This Week in Games - Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

by Dustin Bailey,
Partly inspired by the upcoming release of Samus Returns, I've played a lot of Metroid this week. I finally played through AM2R, and that thing is good even if it lacks the polish and variety of the games it's building off of. That point only stands out because I immediately followed up by jumping into a replay of Zero Mission, and the varied level layouts and constant rollout of unique mechanics really make it stand out. Just in Kraid's Lair, there are those Morph Ball launchers and the ceiling slide points that you have to interact with in a half-dozen different ways to keep progressing. The years since the last “real” Metroid game have kinda made me forget just why people miss the series so much, but this is has been a terrific reminder before the (hopefully) triumphant return.

First Impressions: Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

What's the more unlikely part of the equation: that Mario + Rabbids exists, or that it's good? The game's announcement at E3 only managed to avoid being shocking by virtue of the fact it had been so thoroughly leaked beforehand, and the details still seemed bewildering. Nintendo's flagship character tied up in the bathroom humor of the Rabbids. XCOM-style strategy that equipped Mario with a gun. Rabbid Peach taking selfies and Luigi dabbing. Yet somehow it all comes together into a coherent, entertaining game.

If you've bristled at the idea of modern XCOM being used as a generic descriptor of turn-based strategy, let me assure you that when I say Kingdom Battle is like XCOM, I mean it very specifically. There are two stages of cover—full and half—that affect your hit percentages, and nestling behind something is the only way to stay safe. At least until that cover gets blown up. Certain characters even have an overwatch-like ability that takes free shots during enemy turns through a grim-faced slo-mo cutscene.

But there isn't the same sense of randomness. While there are hit percentages, they only come in three steps: 0%, 50%, and 100%. You're rarely going for unsure shots, instead maneuvering around the battles to take your best hits while staying positioned so that the bad guys can't do the same. It's all about mobility, and your team can bounce off of each other and enemies to expand their movement range and pass by otherwise impenetrable parts of the environment. You might send Rabbid Peach a few steps ahead, then have Mario kickslide past an enemy, jump off of Rabbid Peach's position, bounce off another enemy's head, and land on high ground for bonus damage on his actual weapon attack.

Those options keep expanding throughout the game through new weapons and upgrade trees, and enemy abilities do the same, leading to a near constant sense of discovery as you discover new ways in which things interact. It might not immediately occur to you how useful having a “bounce” effect on your gun is until you knock a hapless rabbid into the sky and trigger Luigi's overwatch for a killing shot with a Poltergust sniper rifle. Your opponent Rabbids evolve in strength over the course of the game, but new additions are often more about adding new movement characteristics, forcing you to think even more about how you're moving around the field. Big Smashers chase after you following every attack, and other enemies can jump off of each other, or use your same overwatch abilities, or toss grenades to strike behind cover, and this all smartly focuses your attention even more on mobility and level layouts, which makes the combat feel pretty robust.

The relative lack of random elements can make the battles feel almost more like puzzles to be solved than combat to be survived. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean Kingdom Battle feels very different from other strategy games, especially since you can restart fights at any time to try a new tactic and find the perfect solution to the fight. That benefits you with bonus coins and ability points to get new weapons and fill out the skill tree for each character, leading you to always look for the “right” way to get through the battles. Thankfully, the best solutions are usually also the most interesting to play out, since they make the most use of all your abilities and options for maneuvering.

It's good thing the fighting is so good, because the game is little more than a series of battles. You make linear progress through four worlds with occasional checkpoints denoting the start and end of a series of two or three fights. Beat the last battle, your health restores, and you can continue on. There are opportunities for exploration, which can net you extra weapons and gallery unlocks, but these serve more as palate cleansers than a draw in their own right. If you're hoping for a true RPG experience as varied and charming as the ones Mario has previously starred in, you won't find it here.

Yet somehow, the Rabbids stuff is okay even in the context of much wittier Mario stories. There's little of note going on with the dialog, with most of the humor coming from slapstick interludes with the Rabbids. I won't lie—it's utterly bizarre to see even the most G-rated of bathroom humor happening around Mario, with bits like a Goomba unhappily bouncing atop the stream of a bidet—but having the more straightforward personalities of the Mushroom Kingdom around grounds it just enough to keep the Rabbids from being insufferable. The game's beautiful, colorful environments and incredible music really help to make it charming, with a toy-like effect brought out by the camera angles and depth of field that's pretty similar to Super Mario 3D World and Captain Toad. The music comes from Rare alumnus Grant Kirkhope, who mixes familiar Mario tunes into his signature jaunty style for a soundtrack that does a sublime job of tying the game together.

I never hated the Rabbids as much as many people seem to, and their crossover with the far more beloved Mushroom Kingdom offered a fair cause for concern. But Kingdom Battle puts those fears to rest largely through a fantastic combat system that keeps evolving, all dressed up in a world that looks great and sounds fantastic. The Rabbids are still the Rabbids, but this is by far the best game they've ever starred in.

