Space Jam. Kingdom Hearts. Mayweather vs. McGregor. Three examples to show how fantastic crossovers can be. And then we have Alien vs. Predator to show us how bad they can get.
There's seemingly no middle-ground between amazing and goddamn awful. So when we all found out that Mario was joining forces with Ubisoft’s annoying Rabbids I couldn't help but think this Nintendo Switch game was doomed for disaster.
Turns out I was wrong. Not only does Mario + Rabbids deserve to proudly sit aside the likes of Space Jam in the crossover hall of fame, it may just be one of the best games of the year so far. Sorry for ever doubting you, Rabbids.
Going at it like Rabbids
Mario + Rabbids features a Mushroom Kingdom like you’ve never seen before. Thanks to some Rabbid mischief, the world is littered with oversized household objects such as a pair of extra-large underwear that a poor Bullet-Bill has been ensnared in.
A contraption called the SupaMerge has also been causing havoc, capable of combining two items (or characters) into one. This is how the likes of the selfie-loving Rabbid Peach and timid-natured Rabbid Luigi came to be.
Separated from his friends, Mario must enlist in the help of these unlikely allies. But while I thought their slapstick humour would become overbearing, they actually induced several guilty-pleasure laughs.
That’s just not down to my lowbrow sense of humour. This is a well-written story, with characters ripe with goofy yet loveable personalities and numerous parody references to previous Nintendo games.
A change of tactics
Mario + Rabbids is a gamble, not just because of its starring plumber’s odd choice of company, but because it tries something completely new with its gameplay.
That’s not to say you’ve never seen a game like this before. Anyone who’s played the likes of Fire Emblem, XCOM 2 or the hordes of turn-based strategy games on PC will be familiar with the battle system.
The difference here is that due to the genre’s complexity it has never before been aimed at children and casual players. So Ubisoft has had to do some dumbing down. It's taken away the genre’s renown ruthless difficulty, diluted the overwhelming statistics and introduced some honey-spitting weaponry for good measure.
After breezing past some of the earlier fights, I grew concerned by the extent Ubisoft had simplified things. However, thanks to a superb difficulty curve all doubts were soon gunned down. New enemy types are frequently introduced, from close-combat brutes to teleporting snipers ensuring that each map offers a unique and entertaining challenge.
Rather than being able to apply brute force and precision jumping, you’re gonna have to dust off your brain to succeed here, especially with the delightful range of options.
Eight characters are available to fill out your three party slots, each with unique combos of abilities and weaponry. While Luigi’s long-reaching sniper rifle is useful for large maps, Mario’s hammer is imperative for getting out of tight spots.
But then you also have useful abilities such as Rabbid Peach’s healing and Yoshi’s power to give you a 100% chance of inflicting weapon side effects. It’s going to be tougher than picking a starter Pokemon when deciding on your party.
You’ll also have to consider what upgrades to unlock in your skills tree for each character. That’s right, Mario + Rabbids has a proper RPG system. It’s delightfully shocking to see how much depth there is in a game where the Rabbids are the headline act.
Best of both worlds
Each combat stage is purposely made bite-size to accommodate the Switch’s portability - perfect for a bus ride or a quick round before bed.
That’s not to mean this game is short though. With four gorgeous worlds, each consisting of nine chapters, there’s a sizeable campaign here. It took me near 20 hours to complete the main story.
It’s not just combat that takes up that time though. Puzzles are sandwiched in between offering prizes ranging from collectibles to new weapons. Some are smartly designed, while others can be too basic or frustrating due to minor movement gripes. Overall though, they're a welcome change of pace from combat.
There’s tonnes of post-game content on offer too including special levels and the opportunity to replay the game on co-op with a friend. Having only just completed it myself, I’m itching to pick up the Switch and beat my high scores on previous combat stages.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle Verdict
Honestly, I expected the Mario and Rabbids crossover to be a watered-down tactics game that was so simple and goofy that it could only be enjoyed by children. I was completely wrong.
There's so much depth and content that this is an incredibly fun blast regardless of age. It’s challenging enough to entertain mature gamers, while offering an easy mode to satisfy kids and incompetent tacticians.
With addictive combat, a charming story and an abundance of content with only more to come, Mario + Rabbids ticks so many boxes that it’s hard to find many flaws. Other than Breath of the Wild, this might just be the best game currently available on the Switch.