MARIO WITH A GUN
I’ve never played any Rabbids games and I barely know they’ve appeared in Rayman, but they seem to be placeholders for anything that you can imagine and in this case the Rabbids have made Mario take up arms in a turn based, tactical strategy on a grid that no one saw coming. It’s colorful and appealing, unlike the majority of reality based tactical shooters out there that have you fighting aliens. Kingdom Battle has you battling and teaming up with the Rabbids and Mario franchises. Not only teaming up, but merging the Mushroom Kingdom, Rabbids and elements from the real world to make for stunning environments.
DIFFERENT TACTICAL STRATEGY AND WILD TERRAIN
You play each battle with three characters from a selection of up to eight characters that gradually get discovered throughout the story. Coop modes let you and someone else each control two characters, leading to a party of four. Each character can do three things in a single turn and in any order. They can move, use a weapon (either primary or secondary) and use a skill from a selection of two once they’re unlocked. Using them in any order turns into an amazing amount of combinations.
Even moving, you or the enemies can dash into foes resulting in a minimal amount of damage. When you move, you have a distance radius rather than how many tiles you’ve traveled, so if you travel to dash attack an enemy, you’re still allowed to move anywhere within the original radius.
By involving Mario’s Mushroom Kingdom into a tactical strategy, there are so many fresh ideas here. The terrain here is wild, there are wide chasms, tall heights that give you bonuses for shooting down from. Pipes that can traverse you from point A to B in an instant can make for some truly dynamic shifts in battle and cover. Popping out of pipes will limit the movement afterward and you can only use a pipe once per character movement. Since it can be difficult to predict tactics, you’re given the use of a tacticam that demonstrates a unit’s abilities, strengths, movement and so on.
One of the more amazing things is you can use your own teammates to leap on them, which will catapult the mover even further, but once they land, that’s the end of their movement. This lets you cover a lot of terrain and adds to the dynamic of the game in a big way. Characters like Mario can stomp on enemies, resulting in a wave of damage. Luigi can use two team jumps to get even further.
Cover is gleefully simple. You have full cover and half cover. Full cover means you cannot get shot and you see a 0% when aiming at something behind full cover. Partial cover or half cover gives you a 50% chance of hitting your target. If something is not behind cover there’s a 100% chance of hitting it. Here’s the thing, there are no misses. It takes out the guess work, unless it’s half cover, but then you can flank your foes to get a 100% chance of shooting them.
The interesting twist to cover is that the brick walls you’ll be hiding behind will crumble and break, which in time can leave you exposed. Some of the obvious cover walls on high cliffs will often crumble to reveal danger blocks. These danger blocks will explode when shot again resulting in numerous types of status effects. To balance out crumbling walls used for cover, there are plenty of dark objects that make for unbreakable cover.
There are several status effects in the game that can afflict any ally or foe via gun or specific exploding blocks. Each affliction only happens for a single turn, so its no big game changer, but it does alter your next tactic. Honey will force a character to stay put, ink will prevent a character from using their weapon, bounce will launch a character backward, push will bounce them off objects like a pinball, fire will send them screaming in circles and ignite anyone they touch. Oh and there are critical chances. The percentages are shown on the weapon or enemy accordingly.
EIGHT IS ENOUGH
Kingdom Battle comes with eight characters, four from the Mushroom Kingdom which include Mario the leader, his brother Luigi the sniper, Princess Peach with a shotgun, and their dinosaur Yoshi. That’s enough for me, but there are also Rabbid version of these four characters: Rabbid Peach who is the literal star of this game, Rabbid Mario the melee specialist, Raibbid Luigi with a rocket launcher, and Rabbid Yoshi who can spit bombs.
Since this is literally “Mario + Rabbids” you’re forced to always have Mario and at least one Rabbid. Each of these characters uses their own weapons that get unlocked as you progress through the game. In time you’ll unlock each character’s secondary weapon. Mario has a hammer that honestly didn’t feel that useful, Rabbid Peach and Luigi get a sentry that drives along the ground and explodes in contact with an enemy. These felt far more useful.
With the cost of weapons and secondary weapons, you’ll end up married to your teammates. Why use a new character you’ve just rescued when that would cost more coins to equip them with the best weapons?
