Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope - Hands-on Preview
The next installment of the honestly ridiculous beast that is the Mario + Rabbids, Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope is less than a month away, and we were recently invited by our pals at Ubisoft ANZ to attend a hands-on preview session and get a taste of what’s in store when the game arrives on October 20th. The verdict? Honestly, I was mildly intrigued before, but it wasn’t going to be a must play. Now, after getting my hands on it, the release can’t come soon enough – what I saw of the game was funny (ludicrous, obviously, but a good kind), challenging, and a whole lot bigger than the first game in some really exciting ways.
For those who didn’t play Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, it was a grid-based, turn-based tactical strategy game that pushed the unlikely pairing of beloved Mario characters and the often divisive rabbids together to save the Mushroom Kingdom. It was described in many places as a simplified introduction to the genre, kind of like a “baby’s first XCOM” – meant in the most positive way. It was good, but it did feel restrictive in some ways, and there wasn’t a lot to do outside the battles themselves. Now, in the sequel, that is definitely no longer a problem. While the battles are obviously still the star of the show, an open world element has been introduced that makes the game feel way more like recent 3D Mario games.
This time, the threat reaches beyond the Mushroom Kingdom. A mysterious evil figure, Cursa (who I didn’t learn much about in my brief time with the game) is on the hunt for “Sparks” – the fusion of Rabbids and Super Mario Galaxy’s Lumas – with the intent of consuming them and destroying anyone who tries to stop them. With the Lumas comes Rabbid Rosalina, a much sleepier version of her ‘normal’ counterpart, who was kidnapped by one of Cursa’s loyal followers in one of the levels I got to try. The Sparks are obviously weirdly adorable, and collecting them on your journey means more than just saving them from Cursa’s wrath. Each one of them has their own unique elemental skills, all of which can be combined either together or with the existing powers of your heroes to allow for some deep strategy.
Each hero has their own archetype, their own unique weapons, and obviously their own unique strengths, and learning these seems to be a part of what will help you find success in this game. Skill points can be used in skill trees that can boost each hero’s unique traits, so there’s a lot more control over the way you approach battles compared to the first game. Knowing what your hero’s strengths are – new hero Edge, for example, gets an extra dash during her turn – means that you can then pair them with Sparks that boost their abilities. I found success using Edge with Sparks that gave boosts to dash attacks, and was able to take some harder enemies out in a single hit. There’s a lot to learn here, but a lot to play with.
And honestly, you’ll probably need it. This game is not going to be easy, and remembering to use all the actions at your disposal is key. The enemies hurt, and if you don’t use the environment to your advantage, then they will. Sometimes you’ll be astounded by the distance they can move in a single turn, and heroes you thought were safe are suddenly very much at risk. Long-term planning is key. The good news is that you’ll have a freedom of movement that wasn’t afforded in the first game. You’re no longer restricted to a grid system, and instead characters can move anywhere within a certain distance without penalty before they choose to attack, and they can even use each other to travel much longer distances. You’ll still need to look before you leap – moving further away isn’t always the better call – but the movement system here is feeling far less punishing than its predecessor.
Of course, the big difference is that freedom extending beyond the battlefield. You can now run freely around a variety of different worlds, with each housing its own set of NPCs, puzzles, challenges, collectibles, and places to power up your heroes. If you run into an enemy in the world, a battle will start, but otherwise you’re free to roam. Sometimes you’ll need to perform a series of tasks to unlock a door, or sneak past enemies to access new areas, or collect a bunch of coins in a time limit to get more loot (classic Mario-style). There’s just so much to do, and it feels so much fuller. Those who are fans of Mario but aren’t traditionally into this sort of tactical strategy game seem far more welcome here in this title, without sacrificing anything from the polish of the battles themselves.
I’m excited to learn more about this world, and see more of the story than the tiny glimpse I got. New hero, Edge, is particularly intriguing – she’s sassy as hell, and has some weird tension with at least one of Cursa’s followers known as Midnite (whose boss battle forced me to strategise hard, even on an easier difficulty), so I’m keen to see what the deal is there. Even though much of the game’s dialogue relies on the immature slapstick-style humour of the Rabbids (I still laughed, it’s hard not to laugh), it seems like there might be a story here with some cool, more mature depth.
I had clearly underestimated this game before I tried it, and I’m so happy to be wrong here. What I saw gave me Sparks of Hope (ha) that this is going to be something great, and I can’t wait to run around getting absolutely ruined in battles and spending all my time doing side quests and solving environmental puzzles instead while I cool down and try to forget my failures. This game is going to be very, very silly and also ruin me constantly, and I can’t wait to see how that goes.Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope will release October 20th on Nintendo Switch, and you can find out more and pre-order the game here!