Mario + Rabbids: Custody Battle -
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Mario + Rabbids: Custody Battle

The Mario and Raving Rabbids properties share nothing by way of tone or gameplay, nothing that would prompt their combination from a mechanical or aesthetic perspective. This isn’t so egregious in itself: Super Smash Bros. managed alright after all, equalizing its diverse players by the common pursuit of pugilism. But Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle combines its players without a common ground. The properties do not meet on the battlefield of their differences, to share and mix them into something new. They are skins slapped onto the manikins of an unrelated game. They are combined only in the sense that they are equally out of place.

I haven’t actually played Mario + Rabbids so this won’t be so much a review of the graphics and gameplay as a reaction to the thinking behind this team-up. In my mind, it represents an abuse of trust to those that are so regrettably bound up in the dungeon of Nintendo’s exclusive marketing and console schemes. I’m offended that the game was made with only the licenses in mind, and I’m retaliating by assuming that I don’t need to experience the gameplay to review it.

Take one of the game’s simple requirements for instance: that you have to pick at least one of the Rabbid characters for your party every time. Did the game devs receive notices each day of their contractual obligations? Was there a version of this game where you could pick anyone you wanted and playtesting revealed to Ubisoft’s horror a majority of Mario-only teams? A game made in reverse, from its contracts first down to its gameplay last, doesn’t deserve to be played.

And I could believe that a free people would choose Mario-only teams every time, even if the XCOM-style gameplay doesn’t benefit in any way from either property. The Rabbids thrive on an infant’s art, on the comedic value of screaming and falling down. Their gross chins and teeth remind me of hobos from old Loony Tunes cartoons. Their sensibilities lie somewhere between DreamWork’s Minions and an offensive parody of Down Syndrome. They are outrageous, anti-culture trash icons born of an artful series of platformers over-shadowed by silly bunny fall and go boom, like an aurora blocked out by a fart cloud. How about a platform-based RTS with Mario and Rayman teaming up and battling? No – not marketable enough.

I like the idea of a platform-based RTS. It would deter the niggling frustrations with that type of game, like having a character’s advance dissuaded by a corner of fence or his shots blocked by a light breeze. It might have been like the combat of the Mario RPGs, but with open RTS-style battlegrounds instead of tiny turn-based arenas. And how about this: after everyone takes a turn with the Mario characters, you play a mini-game with your obligatory Rabbid for a bonus on the battlefield. So it would be like “Mario Party Strategy,” playing to the strengths of the characters’ styles instead of shmooshing them together without a unifying reason to do so.

The idea that Mario + Rabbids involves gun attachments is the last strain on my already murmuring heart. Neither of these guys have ever been associated even passingly with arm cannons and neither benefit from being introduced to the concept. Though the simple pointlessness of Mario’s design allows him to occupy any game (even his own) without any aesthetic connections to the worlds he inhabits, I cannot believe he’s the best choice for XCOM gunplay. Nintendo no longer works in ideals, but in viabilities.

I absolutely love that “+” in the title. It just says it all. This isn’t a game where two things are synthesized or complimented with an “and” or positioned on equal footing with a “vs.” This is a game where two things are thrown together while remaining as separate as values on one side of an incomplete equation. I ask myself what Mario + Rabbids equals and realize there’s no answer: they remain separate corporate entities, as surely as the average person makes a team of all Nintendo characters and attempts to play a game just called, Mario Kingdom Battle, which would work exactly as well. Watch the opening cinematic of this game, to see how pointlessly and ineffectively the two properties are “combined.”

This is the video game equivalent of Freddy vs Jason, a film I didn’t need to see to know my opinion about it. The lack of creativity seems just astounding. Was quarterly income down so much that Nintendo needed a sure profit-maker, one that was so outside the norm that it could default on criticism? No – despite Mario’s prominence on the box, Mario + Rabbids was developed by Ubisoft. The Rabbids are the real draw, hence your contractual obligation to use them; Mario is just the pimp. He even dresses them up real nice.

Knowing this, I realized Mario + Rabbids doesn’t come from a lack of creativity at all. It’s ruthless corporate self-harm, Ubisoft killing the debt at its heels by stabbing it through their own stomachs. Nintendo should have had PTSD trauma from Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon when pitched with Mario + Rabbids, but isn’t this kind of thing exactly what we feared would happen ever since Mario sold his face to an iOS game?

It’s probably functional but anything could have been. It might even be fun. But this isn’t a game: it’s a bully stealing our lunch money in exchange for letting us pumice his feet. I’m not buying it because I’m not buying in. A games industry that parades characters out in pretty dresses and mandates by law that you have to play as an equal representation of all the licenses has passed beyond creativity. It’s a character escort service for seven-year-olds.

-M.C. Myers

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