Heroes of Play: Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle & Donkey Kong Adventure Review

Another article up for Heroes of Play and this time it is a review of the Donkey Kong Adventure DLC for Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. Kingdom Battle was the first Switch game I played and one of the best of last year. I actually forgot to post the text here so both reviews will be posted after the jump. Check out the new review at Heroes of Play.

 

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle has been out for well over a month which makes this review very late. Especially with the way games in the media cycle are often reviewed, released, played and forgotten soon after. In this case though I think it is worth giving my thoughts despite the relative lateness. Firstly, this is the first game I have played on Switch since I got the system recently. Secondly, because when playing it, I found myself increasingly annoyed with the criticism I had read from various corners of the Internet at the time of release. As the game has been positively received, I should clarify that I’m speaking of some of the negative criticism which seemed to me to be just reaching for faults.

Kingdom Battle is in a bit of a rough position, being a game that’s aesthetic and license will appeal to a wide range of gamers but in the turn-based tactics genre; a genre that is notoriously unforgiving to newcomers. If it is too easy, genre veterans will complain and if is too hard, there will be complaints about it being “inaccessible”. Thankfully as someone who is plenty experienced with this genre, I can say that I believe it has struck the best balance possible.

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Kingdom Battle starts out slow and simple and at first I found it quite monotonous. However, I was conscious that this was done for the right reasons and luckily, the introductory parts of the game are entertaining in their own right. From World 2 onward, the proverbial hand-holding has ended and by the last quarter or so of the main story campaign the game really gets serious. That’s not to say it ever gets crushingly difficult so iron men of XCOM and Jagged Alliance or Fire Emblem veterans will not find a challenge that they cannot soon overcome. But it is a good balanced challenge that will see mistakes punished soundly and there is the option to set indidual battles to an easy mode. There are additional challenges unlocked during progression and the option to go back and earn perfect ratings in each scenario for those wanting to further the experience.

When I first saw the game I thought it might rely too much on a gimmick as might be expected by a franchise mash-up. However genuine thought seems to have gone into how the genre can match both series’. So the wackiness of the Rabbids universe along with staples of the Mario universe are well represented in the gameplay. Jumping and running are offensive weapons as well as modes of movement and the game even makes use of pipes which can make large battlefields much smaller. An additional features are some very clever boss battles which I won’t describe but were very entertaining. The only thing that is a little odd seeing Mario, Luigi, Peach and Yoshi wielding weapons but this clash matches the overall franchise clash in practice.

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The game also does the genre in its own unique way. Each turn allows you to move, attack and use special powers in any order you see fit, which is not an option in some turn-based tactical games. In practice this simply means that you could have Mario move to cover and attack an enemy or vice versa. But you can also use this to cleverly combine attacks. Some characters can be set to a mode similar to ‘overwatch’ in XCOM where they will automatically attack enemies during their turn. However the Smasher enemy for example, will automatically move when attacked outside of their turn. So you can set your characters to auto attack before using a normal attack, causing the character to move and then run straight into additional attacks. The same can happen with critical hits and elemental damage which either knock enemies about or cause them to run around on fire. Towards the end of the game the ability to chain together multiple attacks becomes extremely satisfying when done right. The enemies can (and often do) the same thing though; which means the way you position characters is very important.

The battles are naturally where most of the game time will take place but these battles are often spaced out by travelling between areas, collecting coins, solving puzzles and finding items. None of these activities are ever particularly head-scratching but work well to break-up the gameplay, especially after the more involved and intense battles. As you progress, you will unlock abilities that allow you to further explore these areas unlocking extra weapons, upgrades along with concept art and music. There is also a co-op mode available.

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Although you are always limited to three characters in any battle, you will get multiple characters during the game, specifically four characters from the Mario universe (Mario, Luigi, Peach and Yoshi), and their Rabbid doppelgangers. All characters are unique in their own way and the Rabbid Peach for example, is not merely an uglier clone of Peach herself and has her (his?) own skills. One limitation is that you must have at least one Rabbid or Mario character on your team and Mario himself must always be on your team. I can understand this being limited to the main campaign but I wish this restriction was relaxed upon completing the game as relaxing this could have been a simple but effective way to extend the experience. There is really no good reason for sticking to this outside of the campaign.

Unsurprisingly, coins can be collected and earned in the game. These coins are used to buy weapons for your characters and there is quite a variety to discover. There are also orbs earned during battles and sometimes found in the game world which are used to upgrade character abilities. There is quite a variety to choose from. There are all the obvious upgrades that make attacks more powerful but the usefulness of simply having a wider area of movement cannot be underestimated. In complete contrast to the limitations placed on character selection, the ability tree can be reset at any time should you want to change a character’s abilities. This is really useful as some specific attacks and movements will be more useful in certain battles. As an example, in the scenarios where you need to escort a character or simply reach an area, the ability to move further on each turn, makes a huge difference.

