Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle Review

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The Mario franchise is no stranger to different genres. Platforming is what the series is known for, but there have been many different types of games. There have been sports, RPGs, and even a dancing game on one occasion. Despite all this however, I don’t think many expected Mario to feature in an XCOM-style adventure. That’s the case with Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. This game was a surprise when it was first announced. Not only is it the hero’s first foray with this kind of battle style, it’s also Mario’s first new game on Nintendo’s latest console, the Switch. Kingdom Battle delivers something special. It’s a unique, fun and sometimes quite challenging game that brings the heavily strategy-based XCOM gameplay into the colorful worlds of Mario and the Rabbids.

The story begins with the Rabbids warping into a human girl’s home. It’s a shame the story never went back there because she being a Mario fan was quite meta. Anyways, the Rabbids eventually warp to the Mushroom Kingdom. Because of one Rabbid’s fiddling of a helmet capable of merging, the Kingdom is now out of whack. Now Mario, the Rabbids and a few other Mushroom heroes go through four worlds to fix the Kingdom. The story is fun and engages the viewer from the start. Of course, part of that enjoyment is going to hinge on the Rabbids. Kids will probably like them, but for older players they can become jarring. Thankfully, the Rabbids never become overbearing. (I’m still wondering why we didn’t get Mario + Rayman instead.)

As fun as the story is, the gameplay is the primary winner here. Chances are if you’ve never played XCOM before, Kingdom Battle might look complex. Kingdom Battle’s gameplay however is quickly understood. By the end of World 1, the player is confident to press on. What makes this style of gameplay truly great is the amount of strategy it requires of the player. Players must make decisions on which weapons to use, which special abilities to implement, (should I heal my guys or make their weapons stronger?) which skills to upgrade, and how to use the environment to their advantage. One example is a battle that featured a Chain Chomp stage hazard. Eventually I figured out that I should use the Chain Chomp to my advantage. Another example of careful strategic planning is a battle that features an environment that circles around. The enemies featured here are mostly powerful Smashers, which do a large amount of damage. They however do not move very far; so players have to carefully maneuver and then attack them.

As one can see, there’s quality strategic play at work in this game. Sadly, quite a few battles are on the easier side. It’s understandable that Kingdom Battle works as an accessible point into the XCOM world, but more battles could have been given a slightly harder push. With that said, the game does feature quite a few genuine challenges that forces players to carefully evaluate their losses and come up with new strategies. When it’s hard, Kingdom Battle is a masterpiece when it comes to strategic play. The final boss heals himself twice, and makes the player ask the questions, “Should I concentrate on the minions and then focus on the boss, or focus all firepower on the boss? Can I do both?” The boss battles are diverse, from Rabbid Kong’s shockwaves to having to turn off the spotlight on Phantom of the Bwahpera.

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To switch things up, the gameplay sometimes features “get to the goal” battles. Instead of fighting enemies, the objective is to get to the appointed yellow area. These were a nice change of pace. It especially gets interesting when you have to escort a non-fighter, such as Toad, to the goal without that character being depleted of his/her health.  While battles are the primary part of the game, you will spend a good amount of time exploring the maps. Here Mario and friends go from level to level often looking for secret areas that can yield artwork, new weapons, and other nifty things. You will also solve puzzles of varying difficulty. They are not a bad way to keep that strategic thinking going between battles.

The soundtrack is wonderfully orchestrated. From the tension-filled ‘Into the Pit’ to the epic ‘Bowser Returns,’ the music in this game is well done. It’s a shame there weren’t many Mario remixes, but since this is a crossover game, it makes sense the soundtrack wouldn’t be 100% focused on delivering Mario-specific themes. There are four worlds to trek through. That sounds like a small number, but each world has nine main sections, and they usually are not short. There are many collectibles to find for completionists. As for multiplayer, there are co-op challenges. That’s fine, but it’s shocking that there isn’t a versus mode. How fun would it be to challenge a sibling or friend whom has come over for some strategic play? Ubisoft made a mistake not implementing a competitive mode.

