Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle hands-on

Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the French bunnies.

I was a hater.

Technically, probably, I still am. I've always hated the Rabbids.

But, after leak after leak after leak, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle was finally, officially revealed at E3 last week for the Nintendo Switch. I got to play it. And guess what? I’m in for this one. And that’s coming from somebody who isn’t just neutral about, but actively dislikes, the Rabbids. Those zany little rabbits just may have gotten me.  

Kingdom Battle – developed by Ubisoft – brings together the Rabbids with Mario and company from Nintendo’s own Mushroom Kingdom. But this isn’t your regular Mario platforming adventure, nor is it the turn-based battles from the Paper Mario series. This time, things are going tactical, baby.

Kingdom Battle places Mario into a turn-based, tactical RPG. On a grid, and everything. And, battle system aside, there are other ways this isn't your usual Mario game: In one area I walked through, a giant toilet with a rubber duck floating in it sat in the background. It was funny. Maybe you had to be there. Another area had Goombas just chilling around on spilled paint.

In battle, character movement is on a grid, like XCOM or the tactical Holy Grail that is Final Fantasy Tactics. Elements are strewn throughout the map to allow for cover. You control your characters, trying to get them close enough to attack the enemy. Units seemed to have a pretty wide range of movement across the board, but for even more distance, you can also use other characters as launch pads to move farther along the map. Percentages above the enemy’s heads will show the chance you have of an attack hitting an opponent. Enemies can, of course, also take cover, but you are able to blast that away, as well.

Blasting? Yup. For weapons, players aren't using fire flowers or other Mushroom Kingdom staples. Instead, everybody is using guns. Blasters. Mario with guns. The age-old joke has finally come into reality.

Each character has a different weapon – for example, the Rabbid dressed up as Peach had a Rainbow Runner (Flavor text: “Bad guy trouble melts like lemon drops and dreams of butt kickings really do come true over THIS rainbow”), and you can unlock additional weapons to buy. Along with the gun attacks, characters have various techniques, such as healing. Players can also speed up the game’s battle pace, if they wish.

One particular nitpick I had with the demo was the absence of an enemy’s range view, something that most other tactical games tend to have; it would be helpful if you could highlight and see the enemy’s range of attack and movement when you are deciding where to move your own units. You can see this info before a battle begins, but it looks like you cannot access that information during an actual battle on a turn-by-turn basis, and that could be a big issue. I also kind of wish the game had a secondary prompt to confirm attacking a unit before the attack actually happens.

However, I am a big tactics fan, even though that isn’t the only reason to pay attention to Kingdom Battle. Grant Kirkhope, the composer of some of my favorite videogame music, is also doing the score here, bringing the composer of games like Banjo-Kazooie and Goldeneye to the Mario series for the first time.

I’m not trying to shy away from it: I questioned Nintendo letting Mario join forces with the Rabbids. And it looks like I was wrong. While it has been long thought KingdomBattle would be an odd partnership it seems, at least so far, that it is worth keeping an eye on. It won't be long until the game comes out on Nintendo Switch on August 29. Bring on the Rabbids.