Combining Nintendo’s iconic world of Mario with Ubisoft’s weird and wonderful Rabbids seemed like an odd choice, but 2017’s Kingdom Battle proved it works.
And so, the delightful turn-based tactics meets 3D adventure series is back with an all-new entry. Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope sees Mario and friends team up with those pesky Rabbids one more time for another colourful – and extremely enjoyable – adventure. And we just can’t get enough of it.
Just like the first game, there’s a narrative to follow in Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope, delivered through beautifully-animated cutscenes and nicely delivered (although selective) voice acting. The story sees Mario and pals venture to different planets, all of which have been overtaken by a dark entity known as ‘darkmess’. Getting rid of the darkmess means engaging in battles, defeating enemies and restoring each planet to its previous splendour. That means there’s a lot of combat here – but when it’s as good as this, you’ll be glad of each and every encounter.
Even if you’re not typically a fan of turn-based tactical battles, Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope is well worth jumping into. Its approach to combat is fun and user-friendly, making it an ideal starting point for anyone curious about the genre. Typically, tactical battle systems are reserved for heavy, serious role-playing games. But the very nature of Mario + Rabbids means that here, it’s light, cute and accessible. Sure, you need a modicum of strategy about you – particularly if you’re playing on a higher difficulty – but mistakes are easily rectified, and the swathe of skills available to you in the character roster means you always feel like a bit of a badass. A Mario who dual-wields energy guns is a Mario we can get fully on board with.
During each turn of battle, each character in your party can move freely within a set zone. You can move a little further by performing a team jump, allowing for some extra flexibility – you’re always going to want to be in a safe position behind cover, after all. Alongside free movement, each character can also perform two actions, be they offensive or defensive. You could use an overwatch-type mode, where any enemy will automatically get attacked should they enter a range of sight. Or you could use a team buff, strengthening your attacks or adding a shield. There’s also a standard attack available, which can often be improved by combining with a Spark ability – bolstering with fire or ice damage, for example.
The fact that every main story battle takes place on a unique battlefield – all varied in their design, with a nice mixture of obstacles and layout – means that the action of Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope never gets old. Sure, you might be using the same attacks and actions every time, but no two battles ever feel the same. There’s a good mix of enemies too, with their strengths and abilities increasing as you progress through the game. It may be a cakewalk to begin with, but when you find yourself up against enemies who can heal, shield and resist a great number of your attacks, you really need to think carefully about every move you make.
Of course, if you want Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope to be easier, you can turn down the difficult. You’re able to do it on the fly, too, so if one particular battle gets the better of you, you can quickly head into settings to make it a little easier. You can restart a battle at any time, too, so if one particular strategy hasn’t worked out like you’d hope, you can easily give it another shot. And it’s wise to: since there’s no time restraints on each move that you make, you can take as long as you need to assess the battlefield and plan out the perfect attack.
Combat might be perhaps the largest part of Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope, but it’s certainly not all there is. Each planet you travel to is its own little hub, with a world to explore, find secrets in and engage in side activities. Some of those side activities are battles, sure, but others will require you to solve small environmental puzzles, gather lost items, and more. Each world is delightfully designed (we’d expect nothing less from a Mario property, after all) and it’s worth spending time exploring and engaging in optional activities. Running through the story is fine – but you may need to spend time elsewhere in order to gain experience and level up.
You see, each character in your party has a skill tree and, as you gain experience, you’ll be able to place new points in that tree to strengthen existing abilities and unlock new ones. Levelling up also increases HP and attack power – both very important when you’re up against enemies of an ever-increasing difficulty. You might also want to spend some time experimenting with your party set-up. Sometimes, you’ll need to use a specific character for a certain battle, but often you can freely choose your setup. With everyone having their own abilities and combat styles, finding who works best for you is part of the fun. Your allegiance might lie with Luigi, but if he’s not the best in combat, is he really worth having in your party?
The marrying of Mario and Rabbids may still feel like a strange choice, even five years on from the first game, but Ubisoft and Nintendo have once again proved just how well this mash-up can work. Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope does the impossible by making the oft-impenetrable tactical combat genre approachable – and a heck of a lot of fun. Combine that with gorgeous, colourful visuals and fun platforming and exploration, and you’ve got one of the Switch’s best games.