IT seems hard to think of a more unlikely pairing than Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros and Ubisoft’s Rabbids, but like chocolate and peanut butter it turns out the two complement each other really well indeed, with a result that is far better as a combination than the sum of its ingredients.
Mario+ Rabbids: Sparks Of Hope (developed by Ubisoft and published on the Nintendo Switch) is a spiritual sequel to the 2017 surprise hit Marion + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle (which I haven’t played outside industry demos, because I didn’t own a Nintendo Switch at the time), and like its predecessor is an unusual but very good and well-executed take on the turn-based tactical combat genre.
With Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, and Rabbids.
The plot is pretty straightforward – the heroes are trying to stop a malevolent cosmic entity named Cursa, who plans to turn the entire galaxy into chaos – and consume all the universe’s energy in the process.
One of Cursa’s aims is to acquire and assimilate all of the energy creatures known as “Sparks” – a hybrid of Lumas and Rabbids, with powerful abilities.
As the official blurb notes: “In their quest to save the galaxy, our Heroes will travel and explore a variety of planets filled with strange inhabitants and hilarious secrets, and will be joined by a colorful cast of characters, including Rabbid Rosalina and even a long-time enemy: Bowser.”
That’s basically the premise, and given the cast, it works really well – after all, we’re talking about Super Mario Bros and Rabbids in a family-friendly fun adventure, not Fallout and its 25 years of lore and biting social commentary.
Mechanically, the game is (at his heart) a turn-based tactical title, in the same postcode as things like XCOM 2, Gears Tactics or Shadowrun: Hong Kong, but instead of fighting aliens or corporate goons, you’re fighting Cursa’s minions in a G-rated way – as you can see in the official gameplay video just above this paragraph.
The game is an absolutely delight in every aspect. From the appealing visuals to mood-matching music to quirky humour to legitimately solid tactical combat, Mario + Rabbid: Sparks Of Hope does nearly everything I want from this sort of game and does it very well.
While it might be tempting to roll your eyes at the Rabbids (who were doing the Minions thing before Minions), they actually work very well and are genuinely amusing (although I may just be easily amused when it comes to old-school style wacky cartoon character humour) and don’t end up stealing the limelight either.
Mario and friends and the Rabbids have equal top billing and it really feels like a genuine collaboration rather than a Who Framed Roger Rabbit-style “we’ll let our characters be in this as long as they have the exact same screentime and number of lines” situation.
Each character has a different skillset (Mario dual-wields laser guns and has an overwatch ability, Rabbid Princess Peach has a rocket launcher that ignores partial cover and she can heal other team members, another character has a sword they can throw, and so on)
The levels are really well designed and interesting, with goals including “defeat all enemies” to “get to the other side” and this helps keep things interesting, and also encourages you to vary your tactics and approach too.
Even the battle lengths are just right – they never drag on or feel like a slugfest.
There are plenty of difficulty and accessibility options so you can tailor the experience however you like it – from a fun, arcade-like experience up to a hardcore turn-based tactics game.
The few criticisms I have of the game are more genre/style conventions rather than any issue with the game itself.
It’s obviously taking inspiration from modern JRPG open world elements, and that includes the aspect where characters only speak a word (or maybe a sentence) of dialogue and it’s all on the screen in text instead. There are a couple of fully voiced parts, but they aren’t Mario/Luigi/Princess Peach or their Rabbid counterparts.
Having said that, the characters do utter a few words or sentences in the combat sequences – for example, Rabbid Peach is a parody of Gen Z influencer types and will say “Healing vibes… literally” when healing, and the characters have amusing comments at the end of battles too.
The tactical combat aspects of the game work really well – you can basically move about as much as you like within a certain area, until you fire a weapon – then you’re stuck there until the next turn. However, you can make melee attacks without cost and still move afterwards, which is very useful.
This forgiving approach to the genre mechanics works really, really well and I was surprised how solid the tactical combat aspect of the game was. Yes, you might be controlling an unhinged Rabbid with a moustache and oversized boxing gloves, but that character still has a range of combat options and fulfils a different role to Human Luigi with his energy-Nerf bow, and opens up different deployment approaches on the battlefield which can make a significant difference to the final outcome.
Each time you activate a special ability (such as Luigi’s “Steely Gaze”, which is essentially an overwatch function), you get a short dramatic clip of the character preparing their action. The first couple of times it’s pretty cool, but the novelty wears off fairly quickly, especially once you’ve got a regular team established and the same abilities are generally in rotation.
Another aspect of the game I really liked was how well it combined the Mario and Rabbids aspects – the Rabbids are delightfully wacky, but wholesome in their own way and a great fit for Mario & Pals.
The whole game is eminently family-friendly in the best possible way; there is nothing even remotely problematic, offensive or unacceptable here and it’s been a delight being able to share the game with my primary school aged kids (who have loved it too).
It’s not an exaggeration to say Mario + Rabbids: Sparks Of Hope has given me a reason to play my Nintendo Switch for the first time in months – it’s an excellent game, well crafted, and a lot of fun.
This game sparks joy and is a very highly recommended addition to your Nintendo Switch library.