Has it really been five years since Kingdom Battle?! No wonder the sequel we’ve been playing for a few hours feels so polished. The Ubisoft-Nintendo collab has gone from strong… to even stronger with Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope.
Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is being (rightly) touted by Ubisoft as a “tactical adventure,” with a noticeable effort to elevate the latter. It is tapping into the open-world appeal of current generation RPGs and it is more immersive and atmospheric with a greater sense of scale. As such, from the beginning, admiring comparisons to XCOM are not as helpful, since now there is potential for broader appeal.
Watch our gameplay preview below
An adventure this is then, and of “cosmic scale” it does seem. Meaning plenty more environmental distractions along the lines of what you might expect from Mario. It’s more enticing. More flowing.
Briefly, for the uninitiated, this Mario + Rabbids concept is the, um, unholy marriage of Nintendo’s Super Mario with Ubisoft’s insane Rabbids. This could have resulted in anything, really: party game, puzzle game, Just Dance 99, but instead it became crazy-land XCOM. So, tactical turn-based battles.
Bizarrely it works! More so now that there’s a kind of Kingdom Hearts vibe going on, with moody cinematic sequences to dramatize proceedings. The JRPG effect is also helped along by composer Yoko Shimomura’s music, invited to accompany Ori’s Gareth Coker and legendary Grant Kirkhope. So, well, instead of Disney characters we get the Rabbids, as hilariously awkward cosplay versions of their illustrious counterparts. You’d feel bad telling them that they don’t belong. And we like silly.
Two new Rabbid Heroes join the roster for Sparks of Hope: Rabbid Rosalina, and Edge. We only met Edge during our hands-on. Think Wyldstyle (Lucy) from the LEGO movies, meets Cloud Strife. Maybe. Edge gets right up in the bad guys’ faces with her gigantic sword, launching floor-shaking attacks that you can only imagine hurt a lot. Everything Edge does is extra cool, bordering on ridiculous with stylish moves and animation adding some badass flair to her attacks.
You may also know that Bowser is inbound for launch, with Rayman expected in a DLC sometime in the future. That’s all we know too at this stage. In terms of other characters, our focus was more on the new enemies.
Cursa is the name, spreading Darkmess is the game. There’s horrific space gunk defiling otherwise beautiful locations, such as Beacon Beach where our playtime started. Darkmess Tentacles are a blight on the lighthouse, Darkmess Puddles block pathways ahead. There’s Darkmess in the nearest town too, where a wondrous creature—called a Spark—is being held captive. So, straightaway this feels more like an open-world Quests type scenario, and there are more opportunities to head off in any direction, make friends, buy helpful questing items from SALESBOT 9.99 + TX the Merchant, and do anything other than pursuing the Main Quest. However, time was pressing. So, onward we pressed.
Other than the obvious visual upgrade, and accompanying orchestral magic, it is the constant puzzle-solving that sets Sparks of Hope apart. Dicing with sneaky bad guys to claim larger stacks of coins, at the risk of being sucked into another battle vortex. Figuring out not-too-easy location-based puzzles to march deeper into levels. Remembering where next to use your latest power that (friendly flying-bot) Beep-O just came up with. When you inevitably do end up in the turn-based battles, they seem like a natural extension of the tactical busy-work performed elsewhere, only in an arena figuring stuff out.
The familiar Dash, Team Jump, and Technique abilities have returned, but free-roaming tactics and introduction of Sparks revitalize the playing field. Real-time manoeuvring in Sparks of Hope is more intuitive. There’s still a small area within which Heroes can move but flanking enemies and lining up shots feels less restricted. Area of Effect buffs, from Techniques or Sparks, also seem more precise.
We only recruited a couple of Sparks during our session, but their elemental powers introduced next-level strategy. There are 30 varieties among six types: Burn, Gust, Shock, Splash, Frostbite, and Ooze. Heroes can equip a maximum of two Sparks, mixing and matching their Active powers while benefitting from Passive effects, like resistance to Burn-infused attacks from ferocious Wildclaws.
Ubisoft offered two fun examples of Spark synergies to expect in the game at launch. Glitter, which lures enemies, works well for Rabbid Mario who has Dukes to bash them all up close. Edge, when levelled up, has a multi-Dash that combines with Aquadash to inflict the Splash Super Effect. Such Super Effects are the game changers, bringing rock-scissor-paper trade-offs to the battles. We had great moments with our Pyrostar + Dual Slinger set up, which sent vulnerable targets hopping around.
As with magic in most RPGs, Sparks are allies that can be levelled up. Feeding them Starbits makes them stronger, which gives further encouragement to battle and explore as much as you can handle. Beefier Sparks deal more damage, over a wider range and for longer periods. Of course, you can still level up Heroes as in Kingdom Battle, spending Prisms within the RPG-light Skill Tree menus. You can push firmly against the grain of the Heroes’ core capabilities in order to create custom hybrid roles.
We did enjoy our time spent with Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope—Nintendo wholesomeness with cute Ubisoft invention. This is a genuine ‘Christmas Game’ if ever we played one, and we’re looking forward to exploring all that there is to offer in our review ahead of launch on October 20.
This preview was written by Paul Davies who covered the hands-on gameplay event for us. Thank you for being awesome, Paul.