Here's a game I never expected to see exist - a Mario x Rabbids crossover game. It's also the only game that made me seriously question whether or not I was going to buy a Mario game. In the end, however, I decided my loathing of Rabbids was overpowered by my love of Mario, and I'm extremely glad that I fell on that side of the debate. I HATE Rabbids. Like, I hate everything about them. I hate the way they look. I hate they way they sound. I hate that their whole gimmick is to be the most annoying things on the planet. I hate them. I love Mario, though, and I love just about any Nintendo console exclusive. Thankfully, the game isn't as bad as it sounds. Just about everything about this game's appearance is deceptive at first - the stupid look of it, kiddy visuals, the notion of a game by Ubisoft that actually gets finished before it ships.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a turn based tactics game à la XCOM. While it's definitely not fair to say "It's just like XCOM!" it wouldn't be inaccurate to call it "XCOM Lite." For those of you who have played Civilizations Revolution, comparing that game to Civilization V is a lot like comparing this game to XCOM in terms of general scope. The gameplay and tactical choices are a lot narrower than in XCOM, the experience doesn't feel as grandiose, and the general presentation feels smaller scale, but the core of the game is the same. If you've played XCOM, then imagine that but smaller, simpler, and with Mario characters and Rabbids. The Rabbids are still insufferably annoying, but at least they're not as bad as they are in their own games for the most part.
If you've played Mario games before (and if you haven't, you've wasted your life up until now), you probably know that narrative isn't really a big factor there. For those interested, however, some science happens and Rabbids appear in this science-y chick's basement, and then some more science stuff happens, and the Rabbids get science-d away to the Mushroom Kingdom, and because Rabbids suck, the Mushroom Kingdom turns to shit, and then Mario is all "Dang, they messed up the kingdom. Guess I gotta do everything to fix it again" cause Peach is being her usual useless self, but then these Rabbids that are dressed like Luigi and Peach show up, and Mario's like "Cool, got myself a squad." So they're going along, shooting Rabbids in atypical totally-not-normal-Mario style, but then Peach is like "Psych, yo, I'm not useless in this game. Go go gadget shotgun!" and start blowing dudes' heads off (okay, so they turn into family-friendly blue science stuff) and being a general BAMF. Then Bowser Jr. is being a little shit like normal so you have to go beat the crap out of him and save the world. Or something like that. The story doesn't really make sense, but I'm pretty sure my version is better than the actual story.
So, stupid story aside (but really, I didn't expect anything different), Ubisoft actually got a LOT right with this game. It's not perfect - it was still developed by Ubisoft, after all - but it's REALLY good. The sound design, especially, stands out as stellar. The World 3 boss battle, in particular, was just stellar with regards to music. Even the overworld and results screen music, though, is extremely well done. Some of the game's soundtrack is original, but some of it - the most impressive parts, in my opinion - are arrangements of classic Mario tunes that long-time fans of the franchise will recognize right away. The visual design is great, too, with the Rabbids' costumes blending their stupid faces with Mario series character designs extremely well; the characters look true to their Mario counterparts while remaining distinctively Rabbid. For the most part, the environments and cut scenes look great, too, although there are certain instances - particularly some of the lava falls in World 4 - where you can see that the textures could have used a little bit more work.
Honestly, my only real gripes with the game are some performance issues and some somewhat uneven difficulty spikes. There were multiple instances throughout the game where the whole thing would freeze or hiccup for a second or two, sometimes during battle, sometimes on the overworld, and sometimes in a cut scene. It would always fix itself after a couple seconds and keep right on going like nothing ever happened, but it seemed far more prevalent in the latter half of the game. All in all, it felt like a little more testing and optimization could have been done, but as far as Ubisoft products go at launch, this is basically platinum tier. With regards to the difficult spikes, they generally weren't too bad, but going from World 2 to World 3 was a marked increase in difficulty, and about a quarter of the way through World 4, things got downright tough. 4-8 and the final boss in 4-9 were absolutely brutal, and I feel zero shame in admitting that I had to use the "Easy Mode" option for those last two fights. This is what I meant earlier when I said that the kiddy visuals are deceptive; I am absolutely confident that very, VERY few kids will be finishing this game on their own. It looks like it's for little kids, but the end of this game is worthy of any hardcore gamer.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle was an unlikely game that I expected to find disappointing but ended up absolutely loving. Beneath the childlike and frankly stupid exterior (thanks to the damn Rabbids) lies a legitimate strategy game that is generally approachable but bears its teeth in full towards the end. There are a few minor performance issues as one should expect from Ubisoft, but the game looks good, sounds great, and plays beautifully. With challenges and scores awarded based on one's performance in each mission, there's a good bit of replay value there, and with story DLC - both solo and co-op - coming in the future, this is a game to which I'm sure I'll be returning.
My Rating - 4 Neps
I'm a teacher.
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.