NEWS

IT'S A YAKUZA PALOOZA

If you haven't picked up on the enthusiasm I've shown toward the series so far, let me put it in the clearest possible terms: Yakuza is good. And it's a good thing it's good, because there's way more of it coming. Yakuza Kiwami 2 is on the way, remaking the second PS2 game in the Yakuza 6 engine, and if the first Kiwami is anything to go by it'll also feature a frankly absurd selection of additional side material. No word yet on a Western release, but given Sega's recent turnaround on Yakuza localizations it seems like a safe bet—which forces me to reconsider this Yakuza 2 playthrough I actually just started. There's also an original thing coming to PC and mobile, which has a new protagonist who looks rad as hell, but it's free and has microtransactions so who knows if it'll end up being anything worthwhile.

But the Yakuza news wasn't just about Yakuza, because the team is also working on a Fist of the North Star adaptation that looks real cool. We're at a point where licensed games are typically either mobile or Musou-adjacent, so seeing a full-sized, 3D game from a team with some real brawler acumen is very exciting. Given Yakuza's excellence when it comes to brutality, I can't wait to see what they're able to do with an even more over-the-top set of brutal hand-to-hand moves.

NO, MORE NO MORE HEROES

The Switch is pretty much my go-to platform for indie games at this point. Absent the need for powerful hardware to keep up the visuals, having the option of portable play trumps just about any other benefit. It seems Nintendo itself is coming to that conclusion, too, with an increased focus on promoting big indie games on the platform. The last Nindies presentation showed off loads of cool stuff—special shouts out to SteamWorld Dig 2, Inti Creates' Dragon: Marked for Death, and the console version of Kentucky Route Zero—but the announcement of Suda51's next thing kinda drowned out all else.

That announcement was for No More Heroes: Travis Strikes Again which, as you might have guessed, is the next No More Heroes thing, but is definitely not No More Heroes 3. The reason it was announced at a Nindies show is that it's a collaboration between Grasshopper and various indie studios, though the specifics of who and what remain vague. Hotline Miami did appear in the trailer, and I can't imagine a more Suda-appropriate colab than that.

Travis Touchdown gets sucked into a video game console (some offshoot of Let It Die's Death Drive, it seems) and has to play six different games to escape. That could just be a dull minigame collection, but given the perfection of grouping Suda and Hotline Miami, I'm hopeful it turns into way more than that.

MIIVERSE IS DEAD (LONG LIVE THE MIIVERSE!)

It's an odd emotion to have regarding a piece of consumer electronics, but I feel sorry for the Wii U. I've done the shpiel a dozen times—great games, but too few, hamstrung by poor timing and marketing, and the Switch is capitalizing on that untapped potential—but the announcement that Nintendo is shutting down the Miiverse is one more painful stake in a barely-beating heart. The weird, quaint, and oddly endearing social network will be shutting down in November.

Mostly, the Miiverse was a collection of silly memes perpetrated by folks too young to have a visible presence on social media. At least I assumed most of its users were about nine years old, given how many posts were dedicated to freaking out at the presence of cleavage in games like Hyrule Warriors. Some really incredible art developed from those scenes, too, and a big part of Splatoon's identity took shape thanks to the Miiverse—so much so that Splatoon 2 emulates the feature.

Besides depriving us of definitely-not-dank-but-still-lovable memes, the shutdown will have a more significant effect on various games. Notably, the level sharing features in games like Pushmo World and Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars were tied to the Miiverse, and it sounds like those communities will die alongside the shutdown. Super Mario Maker will thankfully live on, but loads of Wii U games (and a few 3DS titles) are going to look a lot less lively come the end of the year.

UPCOMING RELEASES

DESTINY 2
Developer: Bungie
Publisher: Activision
Platform: PlayStation 4 / Xbox One
Release Date: September 6
MSRP: $59.99

I bought Destiny when it came out, played through to the end of the campaign, and never touched it again, which makes me suspect that I might not be the target audience for Destiny. The first game was caught between its own MMO structure and Bungie's world-class shooter design, and it seems things only really came together after literal years of content updates to make it complete. Destiny 2 is poised to capitalize on the lessons learned, and hopefully I'll soon be able to utter the name Destiny without a heavy sigh preceding it.

KNACK II
Developer: SIE Japan Studio
Publisher: Sony
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: September 5
MSRP: $39.99

Yeah, it's finally happening. Knack is making its way to PlayStation Plus, finally free for all sub—wait, no, not that one. The other thing. Yeah, Knack II. You know, the sequel to the beloved PS4 launch title featuring the mascot everyone's fallen in love with, Knack. I have nothing against Knack, but I'm still a little flabbergasted that it's actually getting a sequel. This one has co-op!

ALSO AVAILABLE:
The first episode of Before the Storm, the Life is Strange prequel, will be hitting PS4, Xbox One, and PC soon. Fingers crossed for hella “hellas.”


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