The highly anticipated sequel to the surprisingly successful mash-up series, Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope, takes the group of unique heroes into space. Right off the bat, it’s good to know that if the aesthetics or the weird comedy of Rabbids is going to turn you away from this game, that’s ok. But if you can handle the weirdness, this game has very fun tactical combat that no one would have guessed from a game like this.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle was released five years ago, launching the same year as the Nintendo Switch. If you are unfamiliar with the Rabbids half of this game, which wouldn’t be that surprising, the strange rabbit-like creatures originally appeared in the Rayman series, with Rayman Raving Rabbids in 2006. Since then, developer Ubisoft has released multiple spin-offs featuring the Rabbids, but not finding the same success until teaming with up Nintendo.
Unlike its predecessor, which was a surprise success, Sparks of Hope now has high expectations to live up to. The reception of this game will be a true test as to how this series will hold up, was the original just a fluke, or is there something really special here? Just like the previous game in the series, the highlight of Sparks of Hope will be the quality of the tactical combat, so let’s dive right in.
- Fun and engaging tactical combat;
- Forgiving customization system;
- Exploration is rewarded.
- Graphics are not always top notch;
- Goofy humor is not for everyone;
- Glitches can be frustrating.
There are a few key changes to Sparks of Hope from the original Kingdom Battle. Heroes now have the ability to move around the battlefield freely, within a certain range, rather than simply choosing a destination and moving there. This can be a little strange in terms of simulating reality, but it does open the game to a much more 3D space. With this change mobility is an enormous factor as heroes can help each other out by moving somewhere, letting someone bounce on their head for an extra burst of movement, and then move back behind cover.
Like in the previous game, finding cover still remains the key to combat. Every battlefield is covered in destructible objects, from tall blocks that will protect a character from all damage and half blocks that give incoming attacks a 50/50 chance to hit. Any hero caught in the open will surely take a hit from nearly every enemy, so it’s good to be aware. Each hero also has a unique weapon and abilities that take a few turns to reset after each use. This gives every hero strengths and weaknesses that will have a huge influence on deciding who comes to each battle.
Finally, the newest factor in combat, are the Sparks. This will be a change from the original game, where weapons gave unique abilities. In Sparks of Hope, weapons have various skins that are purely cosmetic. Instead, each hero can equip a Spark, and eventually a second Spark, that gives them another special ability. This can vary from adding elemental damage like burn or ooze to weapons or giving a damage or defense boost to nearby allies. All of these abilities and customizations give the player a surprising amount of creativity that makes every new battle an engaging experience.
From Frozen Mountainside to Tropical Beach
The cinematic cut scenes certainly look the best out of anything in this game, but then again, a goofy cartoonish turn-based tactical RPG doesn’t require the most high-tech specs to work. That aside, there is a lot of detail to take in while exploring the various worlds this game has to offer. From the frozen mountainside to the tropical beach, there are a lot of great details that can easily be missed by the less patient player.
Five years after the original, the Mario + Rabbids series finally has a sequel. No one could have expected such a strange crossover to have such engaging tactical combat and enjoyable RPG mechanics, but with this series, it’s hard to know what to expect. Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope follows in the footsteps of its predecessor by being one of the weirdest games out there, but also incredibly fun.
Combat sequences are also well-designed. It is possible to get a wider view of the whole battlefield at any point on the player’s turn, which automatically highlights the health bars of all enemies, and allows the player to quickly get a sense of the flow of the battle. There is little confusion about what is happening on screen unless the battlefield is so large that it’s hard to take everything in at once. But that feeling in itself can be enjoyable, staring down seemingly insurmountable odds with nothing but three heroes and your wits.
There was one time when a hero got stuck in an awkward spot in the middle of an attack animation so that the attack was never able to execute, but the animation continually tried to play out, leaving me unable to pause or reset. My only option was simply to quit the game and try again. Thankfully, this only happened once, but if it does happen at the wrong moment, say at the end of a long and important battle, it could become incredibly frustrating.
Hot tip: avoid weird spots and always make sure the character is comfortably standing in place before trying to fire a weapon.
Rabbids Are Raving
Perhaps the least exciting part of the game is the very beginning. The Mushroom Kingdom seems to have the least amount of effort put into its appearance, and the opening “mission” is far from engaging. As a spaceship is being built in the background, Mario wanders around trying to find Rabbid Mario’s overalls, which have gone missing. At one point someone said something along the lines of “something smells fishy about this.” A lightbulb went off in my head that this was a clue, and that the missing overalls would be found in a fish-shaped bush. Alas, a nondescript bush with hard-to-miss sparkles was the true solution, leaving me somewhat disappointed.
Fortunately, a gigantic colorful manta ray swoops down on the kingdom and thrusts the plot into motion. From here, the game only improves. The villain of the game, a strange and powerful being named Cursa, is revealed to be hunting the Sparks, and possibly has captured Rosalina. Mario and the gang travel in the spaceship from planet to planet, curing each world of evil Darkmess energy, with the eventual goal of finding the resources needed to take on Cursa and stop its evil plan of spreading Darkmess across the galaxy.
Exploring the worlds between battles is not where the game shines, but each world does have a solid amount of personality and style. Goofy scenes play out in the background, from an octopus tentacle strangling a Rabbid, to a Giant chicken living in a tiny tree. Curiosity is often rewarded, with unique characters giving out side quests and offering strange stories that give the world the feeling that it exists outside of the player.
None of this makes sense. Ten years ago no one could have guessed that the Rabbids from that one Rayman game would end up launching a successful mash-up series with Mario and friends. But here we are. Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is one of the weirdest games out there, but also one of the most fun. The strange colorful exterior hides a well-thought-out tactical RPG. It’s safe to say now that the success of the first game wasn’t just a fluke.
Sparks of Hope is not perfect by any means, and it’s certainly not for everybody, but for any fan of tactical RPGs, it’s certainly worth taking a look. There is a downright plethora of customization options between all of the Spark powers and the skill trees, plus the skill trees can be refunded so players are actually encouraged to try things out and make changes all the way through the game.
Our reviews are featured on Metacritic.
Again, it bears repeating that this is a very weird game. If that’s not your cup of tea, that’s fine. But otherwise, this is a game to keep on your radar. If you are a fan of the original, the long wait is finally over, and the wait was worth it.
Matt Buckley | Gamepressure.com