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Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle defies all preconceived notions

Last night’s Ubisoft press conference for E3 2017 was full of new IPs and reasons to be excited, not least because the majority of their announcements seemed to suggest a slew of 2017 releases (save for one wildly misjudged footnote at the end). But the unquestionable star of the show was without doubt the worst kept secret in video game history, commonly known to most as Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle.

A more tactical take on Nintendo’s charismatic plumber, this is a Mario RPG yes, but one we haven’t seen the kind of before. Look beyond the quite frankly frightening mingling of Ubisoft rabbids and Mario characters, the game is staggeringly beautiful but it also plays like an XCOM game – and that’s a very good thing. While symbolic of Nintendo’s more recent tendencies to experiment more with one of their most protective IPs, Kingdom Battle looks strategic, deep, and simply bursts with colour in such a way that only Nintendo games manage to.

A game that at first was met with a fair share of trepidation and anxiety due to the inclusion of Ubisoft’s minion wannabes suddenly defied all expectations and preconceived notions. And I can’t imagine there were too many people left stone-faced once seeing Yves Guillemot stroll onto stage with legendary creator Shigeru Miyamoto’s beaming smile. It gave a whole new meaning to the phrase: “Super Mario Bros.”

So the games looks beautiful? Yes. Is it full of charm? Yes. But from what admittedly little amount of gameplay we’ve seen, there’s a lot more depth here than the initial cutesy surface aesthetic would have most players believe. Played out from an isometric perspective, battles are fast-paced, let you make use of cover, with each character in your party each coming with their own unique abilities to better let players gain a tactical advantage. Up goes Mario after bouncing on the belly of a Rabbid Peach (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d be writing), suddenly displaying a gameplay mechanic representative of the game’s duel title. It works, it’s fast, and it sure is fun to watch.

Switching from exploration mode to battle mode appeared fairly natural and seamless, perfect for short burst sessions on Nintendo’s handy hybrid console the Switch. Forget what you think you know when the idea of Mario and Rabbids soup comes to mind, beyond the unnatural character mix ups this style of gameplay is unprecedented for both established franchises, and the result is a game that would appear to result in disaster but actually works quite well.

Nintendo’s spotlight direct is set to be shown later today with plenty more new Switch announcements expected to be discussed. We’ll need to stay tuned to see if more Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle information will be touched upon, but one thing is for certain: August 2017 just got a lot more exciting for turn-based RPG fans that own a Switch.

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