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Tuesday August 22, 2017
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is more than just ‘my first XCOM’
by Nathan Lawrence | Aug 2, 2017 | Comment Now
Ubisoft’s invasion of the Mushroom Kingdom may look kid-friendly, but this ain’t no training-wheels experience.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is more than just ‘my first XCOM’
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Nintendo’s stable of regularly recurring IPs—the Marios, Zeldas, and Donkey Kongs of this world—are clearly aimed at kids. Yes, there’s an expectation that (a lot of) older gamers will take them for a spin but, in my mind at least, “kid-friendly” usually equates to “shallow learning curve”.

For anyone who’s played The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, you’ll know that the learning curve is about as shallow as scaling some of its highest in-game peaks. In the rain. To be fair, we probably should have seen this difficulty spike coming.

The last Donkey Kong game I played, Donkey Kong Returns, was a punishing platformer. Zelda has exited the challenging territory I remember it for and slashed its way closer to punishing (albeit, selectively). Now Mario is set to follow this recent difficulty trend, albeit not in a core Mario game. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle was unveiled at E3, and since then it’s been described as a sort of kid-friendly XCOM.

While the comparison is fair on a surface level—Mario + Rabbids does involve XCOM-like turn-based combat in the colourful Mushroom Kingdom—if you assume, as I did, that Kingdom Battle’s cutesy aesthetic is indicative of shallow gameplay or an easy curve, guess again. During my recent hands-on session with Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, I learnt just how punishing this game can be over the course of multiple hours.

If you’re new to turn-based strategy (as I am), there are even sections of the tutorial that are challenging. I did manage to pass the handful of tutorial stages without feeling like a complete failure (hooray!). That said, the guy playing next to me failed one of the tutorial stages that teaches you about one of the combat modes that tasks you with making a single character reach an end point. That end point is, naturally, on the opposite side of enemies.

What you might not have guessed is these enemies are dogged in their attempts at stopping you. They also appear to respawn ad infinitum in these stages, so you quickly learn that covering as much distance as possible per turn is infinitely more important than thinning out the ranks of enemy Rabbids. The guy next to me learnt that the hard way.

In saying that, towards the end of the preview session, we were allowed to try a later boss battle. I tried it three times, had my arse handed to me each time (despite feeling initially clever), and rage quit. That same guy who was bested by the tutorial stage, persevered and was one of the few people to defeat the boss. That’s one hell of a comeback story.

But that’s the thing about Mario + Rabbids. It very much abides by an ‘adapt or die motto’. Basically, expect to die a lot, but you can also look forward to learning from your mistakes. Bear in mind that we were playing on regular difficulty, and when you start losing characters (you can have three with you at any one time) or fail a combat scenario, the game encourages you to activate easy mode.

I never did during the solo sessions, but we begrudgingly did later in the day during the co-op session. The stage we had access to was so punishing we struggled to get around the first corner. Kingdom Battle loves throwing curve balls at you. It wants you to use cover to feel safe. Then it has goons on the other side of the map lob grenades at you. Or nearby enemies launch a ‘honey’ attack that restricts the mobility of affected characters on the next move.

In this respect, there’s a nagging feeling of insecurity with every move—enhanced by those moments when one of your characters misses a point-blank shot or leaves an enemy on low health but not out of the fight. Sigh. This may read like a bad thing. It may sound like I’m complaining about the difficulty. But I’m really not.

I hope that Ubisoft Paris doesn’t lower the difficulty prior to release. Leave the easy mode on there for those who don’t want that level of challenge. But leave normal where it is and let us relish those wins that feel oh so satisfying because of how hard you have to work to get them (and scoring a perfect rating feels even better). By far the scariest realisation at the end of my hands-on time is if today’s kids are being exposed to Nintendo games that are this difficult, they’re going to be the super-gamers of tomorrow.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a blast, and it’s another must-buy title closer to ensuring that those who’ve held off on buying a Switch may well be tempted before 2018 rolls around.

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