There’s not been a quicker turn around, ever, than the reaction to the Mario / Rabid cross-over. From stern frowning at the leaked art to confused adoration that it’s actually a deeply satisfying take on XCOM - the love for this game is growing daily. And quite right too, as it’s a seriously challenging turn based, tactical battle sim set in the Mushroom Kingdom. I’ve played a few hours across two different levels, and a little co-op, and here’s what I’ve learned so far.
The Rabbid versions of Mario characters have their own personality
Whatever you think of the Rabbids, they’re trying really hard with the impersonations. Rabbid Mario, Rabbid Luigi, Rabbid Peach and Rabbid Yoshi all have their own character, as do the main cast, which adds an interesting tone to the battles. Mario and his gang are all serious and earnest, while their fake counterparts are a little more ‘BWAH! But not so much that you want to put a foot through the screen. Tonally, it’s just about in the sweet spot for laughs, without overdoing it.
Everyone does airplane arms when you explore and collect coins and it’s freakin’ adorable
While Mario + Rabbids is focused on turn-based combat there’s a lot of exploring the Mushroom Kingdom, collecting coins and poking around corners for secrets and puzzles. At full pace Mario sticks his arms out, presumably for less drag, and the Rabbids do their best to follow. Badly. Like puppies made of liquid enthusiasm and knees. Given the battles can get pretty damn intense later on, the chance to get out and see the sights and have a laugh is a welcome change of pace.
Somehow the guns are totally believable Mario pieces
The idea of Mario packing heat might take a bit of getting used to but the weapons are perfect designed - cute and dangerous in equal measures. Like a really angry mouse with knife. There are various classes like the general all round blasters, precision weapons, melee and sentries (a kind of drone bomb mets mine) you can use to attack enemies or block off areas. And they all look… suitable for Mario-land, swapping out blood loss and organ trauma for ‘honey damage’ (which sticks enemies to the ground), or ‘bounce’ (which inflicts extra damage by knocking things back).
Oh God, the skill tree…
Under all that bright colour and fun this really has a hardcore edge. To be clear: this is XCOM with a clown nose on. When I played it Ubisoft jumped me from a nice easy opening level to a later stage with everything unlocked. If not for the autofill option I could have spent an entire day carefully considering what to unlock. It’s all there: from movement and attack upgrades, to specialisation and things like overwatch which, slightly confusingly, has a different name for each character (Luigi’s is called Steely Stare after his Mario Kart death glare).
It’s not just shooting stuff, there are some puzzles
I mentioned puzzles earlier and here’s an example - a simple light/mirror thing you need to solve to open a door. Because the control scheme is sort of built around a character called Beep-O playing as a cursor, you have to interact with objects by placing statues on coloured bases. It’s a little weird but it works and it’s a break from staring at grids and thinking up strategies.
It’s a serious, tactical challenge
I cannot overstate this enough: do not underestimate this game. It will hand your ass back to you while yelling ‘BWAH!’ in your ear. As well as simple positioning, like an advantage from higher ground, cover and other basic considerations, there are character interplays - everything from simple buffs to jumps. Later levels can see you using the interplay between your entire team team to take down one big enemy. The co-op mode is particularly savage with enemies ganging up on single characters to wipe them from the map in a single round.
And there are boss battles
As well as basic battles, puzzles and exploring, the various themed areas in the game have a boss to defeat. This is The Phantom, a wisecracking opera singing ghost that can’t be hurt when he’s in the spotlight. Taking him down means battling mobs while trying to reach those glowing valves - smash them to switch off the lights and you can kill him. Eventually. These are looooong set-piece battles that’ll really push your skills.
Also, this happens
I’ve nothing to really add here. I just thought you should know.