'Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle' might be the next big hit for Nintendo's Switch

Nintendo’s Mario is teaming up with Ubisoft’s bizarre rabbids in a new game that might be your next favorite Switch title.Mario is coming to Nintendo’s (NTDOY) new Switch console, but he’s sharing the spotlight with some relative unknowns. Ubisoft’s “Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle” is a turn-based strategy-style game co-starring Ubisoft’s (UBSFF) own rabbids, cartoonish bugged-eyed rabbits.

It’s a bizarre mash-up to be sure, but it somehow works surprisingly well. And while I was certainly hesitant about the title when Ubisoft first debuted it during E3 2017, but I’m changing my tune after spending about three hours with Mario and the rabbids.

Not your typical Mario game

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The first thing you need to understand about “Mario + Rabbids” is that it isn’t your typical Mario game. You’re not going to spend your time jumping from platform to platform, smashing goombas and kicking turtle shells.

Instead, you’ll take control of Mario and up to two other teammates, including rabbids cosplaying as Mario characters, as you traverse various areas of the Mushroom Kingdom. Of the lot, my favorite is the sassy Rabbid Peach and her expert selfie-snapping skills.

You’ll need to plot out your moves, though, as you can only move your team a certain number of spaces along the checkerboard-style battle area and attack a certain number of times before your turn is over and the enemies take over.

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Who are your enemies? Evil rabbids, though they’re likely being manipulated by a greater, more dangerous force. I didn’t get a chance to dig into the backstory for the game too much.

What I did get to dig into, though, was a Mushroom Kingdom that is every bit as fully realized as those seen in traditional standalone Mario titles. Ubisoft pours on the love with references to Nintendo’s characters and games throughout “Mario + Rabbids.” There’s even a special Broadway-inspired tune one enemy sings that will bring a smile to any Nintendo fan’s face.

A different kind of Mario game

Your goal in “Mario + Rabbids” is to defeat the evil rabbids that are running amuck in the Mushroom Kingdom, and to do that you’ll need some serious firepower, literally.

In “Mario + Rabbids,” Mario and his two other party members do battle using specialized guns that warp the evil rabbids they encounter out of the world. As you progress through the game, you’ll unlock new, more powerful guns that have varying affects on your enemies. Get a gun that has a honey modifier on it and you’ll have a chance to hit the bad guys with a blast of honey that keeps them from being able to move for one turn.

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“Mario + Rabbids” also mixes in elements of traditional role-playing games, such as a skill tree that lets you outfit your team with special abilities that compliment their play style. Mario, who serves as the leader, can; for example, fire off rounds at enemies during their movement phase, while Rabbid Peach, a healer, can cast a spell to restore your crew’s hit points.

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Luigi is a kind of sniper, so he can blast baddies from a distance, but has a lower amount of health and Rabbid Yoshi is a tank, which means he can take a lot of hits and deals a lot of damage, but can’t move as many spaces as his teammates.

The thinking players’ Mario

Movement in the game comes down to the number of on-screen squares your particular character can traverse in a single round. During your movement phase you can dash and trip up enemies, bounce off of your teammates to move greater distances or jump to higher ground and duck behind cover in a single motion. That last part is particularly important, as leaving one of your teammates out in the open is sure to get them knocked out, and fast.

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After your movement phase you can perform a special move, like Rabbid Peach’s heal, followed by your attack. You don’t have to complete your movement, attack, or special move in any set order, and can, in fact, move between characters without finishing all of your phases. This helps give the game a more elastic feel than more rigid-style turn-based games.

The game eases you into the play style, but as you progress through levels, the difficulty ramps up considerably, and you’ll need to survey the stage to determine how best to proceed. Make a move without thinking it through, and you could fail the level and be forced to start over.

Will you want it?

We’re still a few weeks away from “Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle’s” August 29 release, and I’ve only gotten to play a small sampling of the game. But from what I’ve seen, Ubisoft seems to have created a Mario crossover that shows as much love for the plumber as his own parent company would.

From the silly comic relief of the rabbids to the excitement of completing a particularly difficult level and the local, yes local, co-op play, “Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battles” is shaping up to be the kind of late-summer gaming hit you’ve been looking for.

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Email Daniel at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.

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