Editor’s Note: After the game’s original release, this review has been updated following the release of the major Donkey Kong Adventure expansion pack as well as numerous free updates to all customers which reflects on the overall score, and final verdict.
While Mario and the gang managed to save the day in the original game against the SupaMerge wielding Rabbid and Bowser Jr, all is not done in the kingdom. This time, chaos hits the Kong world, which sees Donkey Kong joining hands with Rabbid Peach and Rabbid Cranky to stop one of the first bosses of the main game: Rabbid Kong. The latter ends up being sucked in that world with Rabbid Peach due to yet another Browser Jr and SupaMerge Rabbid shenanigan, and our Rabbid Kong gets even mightier, wrecking havoc, leading the natives to collect contaminated bananas that boost their powers.
Donkey Kong Adventure continues the exact structure of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, with a series of travels throughout the kingdom, spread by optional puzzles, and a series of turn-based tactical fights. The exploration of this small Donkey Kong themed world though removes puzzle chests containing new weapons, but there are enough collectibles to entertain the completionist in you. It is obviously the fights that take up most of the time of play of this Donkey Kong Adventure, but there’s a major difference with the core game on that front. You see, this side adventure is part of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, the only playable characters here are just Donkey Kong, Rabbid Peach, and Rabbid Cranky, with the latter having her previous arsenal gone (including skills). The other part is that the combat is also reduced in terms of content, now each world ending after five fights.
The real star of this new expansion is definitely Donkey Kong, which adds a new layer of strategies because he has never-been-seen skills. The king of the jungle can grab almost any element on the set, whether it is cover blocks, or even enemies and allies. This can be used to either get an ally away from danger, closer to an enemy, or best thing smash another Rabbid into an opponent like some weird game of volleyball. In terms of mobility, he can also use dandelions to jump from one elevated spot to another, thanks to special paths marked by a DK blue arrow tip. Finally, his other means of fighting are a boomerang that can link to multiple targets, a ground slam that hits multiple Rabbids with an AOR attack, congas that attract enemies toward him and finally a similar ability to Mario’s Hero Sight. The other new character is old Rabbid Cranky which I absolutely loved in terms of design, shoots with a sort of crossbow that fires shotgun shot (like Mario Rabbids Boomshot), secondary “mortar” shots, blast while being tossed in the air, and finally a yawn ability that can push everyone around to take a forced nap.
Sadly, this new adventure is easier than the original game so, but certainly not inferior in terms of quality. As said before, Donkey Kong Adventure is the result of a series of beautiful impulses. Ubisoft Milan worked hard on some new enemies, but there’s still a sense of being overpowered, especially when you get to the point of learning the abuse you can do with Donkey Kong’s high mobility and Rabbid Cranky’s skills. That being said, there’s some additional gameplay mechanics that were added to some fights which require extra planning, such as new requirements like collecting pieces of the Washing Machine from Rabbid enemies, getting rid of contaminated banana caches, or eliminate carrying Rabbids before they reach a certain point on the level. Not going to say that the game’s newest adventure is easy, but in the end, I had no true difficulty getting full golden cup awards on every level in my first try in less than 5 hours.
On the other hand, the Donkey Kong kingdom is pleasing to the eye, full of funny details, reference to the Donkey Kong game different worlds and we feel that the people at Ubisoft Milan and Paris were having fun with it, topped with the amazing compositions of Grant Kirkhope. It’s hard not to remind that the composer’s first job in the gaming industry was with Rare, the team behind numerous Donkey-Kong led game.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle: Donkey Kong Adventure was reviewed using a Nintendo Switch downloadable code of the game provided by Ubisoft Middle East. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published (click here for more information about our review policy).
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle – The Original Review published on August 28th, 2017
If Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry or the Just Dance franchise are key names that come to mind when we talk about Ubisoft in recent years, the independent developer and publisher has also built up a small reputation for taking risks, especially with new franchises in the turn-based strategy genre such as the amazingly beautiful Child of Light, South Park: The Stick of Truth (and upcoming sequel), and of course their headlight franchise Heroes of Might and Magic. So now comes a brand new entry in their turn-based strategy catalog, a fun collaboration between Ubisoft and Nintendo, and a first time the mustachioed plumber and friends are in a Western game non-developed by the Japanese giant: Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle.
The story of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is pretty simple. Down in her basement, a young girl and her AI assistant Beep-O are trying to optimize her latest invention known as the SupaMerge helmet, an advanced goggle device that can fuse two objects together in hope to solve the world’s energy crisis. Sadly, that helmet will fall in the hands of time-travelling Rabbids, who will then SupaMerge everything in the basement, including Mario figurines and posters, thus hitting the Mushroom Kingdom with a mysterious vortex. The result is the strange Mushroom Kingdom merged with Rabbids, and let by Beep-O, Mario, and friends, as well as cosplaying Mario-themed Rabbids will have to put back in order.
The core of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle gameplay is a turn-based tactical strategy game. The story lets you travel to 4 different worlds, each split into 10 sections (including a mid-boss and end boss), which has riddles and exploration sequences to find all sorts of collectibles, coins, and weapons. After each exploration part, you’ll eventually find battle areas, which are resolved in turn-based combat with three of your picked characters and have to sequence your actions correctly and make the right tactical decisions. It will be up to you to decide on either dashing on your enemies and hammer him down, or on the contrary, stay at a distance by taking advantage of the map’s element which acts a defensive barricade. Even within the first hours of the game, you’ll notice that while the core actions in the combat are simple, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a very complex and demanding title. If the first missions are relatively easy to finish, the latter levels starting in World 2 (Sherbert Desert) are extremely technical, and you will probably have to replay them numerous times to eventually continue on, or more if you want a perfect score (which is done by finishing the battle with a certain amount of turns and no character KOd).
