'Mario+Rabbids: Kingdom Battle' full of chaos, familiarity, unexpected fun

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Quirky, whimsical, and unpredictable aren’t usually words used to describe a game featuring Mario. “Mario+Rabbids: Kingdom Battle” takes the intrepid plumber to new areas by adding a dose of Rabbids to spice up the scene.

Those crazy, screaming Rabbids hijack a headset device, called a SuperMerge, that blends things together but is apparently still a work in progress. By opening a portal to the Mushroom Kingdom with their Time Washing Machine, the Rabbids unleash their brand of mayhem, chaos, and slapstick humor on Mario and his friends.

Rather than save a princess, Mario, Peach, Luigi, and Yoshi join up with four Rabbids who mimic their Nintendo heroes in a very twisted way to set things right in the Mushroom Kingdom. The meetings with their doppelgangers is funny.

The merging headset is affixed to the head of a cowardly Rabbid named Spawny, who is used by Bowser Jr. to remake the Mushroom Kingdom in his own vision and try to impress his father. While the environments are achingly familiar with pipes, coins, and the princess’s castle, there is a layer of insanity over the kingdom as recognizable elements get the Rabbid treatment.

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Led by Meep-0, a Roomba-looking piece of tech with rabbit ears, squads of three heroes head out to do battle against themed versions of Rabbids, including some oversized versions that have some peculiar ties to Nintendo characters.

The combat uses a turn-based strategy system that rewards using cover for defense and has weapons with special abilities that can push, drain, or set on fire opponents. In addition, there are also movement based attacks, dashing or jumping, that can be chained together for devastating effects. Just pay attention to where you end up.

Fighting has been compared to X-COM, and it is a fair comparison. However, the game is more than just fighting. There are also puzzle solving elements, challenging players to think their way to gain additional powers and bonuses.

The different characters all have their strengths in what weapons they can wield, and they can improve other abilities by using orbs that are collected after mission completions. Coins collected on the battlefield and rewarded at the end of worlds can be spent to improve primary or secondary weapons.

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The game is broken down into worlds, much like other Mario games, with different sections in each world. However, there is a free-flowing element between the worlds, allowing for repeated exploration of cleared areas.

This is good, because there are some areas that can only be accessed after a world has been completed. Destroying a block, moving and placing a statue, and other environmental effects will allow those areas to be reached after a new ability is learned.

I really enjoyed how the combat played out, rewarding me for smart strategy and punishing me for making foolish mistakes. The ability to combo through movement, jumping, and shooting let me deal out a lot of damage on more powerful foes but only if I made the right moves.

It is very cute to see how familiar items in the Magic Kingdom get twisted around and become something more humorous. The comedy borders on Dad jokes territory sometimes, eliciting groans but always a smile.

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To call this a Mario game would be fair but also slightly inaccurate. While the Nintendo characters do stay true to how we all remember them, they also have experiences which develop them a little more, in to something a bit different.

Princess Peach shooting a gun or Boo acting as a teleporter are just a few ways the game turns convention on its head in more obvious ways. The Rabbids, for all their wacky ways, are the perfect mix to loosen up the Nintendo gang.

The combat is well balanced and requires planning. Wading straight into battles without forethought is likely to end in disaster. Always seek cover and the high ground whenever possible, because the foes will be doing the same thing.

And never split the party. Nothing good ever comes of that. The three characters in the squad work best when they work together.

“Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle” is a wonderful turn-based, exploration game that uses familiarity (Mario) as a tool to create new experiences by the introduction of a little bit of chaos (Rabbids). There is always something more to see in the environments, and the characters’ physical interactions are very funny.

Because of the restricted areas through the first playthrough, there will be a lot of opportunities to find new things through subsequent plays. New skills learned will open up new areas.

A co-op area has players battling for supremacy against one another online. However, this seemed like a throwaway area and didn't really excite me in any meaningful way. I would much rather play in the campaign to experience the entirety of the humor and combat. 

There is joy in the Magic Kingdom and fun around every corner. Plan your moves during combat, explore everywhere in between, and always pay attention to the cut scenes. You will be glad you did.

"Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle" is available now, exclusively for the Nintendo Switch. It is rated E10+ for everyone 10 years of age or older due to cartoon violence, comic mischief, and mild language. This post was done using a provided digital download code.