Ubisoft had an impressive showing this year, delivering something predictable, something new, and something completely unexpected. Among the many titles shown, only one game encompassed all three of those qualities: Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle.
If the uncanny crossover wasn’t leaked weeks (and a year) before the show, I would argue that it would have been one of the biggest surprises in E3 history. Still, I was pleasantly surprised when the trailer opened Ubisoft’s press conference. And delightfully amused when I got to spend some quality time with the Mario + Rabbids nonsense.
For reasons unknown, the Mushroom Kingdom is now infested with Rabbids. This would normally just be a mild headache, but something is filling the Rabbids with malice and turning them evil. To complicate things further, if the two universes aren’t separated both will cease to exist.
Once I jumped into the game, the world around me was terraforming into a fever dream. Familiar vistas twisted into Rabbid-inspired modern art or, at least, a toddler’s reimagining of the Mushroom Kingdom. Most things were cringeworthy but still managed to produce a light chuckle. The most jarring thing though was the art style.
Mario games usually feature a cartoon-esque palate, but Kingdom Battle amplified that. A supersaturation of color and exaggerated noises made the game feel like a classic Saturday morning cartoon. When you’re not in combat, Mario gleefully runs and topples across the environment. But the game truly shines when you enter a battle.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a tactical turn-based strategy game akin to Fire Emblem and XCOM. Despite its goofy charm, it embodies the genre perfectly. Classic staples of the genre like taking cover, half-cover, team maneuvers, and special abilities are all found here. Though the franchises have joined in unforeseen ways, the gameplay is as cohesive as ever.
The Mushroom Kingdom heroes and their Rabbid doppelgängers each have their own unique projectile weapon. You have the ability to upgrade and add special effects to each weapon, like causing a target to bounce in the air after being shot which sets them up for high-damage combos.
Like most games in the genre, movement and team placement are essential for victory. Yet unlike other games in the genre, you can accomplish quite a bit when moving from point A to B. In one instance I used Rabbid Peach to spring-jump off Mario, then had her power slide into an enemy, ran into cover, then proceeded to fire at said enemy, which inflicted damage while simultaneously destroying his cover.
With the addition of character-specific special abilities and combo opportunities, the ways in which a battle can progress are sprawling. The AI was just as creative, executing attack plans that I never considered. This gave me ideas for my next move, but it showed that an all-out assault will only be an easy victory at the start.
My time spent in this reimagined Mushroom Kingdom was a fun trip down the Rabbid hole. The burrow created from Nintendo + Ubisoft surprised me in the best way possible. At first glance, I saw Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle as an awkward, yet charming way for Nintendo and Ubisoft to make a quick buck. But this idea that nobody knew they wanted has swayed my opinion. I’m patiently waiting for the game’s release on August 29th just to see how far it will take me.