If Mario and Xcom got married and had a mutated rabbit child, you would get Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battles, undoubtedly the biggest surprise video game announcement of this year. Who would’ve thought mixing Ubisoft’s crazy Rabbids with Nintendo’s iconic characters would blend so well, creating a charming and yet absurdly lunatic batch of personalities?

Our story begins in the basement of a programmer who created a VR headset device. Out of thin air, a time machine resembling a washer pops into existence filled with Rabbids, because why not? While this commotion unravels, an out-of-hand rabbid named Spawny puts on the headset and zaps everyone to the mushroom kingdom, but not before fusing the two worlds together.

In the process, some rabbids fused with Nintendo figures, resulting, for example, in a rabbid that changes into a selfie-taking, enthusiastic Peach Rabbid. Everything is awry and it’s up to Mario and his gang dim-witted rabbids to save the Kingdom.

The Realm is divided into four huge worlds: Ancient Gardens, Sherbet Desert, Spooky Trails and Lava Pits. Each offers a unique look and feel, and has nine chapters which you can revisit for additional challenges and a bonus chapter.

The presentation is rife with Nintendo’s saturated primaries and the unique approach to character design that we have come to love. Even the score is inspired by classic Mario themes.

The opening levels are easy and have you proceed from one point of the map to the other. Beyond that, you may have to go through a learning curve to fully gain a grasp on the mechanics as you establish the optimal strategies and tactics to employ for each situation.

Before any battle, you are given the opportunity to plan out your attack using an app called The Tacticam. The Tacticam is a top-down view of the battle grounds that allows you to assess potential threats and establish the whereabouts of your enemies. Depending on what you are facing, you may choose to change your roster or weapon equipment to best suit your approach. However, Mario always has to be in your team of three so your other two members’ builds and tactics should revolve around Mario.

Some players may find this to be a constraint, but with smart positioning, you can chain up your moves with one hero to dash up to four enemies, leap off a friend and send a droid to cast a wide area of explosive damage, killing off more than half of your enemies in just one round.

Heroes have primary and secondary weapons. Mario has the basic mid-range point-and-shoot gun, while Rabbid Mario has a short-range yet powerful shotgun. Moreover, weapons have element stats for debuffing effects such as vampires that leech onto an opponent, slowly transferring some of their HP to you.

Secondary weapons further add to the excitement, with each hero having their own unique firearm, ranging from melee-based hammers to self-exploding vehicles. You will also gain access to use skills that have turn-based cooldowns, each character having two to choose from.

Mario has the Hero Sight which when activated will make him capable of striking foes from a longer distance. Similarly, Luigi has the same technique, but his is called Death Stare, a reference to Luigi’s now infamous stare from Mario Kart 8.

There is a huge variety of enemies throughout the game to shake things along and change up your usual tactic. For example, Sherbet Buckles, who holds a large shield, needs to be flanked to cause any sort of damage against them. Sherbet Support alternatively does little damage but offers a healing attribute.

Most maps have the famous Mario pipes which can warp you to higher grounds or across the map. The way the maps are designed gives either you or the enemies the advantage, with that benefit generally going to the AI. This may prove frustrating at first but its benefit is that it will force you to play aggressively, speeding the pacing which is usually the deathknell of similar games.

Unsurprisingly, the in-game currency is none other than the iconic gold coins. You can earn them piecemeal through exploration zones or in bulk as reward for completing a chapter. If you achieve a perfect score in all of the battles in a chapter, you get extra coins and Power Orbs, which are used to upgrade a character’s individual skills and techniques.

Upon completion of an area, you’ll unlock a new exploration ability that allows you to search new areas previously inaccessible for chests and secret stages. Weapon chest boxes are also oddly placed, causing you to succumb to investing your gold on a weapon. The upside to these chests? If you were to hunt them down, they will probably contain weapons with better stats than those you purchase.

I experienced some unfortunate game-breaking crashes, one of them being while I was fighting a boss, and some really bad frame-rate drops and freezes. None of these issues are abundant, however, and though they proved to be an annoyance, they were not enough to ruin the game.

I also wish there was more variety when it came to objectives. There are three objectives in the game: reach a certain location, kill all enemies, or kill a boss.

Mario+Rabbids offers up a couple of co-op campaign as well. These are mini battles you can partake with a friend whose levels give you four characters to control with Mario not being a mandatory pick. The maps, however, are even smaller which doesn’t provide a wide variety of new strategies.

Don’t let the colorful world and child-friendly animation fool you into thinking this is an easy turn-based tactics game. Mario+Rabbids is a lot meatier than meets the eye, and even Xcom veterans will find some of the battles challenging, more-so if you intend to perfect some of the stages. I sincerely hope Ubisoft and Nintendo prolong this beautiful collaboration.

Mario+Rabbids Kingdom Battle is exclusive for the Nintendo Switch. A Review code was made available to us via Ubisoft.

PROS
Deeply tactical combat system
Rabbids are hilarious and their facial expressions are gold
Plenty of replayability
CONS
Some technical issues
Few objective variety
8