If the possible combat actions in the first part of the game are rather simple, such as moving around, hiding behind a low wall, firing with a blaster, tackling an enemy within range or jumping on an ally to gain a movement boost, it eventually becomes a combo fiesta of defensive and offensive maneuver, that will help your team finish a battle. Eventually, Mario and friends will get abilities that buff allies with damage boosts, super effect resistance (debuffs), but also attract surrounding enemies with the Rabbid Mario’s Magnet Dance to combo eventually with a Melee Hammer attack, or on the contrary push away enemies that are getting too close with Rabbid Yoshi’s Scaredy Rabbid technique. The entire palette of techniques per characters is subject to cooldown ranging from 1 to 3 rounds, which will force you to really pre-plan ahead of time.
Similarly, the choice of weapons becomes more important as one advance in the game, especially because of the larger amount of special enemies, which can be very deadly if you don’t pay attention, such as Smasher Rabbids that rush down to counterattack your teammates when hit with weapons. Eventually, the more advanced blasters and other weapons that can be bought between fights will have extra stats such as higher damage on specific Rabbid types, but also higher chance to inflict debuffs including Ink Damage (blinding characters and depriving them of weapon attacks), burn damage, freeze and so on. The weapons are numerous and varied, rounding an impressive total of over 250 different ones, as well as the secondary weapon which are melee hammers, explosive trap, rocket launchers, and remote bombs.
Like any proper tactical RPG, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle has a plethora of skills to unlock for each of the 8 playable characters in the game, via a skill tree, which optimizes combos, synergies between other characters, passive skills but also more direct permanent boosts to health. Those are activated whenever you want in the skill tree, with the ability to optimize characters with weapons, combos, synergies and even talent trees, with dozens of micro skills. Topped with all the weapons you get, and different combinations of teams of 3, customization and strategies are infinite.
Each Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle’s turns are done via a sequence of three actions for each of your characters: movement, main or secondary weapon attack and finally activation of special techniques. It is up to you to order your sequences of actions and your positioning, which will affect a lot of things considering all the different automated skills that can help you out. If the first battles in world 1 (Ancient Garden) pit our heroes in a sort of long tutorial, the challenge becomes definitely tougher as we get to the second, third and fourth world of the game. While the first world has minimalist challenges usually design with up to two zones of combat, with couple of warp pipe to move faster on the battlefield, the latter worlds have more complex terrain, spread out like mini-islands which will require moving smartly thanks to the same pipes or team jumps (a sort of boosted jump powered by another character). On top of the complexity of these maps, the later worlds have “environmental” hazards which can do some serious damage to both yourself and your enemies, such as the Pyro Clast showers (meteor showers) in world 4.
In terms of artistic direction and technical performance, I got to say that Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is one good-looking game. Colors are crisp and vibrant, and whether you play the game on handheld or dock mode, there’s not a single stutter or frame drop. The title remains faithful to the enchanting universe of Nintendo and Mario’s universe, paired with the goofiness of the Rabbids and their chaotic elements. Each of the 4 worlds and the main hub (Peach’s castle) are a bliss to look at, and there are so many fun little easter eggs scattered around the vista, which are complemented by an amazing soundtrack. Composed by Grant Kirkhope, better known for his work on a lot of Rare games such as Viva Pinata which got him nominated for a BAFTA in 2007, his tunes are quirky and fun, but can turn into epic melodies such as the boss fights and including an original opera song in World 3, which I will let you discover as it was a delight.
As mentioned before, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle has exploration phases between battles, and once you finish a world by beating its end boss, you’ll be able to revisit it to discover hidden puzzles or mini-games that you might have missed on the way. That includes riddles that will require you to come back with new Beep-O skills such as the ability to push crates to open new passages and reach to crates that can usually have collectibles such as game artwork, soundtracks and 3D dioramas of key characters in the game. On top of that, there are mini-games known as Bug Zone which require you to collect purple coins and remind us of the old generation of Nintendo titles, plus secret hidden chapters to unlock.
To make the game more user-friendly, Ubisoft has even decided to add a turn-based cooperative mode which unlocks gradually more maps and challenges as you finish new worlds in the main story mode. While the intention is good, the duration of the battles are too long and sometimes become laborious. You will have to organize yourself with your ally, alternating your turns, which does not add much in terms of gameplay, accept new maps.
At launch, you’ll be able to gain access to 16 different battle maps played with either two joy-cons, or any supported Nintendo Switch controllers, where each player now controls a pair of character (4 in total). The challenges are mainly of the same type as the single player battles including escort, kill X amount of enemies or reach a certain zone on the map. It is a shame that there’s no online co-op mode, as I would’ve loved to play with my friends abroad, but with the fact that the Nintendo Switch is such an easy going handheld console, I shouldn’t nag much.
Aside from this simple defect, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is probably one of the best turn-based tactical RPG games I’ve played in a long time. There’s so much effort and love put in this title, giving us a unique experience full of memorable heroes and great gameplay.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle was reviewed using a Nintendo Switch downloadable code of the game provided by Ubisoft Middle East. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published (click here for more information about our review policy).
• Well-designed stages and worlds
• An unlikely fusion of both Mario and Rabbids styles
• Great mix of exploration and turn-based tactical combat
• A plethora of characters skill combinations and weapons
• Lots of things to collect
• No online coop mode
• Season pass needed for more coop and singleplayer content