When the first image from the upcoming crossover game “Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle” leaked online the internet seemed to heave a collective groan. At first, glance most assumed the Nintendo Switch exclusive was a cheap cash grab, a marketing nightmare attempting to blend the almost endless appeal of Mario with whatever the hell it is that people like about the Rabbids. In the minds of many gamers, myself included, the Rabbids seem like an early version of “Despicable Me’s” cringe-inducing Minions, with a similar focus on simplistic character design, shouted gibberish, and overdone slapstick to construct a sort of forced charm. Leading up to Ubisoft’s E3 2017 conference I had mostly written off “Mario + Rabbids” as what would likely be some sort of party game or a half-baked imitation of classic Nintendo gameplay. Thankfully I, along with many folks around the net, have been proven wrong.
Ubisoft’s choice to open their show with “Mario + Rabbids” elicited an audible scoff as I watched the always awkward attempts by company heads and game developers to be earnest and playful on the E3 stage. Even as they brought out Mario’s creator Shigeru Miyamoto I remained fairly skeptical, though I admit by that point I was pretty amused with the whole thing. “Why on earth would they give so much fanfare to some cheap crossover?” I wondered. Then they got to properly introducing the game.
A Mario game with Ubisoft characters that had RPG elements mixed with a turn-based, squad tactics combat system. Basically, a Nintendo "X-Com" done by the guys behind the "Tom Clancy" games. I honestly almost did a double-take at that point. Of all the completely bonkers ideas in the gaming industry, this was one I would never have imagined. The real kicker? It looks fun. Like, a lot of fun.
The colorful chaos of a wrecked Mushroom Kingdom provides the backdrop for this surreal spin-off adventure. Familiar elements of Mario’s world are strewn about in decidedly unfamiliar ways, constructing a series of exploration zones and cover-filled arenas to act as battlefields for the tactical combat to play out. There is a distinct amount of character and cartoonish fun present in what we’ve been shown so far, keeping the Rabbids’ personalities from overtaking the game’s presentation while still allowing for zany antics.
Seeing the turnaround of public opinion online has been an odd pleasure in and of itself. I personally have seen quite a few comments admitting that they, like myself, had misjudged the game and were pleasantly surprised by, even excited for, “Mario + Rabbids.” That sort of wholesome honesty is rare and just plain refreshing on the ever-contentious world of the web. Even if the game turns out to be less than stellar it is nice to see a few friendly discussions among gamers every once in a while.
While “Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle” likely won’t be some groundbreaking video gaming experience that defies the genre, it does seem on track to defy all early expectations that painted it as lackluster and superficial. I sincerely hope that it can deliver on its promise of thoughtful gameplay mixed with a sense of sheer fun and simple sincerity.