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One final thing to mention is the overall polish of the product which is excellent. This is high praise too, considering this is a title developed and published by Ubisoft. While the textures aren’t highly detailed, the game runs smoothly and the environments are varied and saturated with colour and lots of little details. Those with the attention-span of a Rabbid will be thankful as there are always shiny or humorous things to notice even outside of the battles too. The soundtrack composed by Rare legend, Grant Kirkhope is also fantastic.

Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is exactly what I hoped it would be. I can understand complaints about certain limitations but these small problems don’t hold the game back in any way. There is an expansion pass available but the retail release isn’t lacking for anything (remember, this is Ubisoft). If you’re into turn-based tactical games, this is an absolute recommendation. At the same time, if you’re not into the genre, this is a good entry-way and as long as you’re prepared for some trial and error later on, there is a rewarding experience to be had.

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Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle was one of the biggest surprises last year in what turned out to be a huge year in gaming. As a franchise mash-up, the developers could have easily fell back on this and produced a marketable but mediocre game. Instead, it turned out to be a game that was lovingly crafted down to the smallest detail as you can see in our review. With a Season Pass available, it was known early on that this was not the end and now the Donkey Kong Adventure is out to beautifully bookend one of the best releases of last year.

As with the base game (and like almost all DLC), this could have been a lazily thrown-together piece of content that relied on people who had already bought in. It could have reused the same areas, the same characters and added a simple new story on top. Instead, it has brand new areas, characters and mechanics that make it a genuinely different experience.

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In this adventure, you are limited to just three characters with Donkey Kong and Rabbid Cranky joining Rabbid Peach. The events going on here seem to be set during the Mario adventure after you have defeated Rabbid Kong; the first boss in the base game. Rabbid Kong ends up transported to Kong Island where he begins causing trouble with his rabbid minions. The story doesn’t much matter on its own but there are plenty of hilarious moments to see as you progress the adventure.

This content progresses largely as the last one did. You traverse between each battlefield with puzzles to solve and a few secrets to find. You now of course collect bananas instead of coins and the new environments are all inspired by the Donkey Kong series. There are plenty of references to the series scattered around with weapon names and rabbid antics often referencing the series.

Of the two new characters Donkey Kong is the most radically different; being highly mobile and able to swing between platforms and use height to his advantage. He can also pick up blocks, hazards and enemies and use them offensively. The other team members can also be picked up and thrown out of danger, on to higher platforms or just into better positions. Donkey Kong uses a variety of banana shaped boomerangs for his long-range attack but his main advantage is with his mobility. In close-quarters, Donkey Kong can unleash a powerful slam attacks and can make use of his bongos to bring enemies closer to execute the attack.

As with the previous game, the task isn’t always simply to defeat all the enemies. There are a variety of scenarios some new ones which include preventing enemies from reaching certain areas, and retrieving items from specific enemies. However something all have in common is the immediacy of each scenario. From early on you are encouraged to hit fast and hard and this remains so throughout the game. Some scenarios are time sensitive but many also just have new enemies spawning regularly making speed and efficient use of abilities a necessity.

Donkey Kong Adventure has roughly a third to a half of the content of the main game depending on how you measure and each scenario is noticeably briefer. Along with this there are the same collectables, unlockables and even some new challenge maps. There are also plenty of puzzles to find throughout the adventure and as in the more recent Donkey Kong Country games, puzzle pieces to collect. There are even a few bonus stages that take inspiration from the series.

The only real criticism I have is that it will likely be too easy for veterans – especially those who battled to perfect every level and completed the challenge maps. I never found myself stumped and was able to get a perfect on almost every scenario on my first time through. There was one environmental puzzle that had me scratching my head for a time but that was really all the trouble I had in the main adventure. While not particularly challenging, it was always engaging. One other minor criticism I will add is that Rabbid Cranky and Donkey Kong are not made available outside of this DLC. It is minor because the original maps were not designed with these characters in mind but it would have been a nice little bonus regardless. I suppose I should mention that the game also froze on me a couple of times. I did not experience this in the original game so it seems related to the DLC. I have no idea whether or not this is a common problem but it did happen!

This game reminds this old timer of when what is now DLC was better known as an expansion pack for PC games. These were sometimes lazily produced level packs but more often than not, they were a thoughtful and significant addition to the main game. That’s what this is and if most DLC was like this, gamers wouldn’t be nearly so cynical as they’ve become. An absolute recommendation for anyone who enjoyed Mario + Rabbids.

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