People never ask me the question: "Is reviewing a title from a genre you like and pretending to evaluate it fairly difficult."
The answer is, yeah - it kind of is. I haven't documented it here (but maybe I should) of my fondness for the XCOM series. The way it draws you in, keeps you invested and has a strong core gameplay loop. It's not hard to explain why it's good either. Both of the game's distinct phases are good - the basebuilding is solid and the combat is layered and rich.
Which then begs the question. What happens, in the same game, when the complexity is scaled down (only slightly), one gameplay loop remains strong and the other one becomes weak.
Well, the answer is surprisingly simple - and yet requires some more explanation. You get Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle.
Outside of XCOM, which nearly never made it to the big screen as it wasn't seen as a game people would want to buy, there's nothing like Kingdom Battle. It's not an XCOM clone - though it uses similar mechanics. There's levels of cover, tech trees, different types of weapons and ingame currency to collect to further develop your team of characters.
Whilst I'm sure most folk would look at the twee box art and assume this to be some kind of game for children, like most Nintendo games, that's only half true. The violence is played down and the elements you inflict on your Rabbid opponents have (mostly) hilarious interactions, like a Rabbid with its arse on fire. But underneath that colorful, jovial exterior lies a game with surprising depth. That comes with the proviso that this game is not for everyone. Which makes its existence all the more surprising.
Much like XCOM, the combat gameplay loop revolves around encounters with the 'enemy'. In this case, various subtypes of Rabbids. There's the bog standard Ziggy, scaling all the way up to the mighty Queen. Each one is clearly introduced and you're never taken by surprise - mostly. There are cover mechanics, weapon subtypes and different kinds of damage.
Where the two title series diverge is that XCOM is all about random encounters. You know there are some aliens, but your information is never perfect. Kingdom Battle is a far more linear experience - there are four different worlds (five with the DLC - stay tuned) and each has a series of preplanned encounters with different mission objectives. There's a miniboss halfway through each world and a boss fight at the end.
Outside of the combat, you explore each world, dealing with the consequences of the Mushroom Kindgom turned upside down by the Rabbids. There are landmarks, a quaint roomba guide and puzzles to solve. Whilst the puzzles help to provide punctuation between the encounters in each world, they do just enough to make you yearn for the next combat encounter. It's not a bad technique by any stretch - and it works for the game - but considering XCOM's near-perfect dual loops, it doesn't quite hit the spot in the same way.
Finally, we find ourselves at the meat and potatoes of the combat. There are eight characters in the game, each with their own set of unique abilities. There are some shared weapon types, but each character has their own set of weapons. Bog standard coins become the currency, alongside mysterious glowing purple orbs which help develop character skills. It is a source of some despair that you cannot construct a team entirely of one family of characters or another and that Mario MUST be in your party, which I feel limits the gameplay unnecessarily - particularly as you are limited to three characters in your party at any one time.
Where Kindgom Battle really excels is its ability to weave in all the competing elements. There are two different IPs at play here inside a completely new turn-based strategy shell. But it all feels natural - something that very well could've derailed the experience entirely. It's impressive that Nintendo handed over the keys to the Kingdom to Ubisoft and let them run wild with their vision for the game. But the characters don't lose their identity in the chaos. Each character feels unique and brings something to the table. Though in the end you will eventually feel comfortable with a particular strategy, there's flexibility to adjust your team and their skills on the fly. Though as mentioned above, having 2/3rds of your team decided before you fire a blaster in anger is annoying.
And - I cannot state this enough - it all just works.
Kingdom Battle's game's story elements are assembled in a way that immerses the player into the strange universe created by accident. It's reasonably airtight - and whilst the narrative components of the game are simple and for children - it doesn't overplay its hand. The story is there to facilitate an experiment. Which it does masterfully. From the beginning of Kindgom Battle I know where I am, what's happening around me and why Mario and his troupe of Rabbid lookalikes are gunning down Rabbids with wild abandon.
So do I recommend Mario + Rabbids? Absolutely. To the right person (me) this'll feel like crack cocaine - it'll tickle just the right nerve receptors.
My personal biases meant I loved the blending of RPG elements like buying new weapons and learning new skills. This was then coupled with the surprisingly challenging gameplay and the pleasant upbeat nature of the game. Kingdom Battle knows it's an experiment and doesn't take itself too seriously. The combat encounters are planned and balanced well - although there is sometimes the issue that you must have certain characters to beat certain challenges. But it's hardly a dealbreaker.
But what this shows is that Nintendo is, mostly, prepared to take more risks than its competitors. It understands its role as a platform owner and realises that it needs to make good, actual video games to sell its console. Time and tme again, I find myself gravitating toward titles on the Switch because it's where the best games are. I'm not sure to think that sad, or encouraging - because outside that bubble, modern gaming has issues.
One last thing, before I go (assuming you read this far down). I want to play and review the DLC for Kingdom Battle seperately. I'd like to stick my hand out to you, my loyal viewerbase, to ask for your assistance in helping me pay for it. If you don't want to, that is absolutely fine. But I'd love a few bucks here or there. Just this once - maybe more if this works, eh?
Catch you next time,
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