Mario and Rabbids once seemed like an odd – if not unfitting combination five years ago. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle changed that, with intuitive and strategic gameplay – laced with a silly flare that made the title a smash hit for the Switch early on. All this time later, we now have a sequel ready to refine the game further in Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope. Does this blend still work, or has the mix overstayed its welcome? Let’s find out.
Our tale starts a time after the events of the first title, with Mario, Luigi, Peach, and their Rabbids counterparts having fun in the Mushroom Kingdom. Suddenly, a new adventure unfolds as a species of Luma called “Sparks” (which is basically a Rabbid version) show up. The Sparks are being pursued by a villain by the name of Cursa, who with her army are out to drain the power from Mario’s new friends, while spreading darkness to every locale it visits. Our heroes then must board a ship and set out to rescue captured Sparks and clean up the darkness that is consuming the universe.
While this story isn’t exactly the most original or deep, it works well enough to have a nice charm to it. The Rabbids have more interesting roles this time around, and the whole narrative feels light and fun, without ever feeling overly forced or cheesy. The locations are also full of surprises and nods to both franchises, giving fans a bit of love as they brighten up every space they visit.
If the first Mario + Rabbids was able to grab you with its new approach on gameplay, this title is likely to pull you back in as everything feels more of the same, but with a lot more polish and refinement this time around. Mario and company can now move around much easier, with a lot of older styles being purged to provide an experience that feels closer to that of the Mario franchise, rather than the turn-based strategy gimmick that may have put off some as they dove into unexpectedly when booting up Kingdom Battle. The grid-based battles are now a thing of the past, with free movement now opening a lot more room for strategy and interesting mechanics. Things are still turn-based, but now Mario and the rest of the cast can now explore limited spaces, with the player able to scope out the environment, choose an action, and then switch to other characters in order to fulfill a turn successfully.
Most battles will have the player utilizing the environment to their advantage as they hide behind blocks and buildings for defense, moving around freely thereafter to set up and perform an attack. All characters can still use their standard weapons, which will vary in attack based on what power-ups or abilities are used within the turns of a normal battle. Players can now dash attack enemies to destroy or stun them, with a new real-time element coming into play. For example, a stunned Bob-omb can be used to chuck at a group of enemies for a quick, powerful explosion that can decide the flow of a battle instantly. The improvements show greatly here, as Sparks of Hope easily takes what was great about the first title and improves on nearly every mechanic to make the game far more accessible, while adding new depth and strategies to every encounter.
The Sparks themselves are just as fun to use in this romp, as each provide special abilities and powers to your team. Some have simple powers, such as to boost a strike or reflect incoming attacks, while others found later can unleash healing auras or drain enemy HP. While it may sound like everything is easier, the game does have a steady challenge that is found later in the game, with memorable and somewhat tricky boss battles that will test the player’s skill level as they attempt to slowly tap away at the larger health gauge. Upgrades and leveling bring a good bit of balance, with tons of customization welcoming multiple playthroughs.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t get to spend a ton of time with Kingdom Battle the first time around as it didn’t quite catch me compared to the other titles in the early Switch library. Sparks of Hope just feels so much more refreshing and enjoyable due to its new stylings and additions, and while it still isn’t going to be for everyone, it does manage to be something the player can get sucked into for hours at a time, itching to revisit each time they boot up their console. There is a ton to unlock, and the progression feels so satisfying due to better pacing and combat mechanics that are effortless to execute.
The graphics here are outstanding. With silky-smooth animation comparable to a feature film and bold and bright colors, Sparks of Hope certainly knows how to present itself. The transition between cutscene to gameplay is also fluid, with little movements and facial expressions adding a ton of character to the whole experience.
The soundtrack is also nice, but not as memorable as other titles in either franchise. While it does its job to capture the world within, I just felt the music never quite captured the epic scope that the visuals and narrative attempted to convey. The Rabbids are fully voiced this time around and while I have never been an avid follower of that franchise, there is some humor to their slurps and chugs as they ramble. Those who want traditional will be happy to hear Mario and Luigi’s little quips as well, which kind of brings the whole game back to that 3D Mario vibe.
Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is a worthy sequel and extension of the Mario and Rabbid universe that is sure to be a gem on the platform for years to come. Where Kingdom Battle was a great attempt, Sparks of Hope is a home run, delivering wonderful gameplay in a fully realized format that feels complete and utterly satisfying. There are a lot of weird crossovers and spin-offs in the industry, but this follow-up is one that has now cemented itself as a front-runner as Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is easily one of the best titles on the console to date.
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