Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is an extremely well done game that I feel like I should have enjoyed more than I did, even though I enjoyed it quite a bit. Or maybe “should have” isn’t the right phrase, but at least the question of why I didn’t enjoy it more feels worth interrogating?

It’s an extremely polished game: it’s made by Ubisoft, but they really did live up to the Mario license, I would totally believe that it could have been a Nintendo first-party game. Well, I would totally believe that except for the Rabbids part; but I like the Rabbids humor fine (honestly, I like it more than Mario’s generic nature), it’s nice to return to them again after not having played a game with them since the early days of the Wii.

As befits a Mario game, there are mild environmental puzzles everywhere. Chests to open, pipes to travel through, switches to flip, blocks to push; sometimes the chests are sitting there, sometimes you have to spend five or ten minutes experimenting with switches and what not to figure out how to manipulate the environment to get to them, sometimes you have to wait until you’ve made it to the end of the chapter of the game to get a new ability that will let you solve the puzzle.

But, of course, the core of the game is the battles. Which follow the XCOM formula, but with changes: the randomness is a little more restricted, you don’t have the same permadeath worries, and I think there are more combo possibilities? I could be wrong about the details of the differences, because I’ve only played a quarter of one XCOM game; I bounced off of that game, but the battles in Mario + Rabbids are much more like puzzles, which made them significantly more to my taste.


Ultimately, though, I guess even the Mario + Rabbids improvements on the XCOM battle formula still don’t turn them into my favorite type of puzzles? They don’t have the transparency of a pure puzzle game; they’re not super short; and they get more complex (and more likely to come in pairs) as the game goes on and within each chapter. I think that, if the game had been half the length, it would have been just right for me; as it was, though, the second half battles were a bit of a chore for me.

Fortunately, there were environmental puzzles to give punctuation between the battles; unfortunately, those didn’t quite click either. At first, they actually made the game feel nice and familiar, like a Mario game: there’s always a reason to look around the corner. But in a regular Mario game, the environmental goodies aren’t some separate thing: the core gameplay has you figuring out the environment, the goodies just give that investigation a bit of extra fun. In Mario + Rabbids, in contrast, the two are separate: even though the battle arenas are connected to the rest of the levels (you can walk through them once the battle is completed), they’re separate on a gameplay level, so you’re not going to be in the middle of a battle and then notice a chest or something. (It’s telling that the abilities that you unlock at the end of each chapter only affect the environmental puzzles, they don’t affect the battle gameplay at all.)

That doesn’t mean that I actively disliked the environmental puzzles: on the balance, I’m glad that they were there, and the more puzzly ones (as opposed to the “look around a corner and find a chest” ones) did give me something to think about. But still, there’s a disconnect there.


And, ultimately, the license is a double-edged sword. The Nintendo polish is great; and I actually did enjoy the Rabbids. But Mario has no personality, and the game’s insistence on centering him hurt it.

You have eight characters on your team (at least once you’ve unlocked them all), of which you can choose three to fight in any battle. But Mario has to be one of the three characters: this limits your ability to experiment, and if you happen to have three characters that you like more than Mario, then tough luck. Mario’s abilities are pretty solid, but I didn’t see any obvious mechanical reason why his presence was necessary for balance reasons: as far as I can tell, that was a mechanical choice made purely for brand reasons at the detriment of mechanics.

(Or maybe it’s a metaphor! Maybe Mario represents white masculinity and its insistence of inserting itself, even placing itself in the center of any conversation, no matter how boring or undesired it might be…)


Don’t get me wrong: good game, in fact a surprisingly good game. It’s just a good game that went on for long enough to make me think about how it could be better.

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