The week ofis filled with so many games, it’s often hard to find a way to stand out from the crowd. Sure, there are major sequels fans have been waiting for and splashy new titles from respected studios, but it takes a special kind of game to be heard above the traditional noise. One way to accomplish that is by doing something completely unexpected, say like teaming Mario up with the Rabbids. That only gets your foot in the door though. By making Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle a quirky tactical-strategy game in the vein of XCOM, you don’t only get into the room, you take over the conversation.
For the most part, strategy games don’t afford more casual players much leeway. Titles like XCOM, Valkyria Chronicles or Final Fantasy Tactics require more of their players than a mere passing interest. You’ve got to be willing to gruel out hours of trial and error in order to achieve total victory, and that’s often asking a lot more of a new or unfamiliar player hoping to see what all the fuss is about. Mario + Rabbids will likely offer some challenge to players, particularly as you get deeper into the experience, but from what we saw at E3, this is a game that will welcome veteran and untested players with open arms alike.
We tried out the first three maps of Kingdom Battle, each featuring an escalating challenge, while also introducing new gameplay elements in at an easy-to-follow pace. The first map was relatively straightforward, pitting Mario, a Peach Rabbid and a Luigi Rabbid up against some Ultimate Warrior-inspired Rabbid foes. There’s not much we know about the story of this world just yet, but Rabbids are facing up against their own kind with the help of Mario and company for some reason. The opening battle showed off basic concepts like movement and cover, both of which should be immediately familiar to anyone who’s been obsessed with XCOM as of late.
On a given map, there will be walls and pillars of varying size. Short walls offer you a modicum of cover if you’re behind them, thus lowering the chance of an enemy hitting you with a full blast. The bigger the wall, the better the cover provided. Of course, you’ve also got to take in attack angles, so even if you’re behind a wall, if an enemy has a shot from a different angle, you still might suffer the impact. It’s a concept that’s easy to grasp thanks in large part to the simple controls on the Switch, and the large icons showing you the protection each kind of cover can offer.
Movement is slightly different in the Mushroom Kingdom than you might expect. While you do have a limited range, which is shown off by a big blue box, there are a few ways to extend your movement on a given turn. First, highlighting another character on your team gives you the chance to jump-boost to an area normally out of your range. It also gives you slightly more movement space when you land. This is a big help when first exploring the space, and trying to align your team in the best combination of offensive and defensive positions.
Secondly, you can gain a bonus attack while moving through an evenly-matched enemy’s space, and continue moving to cover after. The bad Rabbids have a few different class types we came across, including normal Rabbids and giant ones. Mario and the normal Rabbid troops on the player side can slide tackle the same troop type, but trying that trick on a larger foe isn’t advised. It also doesn’t count as your attack phase, so you can slide through a foe, and pop up immediately to strike them with a full attack in the same turn. There are some great strategies to make just in those elements alone, but many maps also have environmental aids you can use too.
In our playtime, we only got to see the warp pipes that are scattered around, but they make flanking enemies and capitalizing on formation strategies a breeze. If you move through one, it only counts as a simple space, so you can earn a much wider range of motion with their aid. You can also find yourself in some bad positioning if you aren’t careful, but the advantages these pipes afford will make any savvy player eager to chain together some radical maneuvers. For instance, we used Mario to move through a pipe, slide tackle one Rabbid, move through another pipe entirely, and come out in cover where we could strike a different enemy altogether in one turn. And that’s without any of the special Techniques characters can learn when leveling up.
Sadly, we didn’t get to see the skill tree or Technique system in action during out limited time with Mario + Rabbids, but the concepts there seem like they’ll be of the standard fare. It wouldn’t be out of the question to see some characters have healing abilities or damage boosts for a limited time. Admittedly, we are curious to see what other kinds of units the good guys will get in the game, as the enemy Rabbids seem to have quite an advantage even just a few maps into the overall game.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle isn’t anything like we thought it would have been. Traditionally, games starring the Rabbids have not been particularly memorable. Turns out, all it took to make us interested in‘s not-Minions was to have them team with ‘s heroic plumber in a genre we’ve never seen Mario in before. Putting the Mushroom Kingdom through the tactical-shooter lens was a clever idea, and one that gives us a very unique perspective on Mario’s world. The Rabbids being along for the ride might at first seem like a heavy-handed insertion of characters desperately in need of support outside of Europe, but without them we likely wouldn’t have gotten one of the most fascinating games of E3 2017.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle will be available exclusively on the Nintendo Switch on August 29.
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