Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle Delivers a Good Time, Despite the Rabbids
When Rabbids, the hyperactive cartoon rabbits introduced in Rayman Raving Rabbids, get excited, they shout "Bwah!" They do so repeatedly and volubly. This is a fact I didn't know yesterday; I hope I forget it by tomorrow.
The Rabbids, which gained attention for their mascot potential and have since been spun off by their creators, Ubisoft, into a series of party games and various ancillary opportunities, are terrible. Superficially "wacky", with the sort of attitude that would lend them well to the memes your aunt posts on Facebook, Rabbids are the Minions of the videogame world.
An example of the type of 'tude we're talking about: early in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, a character introducing a quest offers coins as a reward—but the Rabbids, those sassy rascals, throw the coins back at the quest giver until he offers a better reward! They are preternaturally, merchandisingly Edgy. I hate them so, so much.
Which makes what I'm about to tell you a little infuriating. Their latest, the improbable Nintendo Switch crossover Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, is … pretty good.
I'm not sure how Ubisoft convinced Nintendo to do this. After a bizarre accident involving a Star Trek-lite replicator device and (I am not making this up) an interdimensional washing machine, a bunch of unrestrained Rabbids end up in the Mushroom Kingdom, bringing mayhem to the world of Mario, Luigi, Yoshi and Peach. A few Rabbids, apparently big Mario fans, dress up as the main characters and team up with them to put right what once went wrong, hoping each time that their next wash cycle will be the wash cycle home.
It's a combination of aesthetics and moods that, by all accounts, should limp along like an undead corpse, but somehow it works, held together by a light, engaging play experience. It's largely a tile-based tactical game, in the vein of Fire Emblem: each character can move a certain distance each turn, and must position themselves to attack their opponents while avoiding as much damage as possible. Certain characters have special abilities, like healing others or being able to move farther than others, and the combat arenas are littered with obstacles and cover. The systems are simple but effective.
Kingdom Battle is exactly the fluffy sort of tactics game you'd expect from a good Mario crossover. The best ideas of the genre find themselves streamlined and pulled together into a package that's easy to play in short stints without losing its luster in longer sessions. And the writing, to its credit, avoids being as cloying as it could be. There are only a couple of musical numbers. The robot that leads your merry band of adventurers—and who is 100% just a sentient Roomba with bunny ears no matter what Ubisoft tries to tell me—is blessedly free of self-consciously Xtreme personality traits. These are small blessings, but I'll take them. At least Mario remains a fun, wholesome character, a straight man to the Rabbids' attempts at Krazy Komedy.
There's a significant part of me that doesn't want to recommend this game on principle, that wants to insist you run screaming in the other direction so that Ubisoft stops making games about these anti-mascot monstrosities. But that would be disingenuous. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a nice time, and I had a nice time playing it. If there's a sequel, I'll probably play that one, too.
But I'm not going to see the Rabbids movie, and you can't make me.
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