Hands on with Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle was a game that took a lot of people by surprise. Rabbids, in my Mario? Guns in my Mario!? It sounded very weird… and let’s be real, it is. But it turned out that a lot of people liked it! I didn’t become one of them, because I didn’t think I could put up with the Rabbids for a whole game, but recently I got the opportunity to play the sequel, Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope, and now I can say I’ve been pleasantly surprised too! While the Rabbids haven’t completely grown on me yet, I was impressed with the depth of the strategy gameplay.
What’s it all about?
Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope is a turn-based strategy game where the worlds of Mario and Rabbids combine. An evil being called Cursa is spreading darkness throughout the universe in pursuit of Sparks (Rabbid/Luma hybrids). Mario puts together a team of his allies from the Mushroom Kingdom and… wherever Rabbids come from to fight back and save the world.
Do I need to have played the first game?
Nope — I didn’t! If you know who Mario is, then you’re set. The extent of continuation from the first game’s plot, as far as I could tell, was “There are Rabbids in the Mario world now”.
How does it play?
Sparks of Hope has two sides to its gameplay – overworld exploration and battles. The battles are the crux of the gameplay, and see your team of Mario characters and Rabbids face off against each other in turn-based gameplay. Each character has their own role on the team — Luigi is a sniper, so he can shoot accurately from a distance and can learn abilities that do things like increase his critical hit chance or protect him from damage. On the other hand, Rabbid Mario is a brawler who specialises in melee attacks at close range and can learn abilities that allow him to hit multiple enemies at once, or make it so that he can perform more actions after attacking. It’s not just a matter of positioning yourself and shooting — characters have other abilities available to them. For example, you have a limited number of ‘dashes’ available to you per turn, which let you charge into enemies you walk past, and you can jump off your other teammates like a springboard to reach better positions.
Characters can have their loadouts customised in different ways. Each character has their own skill tree that will provide them more options in battle. You’ve got your usual percentage boosts and health increases in there, but there are some much more exciting options as well. Mario gets some that allows him to bounce off enemies’ heads and pull out his weapon mid-jump to pull off some wild and stylish combos. You can also equip Sparks to your characters, which provides a variety of passive buffs and skills to trigger. One Spark builds your resistance to fire attacks while also giving you the ability to summon down a meteor from the sky that crashes into enemies, damaging them and setting them alight.
What strategy games is it most like?
At first glance, Sparks of Hope will be real familiar for people who’ve played the XCOM games. You’ll command a squad of primarily ranged fighters around a battlefield, making use of cover to defend yourself against enemy attacks. Combatants have critical hit chances and hit percentages which feel like big lies in typical XCOM fashion — 80% accuracy, my ass! Some characters even have ‘overwatch’-like skills, which allow them to stand on guard and attack enemies that enter the line of sight. What sets Sparks of Hope apart is that it’s more analogue than a lot of strategy games. Rather than being given a strict grid that you move across, you’re given a movement range you can walk about in. So long as you don’t attack, you can keep moving around and trigger dashes, jumps and other abilities.
The series I was regularly reminded of while playing was Disgaea, a strategy RPG series that provides you with heaps of options and waits expectantly for you to use them to break the game. Sparks of Hope was similar, in that once I got given more tools to play with and worked out the ways they interacted with each other, I felt like I was becoming a god. At first, I was just moving characters into optimal positions behind cover and taking shots, but then I realised I could keep moving characters around within their movement range and that they were only locked into place after they attacked. This meant I could take one character and keep moving them into positions where other characters could springboard off them and get to better vantage points.
Throw in Sparks and abilities and I was discovering all sorts of powerful combinations. One of the Rabbids specialised in being able to dash through enemies multiple times in one turn, so I equipped her with a Spark that soaked enemies each time I dashed them — a status effect that sends enemies bouncing away, taking damage each time they bounced and taking HUGE amounts of damage if they bounced off the stage. I could use my teammates to catapult her long distances in short amounts of time, where she was able to charge through enemy squads and send them all packing. I was able to wipe out huge chunks of the enemies’ health before I’d even taken my attacks for the turn, and it felt good. By swapping out your teammates between battles, you can discover synergies between them as well, like the way you can use Rabbid Rosalina’s weapon to quickly destroy your opponents’ cover in order to set Luigi up for a killer sniper shot.
