Back when I discussed the future of the Mario RPG series, I mostly ignored the Mario/Rabbids crossover that was rumored to be coming at the time, partially because we didn’t know much about the game at the time, and partially because it sounded “like most of Mario’s gang will be reduced to cameo roles in the game.” In the wake of yesterday’s massive leak regarding what’s now billed as Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, however, it’s time to start taking this game seriously.
Reaction to this announcement has been a bit mixed, seemingly ranging from cautious optimism to outright disgust. While I’ll admit that there are a few aspects of this game that concern me, on the whole I’m actually interested in this idea because it presents the perfect opportunity to shake up a series that was in need of refreshing.
Both Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario have grown heavily reliant on existing characters from past Mario titles, and while Nintendo’s has made the formula kinda-sorta work up until now (or not, given some of the critiques of Paper Mario: Color Splash and Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam), at some point the company was going to need more than just battle system tweaks to inject some new ideas to add some life to the series. The introduction of the Rabbids (and maybe other characters from the Rayman universe, and maybe even all-new character designs) provide an opportunity to expand the Mario universe and give us more characters to interact with than ten Toad palatte-swaps. Maybe Mario & co. could fight Vermi-Dogs, or Zombie Chickens, or Scissor Birds, and maybe different types of Rabbids could inhabit towns as NPCs. The possibilities for variety are enormous, and we haven’t been able to say that about either Mario RPG successor in quite some time. (The same goes for the environments, as even a “twisted” desert or ice world would be more original than the usual generic ones.)
The relatively large number of playable characters also hints at a return to a more-traditional party/battle setup for the game. Mario RPG fans have been clamoring for the return of partner characters for quite some time, and while Rabbids dressed as Mario characters probably weren’t what they had in mind, they’re the closest thing we’ve had to non-Mario PCs since Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. Having 8 different characters to play suggests that the game will scrap the Mario-and-occasionally-Luigi-vs.-the-world style of prior games in favor of the three- or four-person party seen in most standard RPGs. (Honestly, I wish they’d go even farther and scrap the action-command system as well, but that’s a staple of Mario RPG games at this point, so I won’t hold my breath.) In addition to the new Rabbids, I’m curious to see how the game handles Peach and Yoshi, as neither has seen the character-building that the Mario bros have had over the years. Is Peach more Daisy-like than we imagined? What exactly does “the explosive head” description mean for Yoshi? Even “eagle eye” Luigi might be in line for some new quirks! I’m not sure what’s coming, but I’m very curious to find out.
Of course, change for the sake of change isn’t alwaya good thing, and there are a few tidbits about the game that make me a little nervous:
- According to The Game Historian, Shigeru Miyamoto rejected Square’s proposal of equipping Mario with a sword because it didn’t square (no pun intended) with the Mario universe…and the laser cannons being advertised here seem even less suited to the series.
- The released documents promise “humor & self-mockery,” but Mario RPG games have always been known for this kind of stuff (especially PM: Color Splash), so I’m not sure how much farther Ubisoft can go with its humor before it wears thin.
On the whole, though, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle feels like the breath of fresh air the Mario RPG series needed. It also feels like a low-risk move for Nintendo: The company can just return to Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi if the game flops, and whatever damage it might do to the Mario legacy will be quickly forgotten the minute Super Mario Odyssey hits store shelves. (Actually, I would argue that the worst-case scenario would be a repeat of the Square/Nintendo saga: M + R Kingdom Battle becomes a hit, Ubisoft and Nintendo have a falling out over something, and the game winds up a beloved one-hit wonder that never gets a proper sequel.)
So I say bring on the laser cannons and cosplaying rabbits! I’ll need something to play in between Splatoon 2 marathons, and it’s nice to see Nintendo swing for the fences and take a risk with its IP (even a small one) for a change. If Rabbid Luigi becomes the next Geno or Goombella in the process, so much the better.