Although the first meeting of Mario and the Rabbids was accompanied by much speculation, their final reveal ended up being one of the big surprises of this year's E3. Instead of being another RPG spinoff, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle turned out to be a strategy game in a similar vein to Xcom. At a final preview event in Paris, therefore, Ubisoft demonstrated how this unusual mashup isn't at all shallow.
If we imagine Mario with a chunky weapon in his hand, it's kinda cool but somehow also quite absurd. Apart from a few funny comics and fan-made videos that you can find elsewhere on the Internet, the Mushroom Kingdom has always been very peaceful. Ok, there was a water pistol in Super Mario Sunshine - but that seems to be as far as Nintendo was willing to go. Now in his mid-30s, the friendly plumber can finally reach for weapons of a different calibre. Mario, Peach and Yoshi are getting ready to grab new weapons and even grenades, in order to defend themselves. What once seemed unthinkable is now becoming reality in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. As some of you no doubt know, some situations call for drastic measures...
Ubisoft's crazy Rabbids have arrived in the Mushroom Kingdom and they've brought chaos with them. As expected, the title is very humorous right from the start, and fortunately, that humour goes far beyond the bizarre costumes of the Rabbids. However, after E3 many of us were sceptical as to whether or not Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle would be a fully fledged strategy/tactics game that possesses the necessary depth, or whether it would only scratch the surface, with both series characterised by their simplicity and accessibility. However, Ubisoft isn't working on strategy lite, in doing so making it playable for casual gamers and smaller kids; you can really expect the full treatment, with all the usual game mechanics plus a decent portion of Rabbids madness thrown in for good measure.
Before each battle we can choose three characters from Mario and his friends, as well as the appropriately disguised Rabbids characters. Each one has unique abilities and their own strengths and weaknesses. This can be seen in the personal skills trees, along with primary and secondary weapons and two specials. The skill tree is divided into movement, attack, and technique, and even though some paths are similar to each other, most of them are tailored to a particular character. Princess Peach, for example, can learn a technique that heals allies, while Mario has the possibility to launch a counterattack as soon as an enemy dares to break cover. Luigi's long legs, on the other hand, give him more freedom in terms of movement.
At first sight, the game does seem quite simple, but after a few rounds it becomes clear how much detail has actually been put into a system that rewards clever play. During each turn, a character can attack an opponent or trigger certain abilities, explore new areas, and use team mates as means to expand their range. Talking about possibilities, there are secondary weapons included, including hammers, grenades or even small vehicles, which can, among other things, deal honey damage (careful, it's sticky!). Looking for weak spots, flanking enemy positions and attacking from behind often isn't enough to beat an encounter on its own; our three characters need to work as a team.