Battles are incredibly kinetic, with the Rabbids’ slapstick humour turning the craziness up to 11. I found myself laughing a lot during battles at things like characters getting lit on fire and running around yelling while they damage everyone they touch. Even when things weren’t working in my favour, the ensuing craziness put a smile on my face – there was one time the enemy kept ganging up on Luigi, whacking him with their weapons or throwing him off the stage, and the way it was all presented was hilarious. I couldn’t help but laugh at the poor guy.
Is there more than just the battles?
I already said there were also exploration segments in addition to the battles.
Ok, geez. The other writer is much nicer when I ask questions. What are the out-of-battle segments like?
So in the overworld you control your current party of characters as well as their robotic companion Beep-0. You’ll explore various themed hubs where you’ll find puzzles and sidequests waiting for you, which give rewards that you can trade in for items and upgrades. You’re not alone in the overworld either — enemies roam about, and colliding with them will initiate a battle. These battles aren’t as intricate as the main story encounters, and were designed to take just the right amount of time: long enough to feel satisfying, but not so long that the common encounters start to get grating.
I didn’t get much time to check out many sidequests, but I definitely got distracted by the allure of exploring every last nook and cranny for secrets. While you’re doing that, you see enemies in your way whose butts are begging for a kicking, and then it spirals into a chain of distractions. The puzzles aren’t anything too complex, but working out the way you could unlock the pathway to new areas to explore, and using Beep-0’s special abilities to discover hidden items, was a fun diversion. The battles you encounter along the way ensure that it all feels like one cohesive experience, rather than two very distinct and separate elements that don’t mesh together well.
Is the game skewed more towards the Mario or Rabbids side of the equation?
The player characters are pretty evenly split between Mario characters and Rabbids. Of the Rabbids I had access to in the demo, all but one of them were based on Mario characters. The outlier was Edge, an original Rabbid character with a punk aesthetic. In terms of the enemies I was fighting, there was a mix of classic Mario enemies – like Goombas and Bob-Ombs – as well as different variations of Rabbids — like pirate Rabbids and ninja Rabbids. The worlds I explored during the demo were all colourful and felt like they were taken right out of a Mario game. They were populated with original characters, which reminded me of the Mario RPGs like Superstar Saga and Paper Mario. I love seeing the Mario gang in weird new worlds and coming into contact with creatures outside of the usual Mushroom Kingdom residents. There’s a catch though… all the ones I saw are based on Rabbids in one way or another, so if you don’t like the Rabbids then they might get grating. There were fart jokes and jokes about selfies with lots of hashtags and that kind of thing, so it’s not for everybody. But like I said before, the Rabbids’ slapstick humour works really well in battles to make things goofy and animated.
You’ll encounter Mario enemies in battle sometimes, and they’ll behave the way you’d expect them to. The most prominent ones I ran into were the Bob-Ombs, who were easy to defeat but when you do so you start their detonation countdown. You then have to quickly pick them up and throw them somewhere else. Anything caught in the explosion, be it friend, foe, or part of the scenery, is going to get hurt badly. The Mario DNA is also present in some of the battle mechanics — jumping off teammates to reach higher ground and jumping on enemies’ heads are two useful tools you can utilise on the battlefield.
What is wrong with the Rabbid Lumas? Why do they look like that?
First of all, the official name for these creatures is ‘Sparks’. Secondly, the game mentions that their DNA is 50% Luma and 50% Rabbid. Based on my understanding of nature, there’s only one way that could happen and I’d really rather not think about it.
What was the performance like?
In the overworld and in battles, the graphics were looking nice and I didn’t notice frame drops, even when I set the battles to fast-forward mode during the enemies’ turns. Weirdly, I do recall the frame rate being choppier in some of the story cutscenes — possibly an odd artistic choice? Obligatory mention that this isn’t the final game and things could change, but given that it wasn’t occurring during the gameplay, I wasn’t that fussed. I also noticed some regular loading screens — they weren’t long, but in some instances they were frequent enough to be annoying. The main culprit was a mansion level I played through where you had to go between rooms to find the right way to progress. Going through the wrong door would send you back to an earlier point in the mansion, and every time you went through a door to another room, there was a short loading screen, so it made the puzzle more frustrating than it would have been otherwise.
So there you have it! Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope looks to be a hectic adventure, and you’ll be able to play it from October 20th 2022 on the Nintendo Switch. Here’s our bargain roundup.