Overall, Mario + Rabbids is an unexpectedly great crossover. The amount of depth to the gameplay is amazing. Many battles you’ll think up different strategies as you see how far an enemy can move. You’ll use the environment to your advantage (while the computers do the same). The characters have diverse weapons and abilities. I personally liked Rabbid Peach’s heal ability and had her on my team. Maybe you will like Rabbid Yoshi’s Gatling gun-type weapon. There are other things to consider, such as skill points, further adding to the depth. More battles with higher difficultly would have been welcome however, and a lack of competitive multiplayer is almost a crime. Despite those things, Kingdom Battle is definitely worth a look, whether or not you’re familiar with XCOM. If you’re not familiar, this game will give you an appreciation for it.

8.5/10

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Super Smash Bros. For Wii U – A Retrospective

The latest Super Smash Bros. released a little over a year ago. First of course the 3DS version came out, which was certainly fun. The big one however is the one that could be played on the TV screen, which was the long awaited Wii U version. You can find this game being played at some of the biggest fighting game tournaments on the planet, such as EVO and CEO. The series is endearing mainly because we get to see Mario, Link, Pikachu and thanks to Brawl even Sonic duke it out. Since Sakurai officially stated in the last Smash Nintendo Direct that there would be no more DLC or patches coming, I thought it would be good to take a fresh look at the game after all this time.

First, the Gameplay

The main reason why one buys a fighting game is for its gameplay. This of course can be applied for most games, but mainly fighting ones. (For example on the flip side, one buys Beyond Two Souls not for its gameplay, but for its intriguing story.) Smash has kept the formula identical from the first one on the 64 17 years ago. Even to this day, it’s remarkable how unique and frantic the gameplay is. Usually with 2D fighters the characters are closed in with little space to move. (Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Guilty Gear.) But in Smash the characters are generally portrayed small in comparison to the big environment. This gives the player freedom to move around and plan strategies as opposed to just button mashing. The concept of rolling adds another dimension. Another thing is the way a character wins. In the default mode, a character wins not by draining health, but by sending them out of the stage. (Basically a ring out.) The goal is to keep building up damage until one is able to use a powerful attack to send the opponent away. It’s a unique system, and a fun one.

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The gameplay is so good that over the years copycats or games trying emulate the feel of it have surfaced. Some are okay (TMNT Smashup) but some are just bad. (PlayStation All-Stars.) Even with the okay ones, they’re never as good. So the question is why play an average game like Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion when you can play the real deal? Unless one is a big fan of a series, there’s virtually no reason to play any of the emulators.

After playing Smash for Wii U this long, I’m definitely inclined to say that it has just about perfected the formula. After going back to Brawl, Melee, and 64 over the last year, they just feel, for a lack of a better word, dated. I have immense respect for each individual entry and their unique differences. The latest version I feel however combines all the best elements of the entries and removes/alters the worst ones. Brawl for example introduced the concept of tripping. When it first came out it was noticeable, but now after playing Wii U it is supremely noticeable and just bad when going back to it. Interestingly, Brawl also plays slower than Melee. Wii U combines the quickness of Melee and and slowness of Brawl for peak efficiency. One could argue that Melee’s extremely fast gameplay makes it more of a hardcore experience, which could be true. There is no denying however that Wii U is the most easily accessible for newcomers. Characters don’t die as fast, and the addition of  “Max Rage” gives a player down even a hundred damage a shot at making a comeback.

Character balance has always been a key feature in fighting games. Sadly some games feature at least one overpowered character which gives him/her an advantage over others. (Kratos in PlayStation All-Stars.) Smash Bros. has for the most part kept it well balanced. There are however some obvious imperfections. In Melee Pichu’s attacks literally harm the little guy, so there’s no reason why one would want to play as him when Pikachu basically does the same things with no aftereffects. In Brawl Meta Knight had some very overpowered attacks and recovery options which literally made him banned for sometime in competitive play. The new game, while not perfect in this regard, definitely is the best when it comes balance and improvements. For example, I’ve played Mario since 64, and it’s easy to notice the big differences between him in the previous three games and here. Simply put, he plays better. Like I said however, there are some things which aren’t perfect. Mewtwo is so severely light that a counter with Corrin at even under 50% damage is dangerous. (Thankfully, an unexpected balance patch fixed that.) Still, just about each character is on fair ground and brings something unique to the table, which is incredible considering the large amount of characters in the game.

All in all, while maybe not as intense as Melee, I think the gameplay here is certainly the most fun.

