When you first learned about Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, Ubisoft's first exclusive offering on Nintendo's latest platform, you'd be forgiven for passing it off as an abomination. I thought so too.
But I'd urge you to cast aside your doubts and play it anyway because, irritating Rabbids aside, this is by far and away the best new game on the platform aside from Breath of the Wild.
Here's the set up: a child genius has invented a VR headset that can splice two unrelated objects together. It's not long before those pesky Rabbids get their hands on it though, and end up splicing the Mushroom Kingdom and real world together.
A particularly dumb Rabbid even manages to splice the headset to himself, and causes absolute chaos in the Mushroom Kingdom. So it's up to Mario and a few of the nicer Rabbids to team up and set things right.
It's a bonkers set up for sure, but it's only really there to marry the Rabbids and Mushroom Kingdom together. And it's a setup that works, as everything from the real world, Mushroom Kingdom and inhabitants, and even Mario and co. are mocked ruthlessly. It's genuinely amusing.
At this point, you're probably wondering how the hell a game like this even plays. Well, surprisingly, like XCOM or Fire Emblem. It's a turn based strategy in which you take three of your unlocked characters into battle against a variety of Rabbids opponents.
Each character has a gun as a primary weapon, a secondary weapon like a hammer or rocket launcher, and two special abilities. Mario, for example, can boost the damage of all nearby teammates or perform a Hero Shot whenever an enemy in his attack radius moves.
Then you've got general abilities that every character can do. You can jump off teammates to cover more ground, dash kick enemies to hurt them, and travel through warp pipes. You can upgrade all of the above by unlocking perks as well, so you can adapt the team to your playstle.
Battles can take many forms like defeating all enemies, reaching a point safely, or protecting a poor defenceless toad. There are also bosses to defeat, which usually require a coordinated effort.
Figuring out the correct strategy for each battle is so much fun. You might think this is just for kids, and it's certainly accessible. But if you want to get the perfect score on each battle, you're really going to have to give unit placement, attack type, and special ability use a lot of thought.
And it's really addictive. You'll get some lovely eureka moments when you figure out the perfect strategy and enact it to a tee. When the systems all click, it's a true joy watching your heroes pull off the ridiculously elaborate combos that you, yourself, choreographed.
For the real expert, there are a bunch of challenge missions to complete too. These typically have very specific goals in mind, and can often feel more like a puzzle than a strategy game. In one particular challenge I had to get each teammate to a specific location on the map using their unique moveset. Figuring that out was oh so satisfying.
When not in battle, you'll explore what's left of the Mushroom Kingdom. There's not an awful lot to it, and it's mostly there to break up the pace between battles, but there are puzzles to solve along the way.
As you progress, you'll unlock new abilities like moving boxes, shoveling up dirt, and destroying statues. You'll use these abilities to open up new paths, where coins, treasure, puzzles, and even secret levels await.
There are puzzle rooms to complete as well, rewarding you with treasure for doing so. They're not particularly taxing, and you'll complete most of them without breaking a sweat. Make no mistake: the puzzles are far and away the weakest aspect of the experience.
But you'll want to explore anyway. Not because you're looking to break a mental sweat, but because the version of the Mushroom Kingdom on display here is breathtakingly gorgeous. It might even be the best looking Mario game to date - at least until Odyssey comes along.
Mario + Rabbids = awesome
None of us could possibly have anticipated how successful a marriage between Mario and the Rabbids could have been, but I'm genuinely glad it's a thing.
Because whether it's figuring out the right tactic, watching a choreographed move play out, or simply exploring the Mushroom Kingdom, everything is an absolute joy here. Hell, even the Rabbids themselves are amusing to laugh at and, occasionally, with.
Ubisoft has always been decent at supporting the new Nintendo platform with a unique experience that rivals first party output, and the same can absolutely be said here. This is the best game to launch on Nintendo Switch since Zelda, and the best exclusive period.
So put your feelings for the Rabbids aside and go out and get this game. The strategic battles, stunning visuals, and genuinely hilarious dialogue and environment will definitely surprise you. You definitely won't regret it.