While we’re here, I may as well talk about coins, these things are everywhere. In battle, when you destroy cover blocks or kill enemies, coins will pop out. You can have Beep-0 collect them during battle which takes a bit of time as you hover the cursor like Beep-0 over each coin or you can wait until the battle is over. The battles take place in the world, so after each battle, you can tour the vacant battlefield before you move on. As you explore the world, you’ll find a lot of coins, but its nothing compared to the hundreds be rewarded with for the end of each chapter.
The game is broken up by four major realms, the Ancient Garden, Sherbet Desert, Spooky Trails and the Lava Pit. Each of these realms has nine chapters. Each chapter can have one or two battles. Completing a chapter will restore your character’s health and grade you on how well you fared, before rewarding you a heap of coins and skill points.
Each of these four realms has two themes, such as the Sherbet Desert goes from a traditional desert to a frosty frozen paradise. Spooky Trails has an eerie, yet whimsical haunted vibe into a dreary and ugly swamp. Even the Lava Pits goes from some sort of industry over a lava pit into a cool blue crystal covered realm with streams of lava.
The majority of battles force you to defeat all enemies, while other have a limit to defeating X number of enemies as the battlefield has foes tunneling up in various regions since they are Rabbids based on rabbits. To diversify the battle objectives, sometimes you’ll need to get one of your characters to an end zone to win. Other times you’ll have a fourth character that can’t do anything but move and you’ll need to get them to the end end zone.
To give Kingdom Battle some replay value, you’re given one of three grades for each battle you complete. These grades include things like the survival of your crew and how quickly you won the battle. In the early going it was easy enough to achieve perfect. After each battle, your knocked-out allies are revived with a bit of health. You can return to play these battles with better equipment, which will make things easier, but after completing the game to go back and complete everything, it felt like a chore since I had the best gear.
Between the chapters are brief cut scenes, some of which are hilarious animations between the Rabbids and the characters from the Mushroom Kingdom. I usually don’t care for comedy in video games, but this hit its mark for me. Other than that, cut scenes have exposition from the protagonist Beep-0 who seems to be the leader of your group who doesn’t actually fight. You’ll also see exposition from the game’s antagonist Bowser Jr. who doesn’t make a grand appearance until the second realm. Beyond those two talkers, there’s not much dialog if any from the silent protagonists. Toad and Toadette will appear for brief cameos to keep the early part of the game progressing forward.
Each of the four realms have hazards in a few battles that will neutrally affect both sides of the battle. The hazards take their turn between the player and enemy turns. The Ancient Gardens have chain chomps that follow whomever is nearest to them and bite them when they’re close enough. The Sherbet Desert has whirlwinds that will plow through anything in their path. You’ll need to look at the wind socks for the whirlwind’s next direction. In the Spooky Trails, hidden boos will follow whomever gets near them. These boos will then teleport their victims to a random place on the battlefield for better or worse. Giant lava balls will fall from the sky in the realm of Lava Pit. You’ll see scorch marks on the ground so you can avoid where they fall. Getting hit with one will ignite your character on fire.
SKILLS AND TECHNIQUES
Characters come with their own skills or techniques and some need to be unlocked via skill points. Mario has a attack strength improvement to himself and those around him. He can also use an overwatch skill that lets him shoot foes that move. Luigi has itchy feet that lets nearby allies have increased movement and the same overwatch as his brother Mario. Rabbid Princess can heal any allies in a nearby radius and she has a shield. Princess Peach has the same overwatch, and protection which will give increased defenses to nearby allies. The list goes on and on.
For each chapter you complete, you’re getting skill points. You can even find more skill points out in the wild from exploring. These points get spent on skills and skill trees and each character has their own set amount of skill points. You’ll unlock new techniques for characters and enhance them. Things like range of a technique, technique effectiveness in terms of damage or health, dash attack strength, how many dash attacks you can do, upgrading a character’s health, speed and more. Each character becomes truly powerful by the end of the game, but there’s perfect balance so you’re never overpowered for the new battles you’ll face. Oh and the skill trees can be reset and reassigned, even auto assigned for those that want the best of X to get through a battle without caring about anything else.
EVEN SIMPLE FOES MAKE FOR GREAT GAMEPLAY
The foes are simple, but effective. Each of the four realms will have the same enemies, but with more health and more skills. Your enemies will have the same skills and that makes for a very balanced game, other than the fact each battle will start with more opposition than heroes.
Ziggies are snipers that have low health and can use an overwatch ability that lets them shoot moving foes when it’s not their turn. Hoppers can use a protective shield that takes a single hit of damage to be broken, but it wears off after a turn. They will also team jump, just as your allies do.