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OFFLINE FEATURES

Smash and all other fighting games are made under the premise that you will be battling other people. A game however isn’t a complete package without features one can do by himself/herself. Classic Mode has been a staple in Smash since the very beginning. It’s a fun take on Arcade mode as the player battles through different characters and eventually comes face-to-face with Master Hand. Wii U might have the best one yet, if only because of the twist at the end: Master Core. This fight on higher difficulty settings gives an incredible challenge to even the most seasoned of players. Of course, Classic Mode can become repetitive after awhile, so what else do we have? Like in the previous two games, there’s a lot of fun modes such as Home Run Contest and Multi-Man Mode. Break the Targets also returns in a new form, but is actually far less engaging than previous installments, being basically Angry Birds.

Melee introduced another mode alongside Classic known as Adventure Mode. In the aforementioned game it was fun as it had the players go through dungeons & unique situations such as battling the ReDead in Hyrule, running into the Metal Brothers, and finally battling Giga Bowser. It was a fun sequence of events. Brawl however did something few fighting games have done: provide a cinematic story mode. The Subspace Emissary brought together the characters with incredible cutscenes and an engaging plot. (Which was written by Kazushige Nojima, the Final Fantasy VII writer himself!) This set the bar which few fighting games have raised since. Sadly, Wii U is part of those. Apparently Sakurai didn’t want to do another Subspace-like mode because “Cutscenes can be leaked to YouTube.” That was one of the silliest things I had ever heard. Going by that logic, not many games should have story modes. Instead here we get modes like Crazy Orders, Master Orders, and Smash Tour. The prior two, like Classic, can get repetitive. Smash Tour is only fun with a few others, otherwise alone it greatly drags on. Really, I don’t think anyone would have minded if those three things were replaced by a proper Adventure Mode.

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ONLINE

Playing games online has been a staple for many years now, but it wasn’t until the DS when Nintendo started making use of the technology. Brawl was the first Smash to utilize online features. Sadly if you were looking to play with three others there would almost always be brutal lag. Plus, there wasn’t any kind of trophy or ranking system, which is sad when compared to the online of PlayStation and Xbox. The new game sort of fixes this with the addition of For Glory. For Glory is great in that it provides a fast way to have a one-on-one, doubles, or free-for-for all. Matches literally come usually less than a few seconds. Sadly again there’s virtually no ranking system. We can see our win percentage and our victories/losses, but there’s no way to compare. There’s no sense of leaderboards, which is a true shame. Nintendo really needs to embrace the competitive aspect and let go of the notion that this is a party game.

Later in the game’s life cycle a free update included the addition of Tournament Mode. This was greatly anticipated, because not everyone can make it to in-person tourneys. Sadly, Tournament Mode ended up being a disappointment. The main thing is that the way to win besides KOing the opponent off the stage is to do the most damage. This system has proven broken to the point where you’re not even sure sometimes if you’ve won. It can be fun once in awhile, but it’s just really a wasted opportunity. To add even more disappointment, the tournaments a player can host aren’t even real tournaments. If Nintendo had given more freedom to the players in this mode, the complaints would have quieted down.

The absolute worst aspect however of online is that lag is present. It isn’t there all the time, but you’ll almost certainly run into it on a daily basis, sometimes to the point where even the inputs are delayed. You won’t find this almost at all on Sony or Microsoft fighting games. Nintendo truly deserves a thumbs down for not providing dedicated servers. At the very least, playing online with friends always provides some of the most fun one can have.

CHARACTERS AND STAGES

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The main appeal of crossovers naturally are having characters whom don’t normally interact come together. In the case of Smash, it’s a dream to be able to have Mario duke it out with Sonic. This game features the largest cast yet, and that’s not even counting the DLC fighters. The most impressive aspect as I mentioned earlier is that just about every character brings something unique to the table. From PAC-MAN’s mix-ups with his fruit selection to Mega Man’s onslaught of projectiles, there’s an amazing variety. It’s still not perfect however. The logic in having some of these characters in it is questionable. For example, Marth and Lucina literally have the same exact moveset. At least with Mario and Doctor Mario they’re at different speeds and have a couple of different attacks. That’s not the case here. One of Olimar’s alt costumes is Alph, and Bowser Jr. has seven different alt costume characters, but they don’t take up different slots. There’s no reason why Lucina couldn’t have been an alt to Marth; she’s the definition of wasted space. It’s the same with Pit and Dark Pit. How does Dark Pit get to be in the game and Dark Samus (a character whom has appeared in three games) just an Assist Trophy?

