'Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle' shouldn't work, but it does

A simple but completely fun tactical RPG for beginners.

Ubisoft's Rabbids are almost the antithesis of Nintendo's mascots. Sure, both sets of characters are family friendly and mostly mute, but Rabbids are uglier and lean on slightly more crass, juvenile humor. When I first heard Nintendo and Ubisoft were mixing the two together, I expected the worst -- and yet somehow, the mountain-sized toilet that scrolled past the background in my E3 demo of the game didn't feel out of place. In fact, the enormous commode is emblematic of my time with Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. Everything about the game feels a little out of place in Mushroom Kingdom, but it somehow works anyway.

That's probably because of how the game frames the disparity between the brands. With the exception of the four Rabbids cosplaying as (and fighting alongside) Mario, Luigi, Peach and Yoshi, Ubisoft's characters aren't guests in the Mushroom Kingdom -- they're invaders. The weird elements they've introduced to Mario's world don't belong, but they don't seem like an eyesore because the players know they are fighting to put Nintendo's kingdom back together. In the end, this amounts to a world that's about 80 percent Nintendo and 20 percent Rabbid humor. That's just about the right ratio.

The title's gameplay is almost as strange as its crossover -- at least for a Mario game. Players switch between an exploration-based overworld that plays a little like Super Mario 3D World, sans jumping and action, and tactical RPG akin to XCOM for Fire Emblem. This means turn-based battles where players need to carefully consider each character's range of movement and the position of enemy troops and make use of cover.

It's a little simplified, but Mario + Rabbids doesn't feel like a half measure. Each battle is its own fun, unique puzzle and a satisfying challenge to overcome. The game does plenty to make the RPG element its own too, adding in unique moves that allow characters to vault off one another to gain more distance per turn or score extra damage by routing movement path through enemies.

There's less equipment and inventory to manage than most tactical RPGs, but Ubisoft says the game has hundreds of weapons, and each character's arsenal is completely unique. You won't have to worry about armor classes so much, but there's still plenty of variety for customizing your characters.

Despite how strange the idea is, our time with the demo showed that somehow, it works. Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is legitimately fun, surprisingly funny and a great starter game for people interested in the tactical RPG genre. And that's a good thing for Nintendo: Combined with Mario Kart 8 and Super Mario Odyssey, the Nintendo Switches will have three games starring the company's plucky mascot in its first year; it bodes well for the fledgling console.

I'm still not a particular fan of Ubisoft's Rabbids -- but as a side dish to the Super Mario world, I don't mind them. And hey, I may even grow to like them.

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