Shortly before E3 2017, leaks cropped up about a Mario Rabbids crossover game. I almost immediately wrote the game off as a guaranteed flop until I heard the gameplay concept. Supposedly MRKB was to be a turn based strategy RPG featuring eight playable heroes, each with their own unique skills and weapons. When I heard that, I knew that we were on the verge of something special. The problem with most crossover or spinoff games is that they are their own gimmick. It seems when making these games developers don’t feel the need to put any kind of heart into the game to give it its own identity because they can just put these well known characters into it and be done. MRKB is not one of those games. It somehow captured the essence of both of its contributors while creating its own identity. This game is a passion project, and it feels that way. The world is beautiful, the soundtrack is on point, and the gameplay continually sucks you in with layers upon layers of depth. At the start of the game, the Rabbid world is accidentally fused with the Mushroom Kingdom, creating a bizarre and beautiful landscape for you to explore as you try to take down Bowser Jr. and his plan to take over the Mushroom Kingdom. When out of combat, MRKB boasts a world filled with puzzles, collectibles, secret stages and extra challenges. The secret stages are reminiscent of old Mario levels where you have so long to collect all the coins before they turn to stone, only this time if you collect them all, you’re rewarded with a new weapon. As an added bonus, these secret stages’ music is provided by a Gameboy Advanced audio processer to give them that nostalgic touch.
The crux of the game however is its brilliant combat. Upon entering combat, you’re given the opportunity to scope out the battlefield and decide which members you want in your party for this fight. Is the battlefield large with lots of high ground and cover? Then you’ll definitely be able to make use of Luigi’s sniper rifle and high mobility. Is the battlefield small and littered with high damage-dealing melee crushers. Rabbid Yoshi would be a great choice since he can get in close to bait them in with no consequences as he has a shield that can negate all damage for a turn. There are no bad characters in MRKB. All of them have their uses and its usually a difficult choice to assemble the perfect team. My one gripe with this system is there were a number of times I would’ve subbed out Mario for someone better for the situation but Mario, being the leader of the party, cannot be removed. Mario isn’t at all bad though, his “Hero Sight” ability allows him to fire at any enemy that moves, even when it’s not his turn. That ability pairs nicely with Rabbid Luigi’s fire bazooka whose flames cause the enemies to run in random directions, which in turn, triggers Hero Sight. There are a variety of weapon effects in the game, all of which have their place and cause unique effects for the afflicted’s next turn. Honey weapons immobilize an enemy. Freeze weapons prevent the use of abilities. Ink weapons prevent firing a weapon. Every weapon has one of these effects and a certain chance to inflict it. Rabbid Luigi’s role as a defensive utility means that his weapons tend to have the highest chance of inflicting a status condition on the enemy. As you finish battles you collect coins to buy weapons that you’ve found as well as power orbs to upgrade your characters. Each character has a unique skill tree that you can upgrade as you see fit, or if you’re upset with a character’s build, you can reset their tree and rebuild them. It takes a while to learn how each of them play so you may find yourself doing this a couple times before you get the hang of it. The upgrades you can purchase are things like added mobility, extra damage from high ground, reduced cool down on certain abilities. All power orbs are given across the board so resources aren’t super tight. What I mean by this is when you acquire five orbs, you’re actually getting five orbs for each hero so you won’t have to ration them.
The more I played and the more I fell in love with this game, the more I wanted to be able to play with my friends. And while there is a brilliantly designed co-op mode, I can’t help but feel that the versus mode is missing. Everything about this game would lend itself so wonderfully to a versus mode that its absence is painfully obvious. With that being said, there’s very little fault I can fault within the game I played. It told a fun story, it made me laugh with its jokes, it made me think with its strategy intensive combat, and overall kept me sucked in longer than most games have this year. It knew exactly what it wanted to be and knocked it out of the park. Never before have I played a Rabbids game, or quite possibly even a Mario game with this level of detail, heart, and charm. And for that reason, as of the date of writing, Mario Rabbids Kingdom Battle is my Game of the Year 2017.