Smashers are giant brutes that don’t use cover. These big Rabbids will chase after anyone that shoots them and melee smash when close enough. They can increase the strength of anyone around them. Bucklers have giant shields and shotguns. Their shield is infinite cover and you can only shoot them from behind or bomb them. The shotgun shoots in a wide burst, but the further away, the less damage it will do. Another interesting facet is they’ll often damage their own allies and sometimes set off Smashers who will then race to them and smack them with a heavy object.
Supporters will throw bombs from virtually anywhere to destroy and breach cover. These little guys will also heal anyone within their radius. Peak-A-Boos have ghost powers that let them teleport wherever within a radius. Their powers will also hypnotize foes to bring them out of cover. Valkyries have machine guns and stomps that will shatter the ground and damage anyone within a wide radius.
BOSSES AND MINI BOSSES
Every four or five battles will have a boss or mini boss. These fights break up simple battles by introducing some memorable fights. The mini bosses are just big enemies with more health. You’ll fight against Pirabbid Plant that will launch fire at your allies, Buzzy and Sandy the two elemental ghosts in a wide open battlefield with a few high cliffs, Calavera the casket plant that will use its lid as a shield, and a fight against Bowser Jr. in a giant mech suit that releases drones while chasing anyone that fires upon him. Bwario and Bwaluigi make appearances as a team with a Gatling gun that watches from afar and a giant brute that chases after anyone that shoots him.
The bosses are more special, such as the Rabbid Kong fight that forces players to take away Kong’s banana piles which give him infinite health. There’s an Icicle Golem with a shotgun which feels more of a basic fight, while the singing Phantom forces you to dash destroy its stage lights to become vulnerable. It all leads up to a giant fight at the end with the biggest mutant of them all.
EXPLORATION OUTSIDE OF BATTLE
Beyond the battles, is an entire world that connects everything. There’s plenty of exploration getting from battle the battle. You’ll find coins and treasure chests to unlock things, of which the only important ones are weapon designs for specific characters. The exploration is simple with a tweak of grandiose. Going down pipes can uncover beautiful vistas. Some of these vistas have points of interest with a zoom in on the spectral and a comment from Beep-0. You’ll find single coins that will make more appear and red rings that spawn eight red coins to collect. Gathering the red coins makes a golden treasure pop up.
While exploring, you’ll encounter white cannons that fire you off to nearby lands, but you’ll also find digital blue cannons that fire you to secret areas. Well non mandatory areas that let you collect all the blue coins before time runs out. Doing this grants you another type of treasure.
Since any tactical strategy is a game that forces you to think, there are plenty of push puzzles as you explore. These are sometimes mandatory, but nothing too obscure. Even looking at some of the grand and complex puzzle designs that might be intimidating was still five extra minutes to solve. You’ll push blocks that depending on the surface beneath will move one tile over or slide all the way until they bump into something. There are also colored buttons to push that will lower or raise blocks out of the ground or move entire colored floors.
Kingdom Battle has the greatest push puzzles you’ll ever encounter and it would make a great justification for its own game, if it weren’t part of an even greater game.
Oh but its more than just puzzles, for completing each realm, including the finale, Beep-0 will be granted new abilities. The first ability is to push blocks, the second is taking totems from one place to another. Placing totems on colored blocks will trigger the same colored gates to open which makes for some good puzzle diversity and adds another layer of complexity. The third ability is to break certain blocks, uh which feels a bit tacked on and used more for exploration than puzzle solving. Finally comes the ability to remove dirt… yep. That’s it. You beat the game, and you can now remove dirt piles, which lets you slide more blocks to discover new challenges.
POST GAME CONTENT
When the game is over, you’re given that final ability to play secret and special challenges. You can always go back and find everything that you didn’t or turn every fair graded battle into a perfect battle. There are cooperative battles and just a lot of content to keep you in game long after it ends, but truth be told, it lacked the fun. The special challenges are quirky and super difficult, but without the incentive of pushing the story further to get something fresh or new, it was a strugle to stay interested.
PERHAPS THE BEST BLEND OF THIRD AND FIRST PARTY
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle manages to be both the best of third and first party. It’s a blend of the best in its tactical strategy, art design, music, fun, humor, world building, and everything else. It feels dynamic, fresh and most importantly fun. I doubt I would have played it without the Mario license and it would have been a completely different asthetic. After going through it, I’d love to play a sequel.