‘Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle’ Hands-On at E3 Is a Surprise Hit

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Ubisoft has traded radio towers for big green pipes in an XCOM-like in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, starring Nintendo’s iconic characters and the publishers own madcap mascots.

I hated Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle when I first laid eyes upon it. While I’m a huge fan of the world’s most popular plumber, I find unanesthetized dental surgery more appealing than Ubisoft’s Rabbids that most resemble Dreamworks’ little yellow abominations. The Rabbids seem tailor-made to irritate anyone over the age of nine, and the prospect of spending any amount of time in their virtual presence sent shivers of dread down my spine. I initially looked at the mash-up with what we’ll call a “healthy skepticism.”

Then, I played it.

I have a real problem now. You see, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle wasn’t just good; it was great. I’m still not sure how it happened, but Ubisoft has somehow managed a delightful take on the Mushroom Kingdom and its denizens while incorporating the products of the world’s worst marketing scheme in a way that was genuinely appealing.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle takes place in an alternate reality where the Mushroom Kingdom has been invaded by the chaotic Rabbids. Mario and his friends must unite with a few of the “good” Rabbids to save their overrun home through a mix of explorations, puzzle-solving, and tactical gameplay.

The game borrows heavily from the modern XCOM games. And by borrow, I mean this is something very close to “XCOM: Mushroom Kingdom and Also Rabbids Edition.” Yet somehow, it manages to do this in the best way possible. The action is fast-paced and comical, with all sorts of unique ways in which you can interact with your chosen squad. Moving through their space will allow you to bounce off of them, and moving through an enemies’ allows for a sort of “hit and run” that allows you the opportunity to regain cover.

Turn-based combat allows you to control your squad of both Nintendo and Rabbid versions of famous characters, all wielding ridiculous weapons. Yes, this is a reality in which Mario’s got a gun. It feels a little weird, but it is all played with the same light-hearted shtick. It works, even though it shouldn’t. Also, the Luigi Rabbid looks like a direct reference to the awesomely bad 90’s Super Mario Bros. Movie. Sold.

Between bouts of combat, exploration and dialogue are punctuated by relatively simple but amusing environmental puzzles. Characters level up and develop their skills as well as find new and unique weapons with different traits and abilities. It’s every bit as deep as you would expect from XCOM.

All told, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle was some of the most fun I had at this year’s E3. It went from giving me hives to being another strong argument for me purchasing a Nintendo Switch when it releases on August 29, 2017. If the full game can deliver on the promise of that initial taste, we’re looking at a dark horse contender for strategy game of the year.

No, I never thought I’d be saying that, either.

Follow Nate Church @Get2Church on Twitter for the latest news in gaming and technology, and snarky opinions on both.

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