Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle (2017) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle (2017)

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Before I get into the meat of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle (just Kingdom Battle moving forward) - let's marvel at the plasticity of the Mario world in game systems.  What started as a deceptively simple man versus turtle arcade game evolved into one of the few genre-defining side-scrolling platformers of all videogame history.  Since then, and to varying degrees of success, those core platforming philosophies have found their way into kart racing, sports, and role-playing games.  Now Kingdom Battle, a title I knew almost nothing about until a week or so before its release, pushes the core platforming of Mario into the realm of turn-based tactical overhead skirmishes against an insane conglomeration of chaotic Rabbids - and it's one of the best games of 2017.

Core to Kingdom Battle's success is its successful translation of Mario's defining feature - his iconic jump - into a system that limits his ability to leap in fascinating restrictions.  There's no traditional platforming in Kingdom Battle and when I was traversing the overworld between each of the missions the secrets I could uncover were more based on simple puzzle solving and accumulated abilities instead of leaping around.  For those who want to hear that sound as Mario's feet leave the ground you'll have to wait until the battles start.  That's when Kingdom Battle shows it understands the joys of platforming even more than this year's Sonic Mania.The level design and visual aesthetics are key to understanding Kingdom Battle's grasp of platforming and how that translates into this tactical game.  If you're a long-time Mario fan, then the first couple of worlds are visual tour guides into Mario history - specifically Super Mario Bros. 3.  The ground I traverse is a familiar array of lush greenery, good ol' bricks, and pipes that zip the combatants around the arena.  What Kingdom Battle does is build on the stage play presentation of Super Mario Bros. 3, hyper-charging the existing characteristics of the core Mario team through their grotesque and hilarious Rabbid half-formed clones.  The familiar Mario elements ease into the bizarre Rabbid influence, and with the comfortable visual aesthetics established Kingdom Battle launches into its simple combat configuration of high-ground attack bonuses (giving the player a reason to get up on those platforms), and the necessity of team unity to perform classic Mario moves (he needs a teammate nearby to launch him to stomp on an enemy's head.)

In Sonic Mania, I was taking a hyperspeed tour through environments that - at first - allowed speedy platform exploration.  Then the later levels introduce walls, switches I had to stand on and wait to go to the next part, and even in that forward movement it was watching Sonic instead of controlling him.  Kingdom Battle makes every bit of movement count, whether it be getting up on a platform or trying to tackle enemies for a bit of extra damage before running for cover.  When you move in Kingdom Battle, you commit, and there are no mulligans once you've hit the button to set your character into motion.  There were many times I got impatient and accidentally left a character without cover or shielding from teammates then watched nervously hoping they wouldn't take a shellacking.  Kingdom Battle translates one of the most important mechanics of platforming - momentum in movement - into this commitment and it works beautifully.No character better embodies the importance of linked movement and platforming advantage than Luigi.  I always gravitate toward sniper-based characters, and Luigi's range plus his remote-controlled fire-and-forget secondary attack gave me great utility in controlling the battlefield in those early levels.  He also has the greatest jump range, and there are few things more satisfying than setting up the other two characters (as three are allowed on your side in each battle) to see him soar over double-digit squares on the grid to land perfectly on an elevated platform for total vision over the combat arena.

But what kicks Kingdom Battle over the edge for me is how it presents enticing options for getting me out of my comfort zone.  I like my distance, so Luigi sniping and Mario knocking on some heads while Rabbid Peach healed was my go-to for a long time.  Other characters, like Rabbid Mario with his exploding tackle and Rabbid Yoshi with his protective shell, didn't fit my mold for combat.  This is where developers Ubisoft Paris and Ubisoft Milan step up their craft to make these characters intriguing enough to give them a trial run.  Rabbid Peach is the best, with her assertive strength playing counter to Princess Peach's eternal reservoir of royal calm.  The selfie, so maligned as an absurd sign of millennial narcissism, becomes a source of self-confidence and great visual gags as the chaos surrounding Rabbid Peach comes together for a shared moment with a villain shortly before that villain plummets to their doom.  I grew to love Rabbid Mario as well with his early day Marlon Brando sense of self-confidence has him gnawing on a toothpick after blowing up a gaggle of baddies with his body slam.Gameplay-wise, this meant switching up my tactics often to account for collateral damage from Rabbid Mario's bravado-heavy exploding tackles or the various explosive devices from the other characters.  Without that charm, those weird quirks of the Rabbids, I might not have tried any of them.  Once I did, the true depth of Kingdom Battle's system reveals itself.  There's no one-size-fits-all approach, and sometimes those tempting platforms contain a gaggle of baddies that make securing that key territory a daunting task.  By the end of Kingdom Battle, I was studying the field, considering if big explosions, tentative shooting, or high-flying positioning would work best.  No two fields play alike, and with so many options available I could challenge myself to play a fresh run while using characters that didn't get enough time to shine.

All those explanations for Kingdom Battle's success can be boiled down to one simple comparison.  Kingdom Battle has the same deceptively simple structure that keeps Checkers in our collective board game repertoire.  A clear layout, easy-to-understand rules, and compelling aesthetic get you started.  Toss in some platforming awareness, a team that links together lives together, an incremental power creep that builds on all that came before, and you've got a game that - when finished - you'll wish you could start again with fresh eyes.  Kingdom Battle is one hell of a surprise, and one that shows platforming has applications well beyond its horizontal predecessors.

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Posted by Andrew

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