Nintendo E3 2017: Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle Is More Like XCOM Than You'd Expect

When a Mario and Rabbids crossover game for Nintendo Switch leaked last month, I didn't think much of it. It looked pretty absurd, from the selfie-taking Rabbid dressed as Peach to Mario wielding a massive gun. But when Ubisoft and Nintendo showed gameplay of Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle for the first time at Ubisoft's press conference, I was intrigued. And after I went hands-on with a short demo for the game, I realized that Kingdom Battle might actually turn out to be a really great turn-based strategy game.

This is not a watered-down XCOM; in spite of its cute art style and the inclusion of Rabbids, Kingdom Battle has a surprising amount of depth. Its battle mechanics are way more like XCOM than I expected, and fights challenge you to keep track of your team members and all of the enemies on a battlefield.

When you enter a battle, you're greeted by a field filled with walls and obstacles. Much like in XCOM, managing your team members and making sure they're in cover at all times is of vital importance. Several times during my demo, I positioned one of my characters dangerously out in the open in order to take a clear shot at an enemy. And every time I did, the opposing Rabbids took advantage of this and easily did a lot of damage.

But you have a huge range of motion in battle to help you flank enemies. Characters are able to move around about a quarter of the battlefield during a turn, and this can be extended even further by being catapulted into the air by one of your teammates. This emphasis on mobility caused me to play aggressively; instead of sitting back and waiting patiently for the perfect time to strike, I knew that the enemies could just as easily flank me. As a result, I made sure to move as far and as deliberately as possible with every character on every turn to be able to both attack and return to cover somewhere on the battlefield.

Although I only saw a few of these battlefields, they got progressively more complicated as I went through the demo. The earliest one was a straightforward arena with only a few walls scattered across it. The final map, however, had a large range of different environmental features. A handful of blocks would either explode or send a large ball careening across the level if you shot them; pipes let you or enemies traverse across the level further than you otherwise could; and two raised platforms housed Rabbids that would take potshots at your characters from their vantage point.

On this last battlefield, I also faced down what is one of the stranger bosses ever to appear in a Nintendo game: a Piranha Plant-Rabbid hybrid that could shoot fireballs and move across a huge swath of the battlefield. Alongside this hybrid creature, four Rabbids provided support. It was an intense battle in which I was forced to sacrifice two of my three characters to beat the Piranha Plant. My Luigi-outfitted Rabbid, with his special ability that creates a resistance to most attacks for a turn, was able to outlast the boss.

This battle only lasted about six or seven minutes, but it was involved and exciting. It was certainly not an easy battle to complete, and I had to use every special ability and aggressively attack at every chance I had to defeat the boss. It felt like a faster but no less high-stakes XCOM battle. This comparison extends even down to an overwatch-like ability that the characters have: at one point, as a Rabbid ran across his sightline, Mario sniped it automatically even though it wasn't my turn.

And these fights are only one part of the game. Outside of battle, you explore a world with Mario and his Rabbid companions that looks similar to the vibrant, lively world of Super Mario 64 or other 3D Mario games. It will seem extremely familiar to Mario fans, except for the addition of Rabbids roaming around it. At one point during my demo, I even had to complete an environmental puzzle and find eight red coins. Collecting all of the coins unlocked a chest which contained a new, more powerful weapon for Mario. Finding better gear is essential, as you'll encounter stronger enemies and more difficult battlegrounds.

Although I only got to use Mario and the Luigi and Peach Rabbids, the game's stage demo made it look like there'll be other Mario characters and Rabbids to play with. In addition, at the end of my demo, a short cinematic teased that Bowser Jr. will be an enemy you'll have to confront.

As I completed the final fight with the Piranha Plant, I remained pleasantly surprised at the game that Kingdom Battle is shaping up to be. A Mario and Rabbids crossover seems like a bizarre idea on face, but Ubisoft has--at least at this early stage--put together a title that's both entertaining and involved, an XCOM-like Mario game that you can take on the go. That's enough to get me excited, and to keep me looking forward to seeing more of the game when it launches on August 29.



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