Mario and a gorilla named Donkey worked. Mario and a race cart was a winner. Even Mario playing sports made some semblance of sense.
But Mario and a gun? Say what?
The game Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is a crossover title between Nintendo’s Mario and Ubisoft’s Raving Rabbids franchises. It’s something of a strategy shooter for the Nintendo Switch. And I wouldn’t blame you if, at first glance, you thought the fusion of the Mushroom Kingdom hero and trigger-pulling felt like a mash-up with a bit too much mash.
But let’s jump into the nearest Mushroom Kingdom tube for a closer look and see how it works out, shall we?
First of all, for those who have no idea what a “Rabbid” is, it’s sort of an insane rabbit. If Bugs Bunny, for instance, is a 10 on the looney scale, a Rabbid is pushing a frantic 100—especially when these white, goofy-looking creatures flood a scene in a frothing gang.
Kingdom Battle starts us off in the basement of a young female inventor who’s working on a new creation called the SupaMerge helmet. Who would really want one of these thingees is hard to say, but the idea is that this gizmo can merge two different objects into one.
After setting her work aside to grab a bit of lunch, though, this brainy gal leaves her AI assistant, Beep-O, in charge, and it’s immediately overwhelmed when a bunch of nutty Rabbids pop into the basement via a Time Washing Machine. They grab the helmet and somehow everything is transported through an interdimensional vortex and into Mario and Princess Peach’s Mushroom Kingdom.
Yeah, I know, it sounds a bit crazy. But things get even zanier from there after one particular Rabbid gets merged to the SupaMerge helmet itself. And along with creating a Rabbid/Peach and a Rabbid/Luigi, this zapping Rabbid goes about merging his fellows with PiranhaPlants and other Mushroom Kingdom regulars, generally wreaking havoc kingdom-wide.
The only recourse is for Mario—given guidance by Beep-O and joined by helpful friends—to set off after that SupaMerge helmet Rabbid. By now, he’s now teamed up with Bowser Jr. and is being called Spawny.
Gameplay wise, players only have to do a couple of things to move this 20-to-30-hour title forward. Mario and Co. are given special weapons to make their way past the many Mad-Rabbid baddies scattered about and blocking their way forward. In addition, players encounter light environmental puzzles to work out and collect gold coins along the way, to be used for better weapon purchases. Then there are a bunch of worlds to clear.
Think of it like a typical Mario Bros. game with various themed and colorful worlds and landscapes that need to be conquered by passing the flag at the end. Only in this case you reach that objective with turn-based tactics played on a spread-out map. It’s a lot like the sort of battling you’d undertake in a Fire Emblem or XCOM type of game.
Mario faces three different kinds of contests: clearing an area of foes, making it to a special goal or escorting a character through a specific gauntlet. He gets to choose two friends to help him. Unlocked helpers include the Rabbid Princess Peach and Rabbid Yoshi, as well as the real Peach and Luigi (among others). And they’re linked to their own primary and secondary weapon type, as well as their own specific special ability.
Each character can move once, attack once and use an ability once within a given turn. The game’s goal is to choose the best team for a given challenge and figure out how to use their assortment of weapons and skills to complement each other. You might, for example, aim for a blend of long-range, close-range, and mid-range offense, while adding some healing and defensive abilities in the mix, too.
Of course, there’s still all that trigger-pulling to deal with, too. But the fact is, it’s not as hazard-filled as it might sound. First of all, the weapons are a combination of zapping, hammering and exploding gizmos that feel toy-like rather than firearm-like. Somebody might be tossing a exploding rubber ducky, for instance, or zapping and sticking a foe in place with a blast of honey. We’re hardly in Call of Duty territory here.
And nobody ever dies, either. Instead, the game’s myriad melee thumps and blasts (which we watch from a three-quarter view overhead) merely result in enemies crying out with an exasperated exclamation of “Yipe!” or “Oof!” When good guys are eliminated, they just slump over with a dizzy noggin. It’s also clear that when a merged baddie gets defeated and dissolves from view, he is actually set free and transported back to Princess Peach’s castle to pursue cheerier pursuits.
In fact, in spite of the new tactical flanking and shooting aspect of things (which can feel pretty challenging at times) there’s really nothing all that much more dangerous than a typical Mario-bopped Goomba or a ring-releasing spiky trap.
The only other elements worth noting are a spooky land called the Haunted Slum of Unimaginable Horrors, which features ghost-like creatures that really aren’t all that spooky. We hear uses of “heck” and “jerk” in the dialogue. Then there are the Three Stooges-like Rabbids themselves: Hey, there’s no guarantee that totally insane rabbits won’t hit you with some eye-rolling toilety gags from time to time.
Add it all together and it turns out that Mario handles this gunplay almost as well as he handles a well-thrown barrel. I mean, he’s Mario, right? This little plumber guy can pretty much do anything.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.