Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope represents one of the craziest cross-overs in gaming. To think that Nintendo managed to sign off on this mixup is quite a triumph on its own. We know the company is quite protective over its IPs and Ubisoft’s Rabbids aren’t the most pleasant characters around – but we do love them. Nintendo has a new exclusive to be proud of because Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is a joyous game that manages to evolve in so many ways. It is more ambitious, includes even more crazy Rabbids and every aspect of the experience has been carefully tailored to deliver enough Mario and Rabbid love that I struggled to pull myself away from it.
The game’s combat has especially seen a lot of love and attention. So much so that after spending over fifteen hours playing the game, I actually wanted to go into every fight instead of avoiding them. Keeping combat in an RPG refreshing isn’t a small task and Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope manages to keep every encounter fresh. But there’s a lot more to enjoy here this time around. The worlds feel broader, the character roster is exceptional and the simple yet effective tweaks to the game’s gear system provide fun ways to experiment with new and returning faces.
Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope takes place in a universe merged together. In a way, it acts like a sequel to the original game but it doesn’t really rely on you knowing what went on. You just need to know that the Mushroom Kingdom and the Rabbids once collided and now Mario is friends with a Rabbid Mario version of himself, there are other Rabbid versions of other Super Mario characters and they all help protect the universe.
One day a new threat arrived in the galaxy known as Cursa. This darkness, which resembles a giant galactic manatee has now spread black gunk across the worlds known as ‘Darkmess’. This substance not only spawns a poison material that causes hope and joy to vanish from the land but also takes over some characters and turns them bad. Of course, it is now the job of Mario and his team to try and fix these problems by venturing across the galaxy to all the worlds to clean up the mess and the game is literally just that – a giant cleaning spree.
Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope doesn’t have the deepest of stories and that’s okay. Instead, Ubisoft has invested resources into making each world in the game tell its own story. This is done through the various characters scattered around the land and of course, each world has its own “Elder” who acts as a sort of overseer.
I didn’t expect anything more. Some Mario video games often have a script as long as an A4 piece of paper so, in fact, Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is actually one of the deeper games you can play. The game also manages to get itself off the ground without much knowledge of what happened before. Instead of introducing all the characters and their Rabbid counterparts, you’ll get stuck into the mission at hand without any delay.
That is to say, there is a lot to discover in Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope when it comes to the worlds and all the characters around the game. Stories of the Elders are told through paintings in each world and memories I unlocked by finding secret areas. Each world is also littered with things to do and see but you have to go out and explore each area to really discover it all.
Unlike the previous game, Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope now adopts a sort of “open-world” approach. Each world is beautifully designed with hidden corridors to find, powerful enemies to face off against and loads of other activities that can really suck up all your gaming time. In fact, the first world alone took five hours to complete. The second one is even longer. That’s because other than following the main story quest, Ubisoft has carefully crafted each world with side missions, puzzles, optional combat encounters and more.
Everything you do in Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope also feels rewarding and mostly revolves around earning Planet Coins. This currency lets you purchase cosmetic items, unlocks certain areas in the world and in a way, acts as a completionist stat to tell you how complete the world is. Other activities also unlock new Sparks to equip, money to spend and Star Bits which are used to level up Sparks.
The real joy in Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is digesting the worlds and everything on offer. The freedom to explore these large hubs resulted in me dashing around for hours on end in order to take on every Darkmess battle encounter, all the adorable side quests and level up my party and Sparks all at the same time. I never felt like I was wasting time doing something. It also helps that these world hubs feel like they have just the right balance of activities to keep you busy for the pick-up-and-play gameplay the Switch promotes.
You’ll also spend a lot of time in combat while playing Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope and it is time well spent. Just like the worlds that offer the freedom to explore, combat is a lot freer too. You can move about anywhere in a certain radius, attack, and use Sparks and your skills all in one turn.
The freedom to move about opens up so many new opportunities to approach your battle encounter in new ways. This also ties closely in hand with the characters you take into battle, how they are equipped for combat and their attack style. At the start of each battle encounter, you can also scout the area to see what enemies are around the map and choose the party members best fitted for the match. For example, Luigi is a sniper so taking him into an encounter with other snipers to face off against is the best idea.
Rabbid Mario is a tank with limited range but heavy damage blows. He was best suited for small-scale maps and larger, healthier enemies. Mario is then an all-around character and can target two enemies in one turn. While the base attacks are important, combat expands way beyond just running around and attacking. You can also get about by leaping off your party member’s heads and can easily attack enemies with dashes too. In fact, I won quite a lot of battles by just dashing into nearby enemies. A dash doesn’t take any action point away so it is incredibly helpful to deal that extra damage.
We then have the Sparks which are equipable items that can be quickly swapped to different party members before a fight. There are dozens of Sparks and they are so much fun to experiment with. Some Sparks rain down meteors of fireballs from the sky and others buff your attacks with Gust elements. Some Sparks even reflect attacks, decrease damage and make you invisible for a set number of turns. These Sparks are all upgradable too which increases the effects, durations and damage of whatever they do.
Party members can also be levelled up and skill points can be invested and returned from their skills trees before combat too. Honestly, these small systems in Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope provide a level of excitement I struggle to find in RPGs. The fact that I could tailor each combat encounter to feel different with a few swappable Sparks and skill points made the game incredibly enjoyable. Every tough encounter I failed just meant approaching it again with a completely different set of Sparks, skills and party members. Failure was just an opportunity to try something new.
It gets even better when everything just works together. In the late-game content, Sparks dealt more damage, I had more skills to experiment with and enemies had the chunkier health pools to really chow into. There was no better feeling in Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope than performing an epic combo where your Sparks, abilities and attacks all combine together to produce something fun to watch. A simple series of executions often resulted in a chain reaction that wiped out every enemy just because I decided to set my gun on fire before I shot. It was moments like these that made the hundredth combat encounter totally worth the time.
This only helps elevate Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope beyond the “XCOM” box that many put the game into. In fact, the game and its combat are so far detached from this genre now that it is hard to determine where it fits exactly. But that’s okay.
In the end, Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope filled my loadshedding evenings with colourful battles and some hilarious cameos. It doesn’t take itself too seriously while at the same time, all the changes feel like much-needed tweaks. I absolutely loved my time with this gem. Ubisoft might not have the biggest game lineup this year but at least this is magical.
Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is releasing on 20 October only on Nintendo Switch. You can grab the game starting at R960.
Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope Review
Story - 8.5/10
Gameplay - 9.5/10
Presentation - 9/10
Value - 9/10
Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope evolves in many ways. It breaks out of its XCOM box by delivering addictive combat, fun exploration and a magical story.
Exploration is meaningful
Might be too simple for some
Some performance issues