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Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope

Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope

Mario and the Rabbids are teaming up once again to save the adorable Lumas from the grips of the nefarious Cursa.

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I've been really looking forward to Ubisoft's follow-up to Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. Over the course of the year, I've had several chances to learn more about the sequel, Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope, be it in press briefings, interviews with creative director Davide Soliani, and even extended hands-on opportunities. As we're well into October, it's time for this very title to actually debut on Nintendo Switch, and with this being the case, I've been immersing myself in this charming adventure-strategy game for some time now, and have plenty of thoughts about it.

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First and foremost, the series' signature charm and charisma is still here and more prominent than ever. The cast of characters are all a delight, be it the returning troupe of iconic Super Mario faces or their more modern Rabbids hybrids. The team all work incredibly well together, and make for a cast that has a great balance of humour and heroism, something that is bolstered by the additions of the new characters: Bowser, Edge, and Rabbids Rosalina. The story is also fantastic, fun, and thrilling, taking the crew to all manners of uniquely themed planets where a collection of challenges and combat scenarios all await. Each planet is well stylised, packed with detail, and thanks to the added focus on exploration, crammed with so much to do other than the core storyline that you'll never really feel lacking in quests or battles. It doesn't matter whether you head to the sunny Beacon Beach or the ever-autumn Palette Prime, each planet begs to be explored and you will want to return to them to continue ticking off the challenges they offer up.

Continuing on from the characters, the returning figures are very similar to how they were in Kingdom Battle, but with constantly the same weapons, as unlocking new weapons is now a thing of the past. Rather this strategic element is replaced with the Rabbids-Lumas-hybrid, Sparks, which can empower each character with elemental abilities ideal for taking out specific enemies. You'll encounter new Sparks by playing the game and completing story missions and side quests (with 30 in total to unlock), and can then switch out the Sparks you bring into battle before a combat scenario, after researching the situation using Beep-O's Tacticam to study the elemental strengths and weaknesses of each enemy. Sparks can give you the ability to add Splash damage to your shots, or even create a pulsating Ooze area effect, or even simply add a protective aura onto nearby allies - the point is that there's huge array to choose from with each doing something slightly different, and ultimately drastically affecting how you approach combat.

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And this is a big part of Sparks of Hope, because there is still a large emphasis on strategy gameplay. The combat system is significantly more freeing and allows for more creative attack options due to the removal of the movement grid. You can now complete a bunch of unique actions within a single turn, including dashing at enemies, throwing Bob-ombs, Team Gliding to cover further ground, moving through a pipe, activating a Spark ability and finally actually using a regular attack, and that's all with just one of your three party members. This new combat system is such an enormous step up on the original that it often sidelines the massively improved exploration offering.

Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of HopeMario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope
Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of HopeMario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope

As you can probably tell from my comments on the planets earlier, the exploration is much, much better in this game. You can freely wander around locations that are more akin to Super Mario Odyssey's worlds than to what was served up in the original game. You can meet new characters dotted around, help them with quests, take on wandering enemies, dig up secrets, and more, all for planetary reward coins that you can use to purchase weapon skins from the in-game vendor. The exploration offering isn't as dense as Odyssey, but for a game that is a sequel to a hard strategy title, this is an enormous improvement, and one that will keep you occupied on each planet for hours.

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I will say that the progression is a little dull at times and feels simply like a means to an end. For Sparks, you simply use collected Starbits (gained from defeating enemies and winning battles) to raise the level of each Spark and therefore making its attacks better by a specific percentage. Heroes on the other hand level up through experience earned by winning battles (to increase base damage and health and so on), and also by spending Skill Prisms in the skill tree to unlock new abilities, such as extra dash attacks within one turn, or being able to shoot a foe while gliding when as Mario, or improving each character's special ability (Peach for example can add extra defensive charges to her powerful blocking ability). The point is, you only really think about the skill trees, and even that is a minor thought process, as each character has four branches in their skill tree with around four perks in each branch.

Still you do have to be a bit strategic with your character development, as when boss fights come around you'll want a very cohesive team to take down the dangerous threat. Whether it's Spark Hunters sent by the big bad Cursa, or as was seen in a recent gameplay trailer, an angry Wiggler, there's a deep variety in boss engagements, and they will test your ability to succeed with the combat suite. The Spark Hunter battle against Midnite for example, is a three-phase fight, meaning you will need to maintain as much health as possible for that last phase. The Wiggler on the other hand asks you to blast Darkmess Eyes off its body to quash its rage, but you have to do this while managing an array of dangerous enemies attempting to strike you with damage as well.

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The original Kingdom Battle is still a very fun game, but there's no denying that this is a step up in pretty much every conceivable way. From the more fluid combat to the countless more exploration opportunities, to the extra playable character options and how Sparks are both charismatic and fun additions but also powerful tools in battle, this is a great next step for this charming and entertaining series. It's colourful and delightful, and while it isn't as striking as some of Mario's more recent outings on the Switch, it is still vibrant enough that it doesn't desperately detract from the wider experience. Sometimes the frame rate on the Switch takes a bit of a beating during intense moments, but otherwise, Sparks of Hope is a very worthy successor, and I will definitely be diving back in and continuing hunting for Sparks long after launch.

09 Gamereactor UK
9 / 10
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Combat improvements are massive and make battles significantly more fluid. Tons of exploration and side questing options, and the planets themselves beg to be explored. Rammed with charisma and charm.
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Progression systems feel like a means to an end. Looks a little choppy at times.
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Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of HopeScore

Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope

REVIEW. Written by Ben Lyons

Mario and the Rabbids are teaming up once again to save the adorable Lumas from the grips of the nefarious Cursa.



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