in forging the whole world rather than teleporting in and out of the crafted battle arenas.
– Best in tower
– By the end a chore. Particular when they are road blocks plopped upon the world
The weakest aspect to Kingdom Battles by far. Not horrible, not great. Puzzles are needed to pace out the battles but I grew weary of what was essentially the same three types of puzzles over and over again.
Apparently, the only rule handed down for Kingdom Battle was ‘no platforming’. That’s for the main Mario games. The gun in Mario’s hand was fine, though. He can execute a Goomba from behind with a point blank headshot. But keep those feet planted when you pull the trigger.
I don’t have any better suggestion as a way to pace out the fights. A pure battle-only story mode would wear in its own way.
– Turn based small bites on Switch
– Charm of Nintendo. Fresh injection from Rabbids.
That being said, a pure battle-only game would be fine on the Switch given it lends itself to a pick up/put down play style.
– Conduit for interesting mechanics
– Like half life
– Effortless charm.
My notes here are almost unrelated to Kingdom Battle and I think Alan and I discussed this in a podcast episode
Let’s end bold: Kingdom Battle is an essential for any Switch owner. It’s a distillation in a way not dissimilar to what Plants Vs Zombies is to tower defence: a surprisingly solid game of tactics despite its accessibility and pop of colour. Maybe the sequel goes deeper in mechanics or maybe it muddies these clear waters. Maybe the sequel will keep the original on sale for a low price. Regardless, Kingdom Battle is worth a shot.