Despite some of these complaints, the cast is still impressive. It’s fun learning the different movesets, and then picking your main. There’s never been a fighting game with characters as diverse as in here. Now, let’s talk a little bit about the DLC characters.

Mewtwo, Lucas, Ryu, Cloud, Bayonetta, and Corrin are the downloadable fighters. Interestingly Nintendo had always been seemingly against the concept of DLC until recently. DLC has definitely worked out for this game. I do not understand why if Lucas and Mewtwo can be brought back, Wolf couldn’t make it. Corrin to me is still questionable, since Fire Emblem already has enough representatives while Metroid still only has one. (Zero Suit doesn’t count as a separate character in my book.) Having Ryu and Cloud definitely makes up for that. It’s intriguing how Smash has managed to acquire so many third party characters. At this rate, we’ll have Master Chief interacting with Crash Bandicoot in the next one.

How can I forget the Mii Fighters? We have Mii Brawler, Mii Swordfighter, and Mii Gunner. They’re fun little additions but I don’t think anyone would have minded if we got 1 real character over them.

On the outside the stage selection looks impressive. When you look at them individually however you can see that at least half of them are old. Hyrule Temple and Castle Siege are must-haves of course, but do we really need two Mario circuits? And Earthbound’s only stage is an old one? This aspect of the game appears more on the lazy side. This is not to deny the fact that there are some impressive new additions. Orbital Gate Assault always provides an intense amount of fun, and Palutena’s Temple surpasses Hyrule Temple for Smash’s biggest stage! (Not to mention the unique Great Cave Offensive.)

DLC also added a few new additions. 64 got an especially amount of love, bringing back Peach Castle, Temple, and Dreamland. While each stage we got was unique and fun, it seems like there could have been a lot more put there since the “extra” section looks like it can hold a bunch.

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CUSTOMS

Customs might be the most controversial aspect of the game. On the outside the concept is fun: we get to see different versions of the attacks for the characters. (Mario can shoot a giant, slow fireball or a tiny quick one for example.) These are fun with friends, but the question ever since the backlash at last year’s EVO is should they be allowed in competitive play? I’m inclined to say no, because it’s virtually impossible to train against custom movesets. (They aren’t allowed on For Glory for example.) So while customs is definitely a fun thing, I don’t think anyone will really miss it too much if the next game didn’t have it.

COMPETITIVE SCENE

I’ve been a gamer for over 15 years, yet I’ve almost never been in actual competitive play, until this game. (I did however participate and win a local Brawl tournament back in the day.) So it’s been quite interesting to be part of tournaments such as KTAR, and soon APEX. It’s a shame Nintendo, or at least Sakurai, seemingly wants the game to not be in competitive play. There are tournaments all over, which shows just how much of a cultural impact the series has. I attend a bi-weekly tourney at a Friendly’s restaurant some minutes away, and it’s always great to test my ability against others. Even if you’re a casual player, I think it would be good to attend at least one tournament. It’s always a worthwhile experience.

Like all fan-bases, nothing is perfect. Almost at every tournament scene you will find people whom get “salty” and make it an annoyance  to play against. Instead of helping out other players and giving advice, sometimes the very experienced and winners can have a superiority attitude, which is unfortunately found a lot on the Smash Ladder website. Despite these things, the community is still great to be a part of. What beats talking Smash?

Everything Else!

Brawl introduced the idea of creating your own levels to fight on in the form of Stage Builder. It was really neat, and Wii U took it another step since we can actually draw the stage out. This has led to incredible creations such as pixel art and remakes of older stages, such as Corneria. While I do miss the ability to add ice platforms, moving platforms, and ladders, the possibilities for drawing make up for it. The music selection is, as always, fantastic. We have a healthy mix of originals and remixes. The items are some of the best yet. We have for example Master Balls in addition to the normal Pokemon ones. (Seeing Goldeen pop out of a Master always brings quality laughter.) The most monumental item however must be the S-Flag, which completely changes the game every time it appears.

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Super Smash Bros. is one of the few games a people can go hours and hours playing without the fun level dropping. As a whole package it lacks in a few areas, but at its core the gameplay is some of the best, if not the very best in the genre. Almost every day I play online with my cousins and the fun never for a moment ceases. A little over a year later and the game has only grown. If you haven’t picked it up yet, it’s definitely one of the biggest highlights on the console.

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