I don’t know if I want to live in a world where Rabbids talk. It’s already dividing whole nations that Mario will soon be capable of
hand-gesturing a science-reared velociraptor, and making it his pet. (Adds all new meaning to who and what Yoshi now represents in the upcoming Super Mario Bros. Movie
, hey?!) But Rabbids talking belies their nature and their charm. Unwitting chaos machines with designs only for themselves, and to be noticed. Their knock-off attitude and unaccountability, from a vocal and verbal sense, gave them something unique
. But now in Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope
we know, clearly, what these mutated rabbits actually dream, hope and desire.
I’ll go and promptly shave my neck beard now, but in the immortal words of Mr. Horse, when it comes to talking Rabbids, “no sir, I don’t like it
Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope has been a long time coming. The first outing, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
was completely out of left field and quickly became one of our favourites here at AusGamers. That release was followed up with the sort-of-standalone-kind-of-sequel-but-really-expansive-DLC Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle - Donkey Kong Adventure
, which doubled down on the turn-based tactics setup of the original, presented as even more difficult, and featured the all-time Rabbid Kong as its big-bad, whom it was impossible not to fall in love with. And so here we are at the series’ next entry, a sequel in franchise name only, and really another standalone entry.
If themes exist across these games -- the first being Mushroom Kingdom-focused, and the second Donkey Kong -- then Sparks of Hope is a riff on the Super Mario Galaxy games. Featuring the Lumas of that series, only now Rabbidified
and called Sparks, Sparks of Hope also carries with it planet-hopping for differential fun and a broad spectrum of environments to play within, derived from the Galaxy ilk and space theme.
"Removing the grid system in favour of a whole area of movement you can freely navigate your party within, which has been amplified with some new gameplay additions...”
All of the above is really the aesthetic stuff, though. Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope actually goes ahead and changes up a few key elements of the tactical turn-based gameplay of the first two games, removing the grid system in favour of a whole area of movement you can freely navigate your party within. This has also been amplified with new gameplay additions that work to empower players to combo each team-member’s turn to maximise their respective impacts on the Battle Course. And it’s all honestly for the better.
The fluidity of combat within a turn, and the tactics you can employ as a result, shift the whole affair dramatically. You could argue the first two games were a more defensive style of game. Cover was your friend and how you managed your limited grid-based movement, and what cover you’d have as an option at the end of your turn, more often than not helped determine your entire strategy. Playing the long game, then, was seen as the smarter option and attrition would be your overall [grindy] mandate. This meant some battles could overstay their welcome -- a negative factor that has definitely had a hand in this new setup that switches things up. In terms most sports fans will get, our new coaching style has shifted from the aforementioned defensive mindset to one of offense.
"Where the new outing truly shines is in its use of Sparks and what they can do to and for each character, and therefore your entire party...”
In addition to movement, each character has new movesets that come with the ability to invest in them, from an RPG-like sense. Expand your arsenal and grow your moves -- you know, standard affair, but in Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope, it’s a far more liberal system than the previous games. And where this new outing truly shines is in its use of Sparks and what they can do to and for each character, and therefore your entire party.
As you’d expect with a tactical battle game of this nature, your team is important based on the task at hand. For the most part you’ll be charged with either reaching a completion zone on the course, or clearing the course of the enemy. But riddled throughout the whole experience you’ll find varying courses with specific completion requirements, or for you to perform some action within. And only a handful of times are you forced
to tackle a course with a specific team or character. It’s largely left up to you how you manage all of this which does have a two-pronged effect in that the game’s challenge is less skewed and more general than the first games, and so all of these options and choices are there mostly for you to craft the playstyle you most prefer. And the Sparks are here to amplify this.
"The mix and match and trial and error aspect of the game is really rewarding and fun...”
There are 30 in total, and each can also be upgraded. Some offer more movement, while others help boost your fire power. Others still are used to help with team buffs, and so on. The mix and match and trial and error aspect of the game is really rewarding and fun, and there’s enough junk battles throughout for your testing phase to not feel like you’re deep-ending yourself whenever you decide to trial new combos of Sparks and your overall team. In this way Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope isn’t a hand-holdy type of game, despite its challenge, and falls even more into the fun factor of things. But this all falls apart in how serious the game tends to take itself, which only helps to amplify that first thing I don’t like about the game -- talking Rabbids.
Story and setup are an interesting thing when you’re playing with games of this nature. For all intents and purposes you’re playing this to experience Mario and co in a weird turn-based style tactical setup. It doesn’t matter that the Sparks are being pursued across the galaxy by a Mario version of a Lovecraftian ‘Old One’, but Ubisoft takes this setup and the various small stories, planet to planet, seriously enough that it grates. I’m obviously a grown man, so it needn’t interest me and I do skip it. And for the kids out there playing I’m sure a lot of it is fun, but the first two games were more tongue-in-cheek than Sparks of Hope which almost feels like Nintendo has had a headier hand in, given some of that seriousness.
Don’t worry, I’ve shaved half my neck at this point -- almost done.
"Despite its cartoony Mushroom Kingdomy presentation and just makes me want a sandbox--slash--open-world Mario game set in the Mushroom Kingdom, proper, all the more...”
What hasn’t rubbed me slightly the wrong way is the game’s visuals, which even in the wake of how stunning M+RKB and M+RKBDKA each were, is a feat unto itself. Sparks of Hope is simply breathtaking at every turn, despite its cartoony Mushroom Kingdomy presentation and just makes me want a sandbox--slash
--open-world Mario game set in the Mushroom Kingdom, proper, all the more. Locations vary, enemies vary and as you get deeper into the game you do become attached to it and its kookiness, and the themes play into all of that which tends to keep things pretty fresh throughout. I miss the Mad Magazine-style visual jokes of the first two games, but I’d be lying if I said this game-world wasn’t still a lot of fun, it just shirks some of the more mature-ish humour that made the OGs stand out.
What you get in the end with Sparks of Hope is a lengthy Switch outing full of challenge and the ability to craft a game style that suits you. There’s lots of room to experiment with all of the micro on offer, but it’s conversely not a requirement you do. It does take itself a bit too seriously (to wit: Edge, the emo Rabbid once bad now turned good), but you can skip a lot of this and just get on with business, which is fun, engaging, modular and deep when you want it to be, and stunningly presented. If you’re a Nintendo Switch owner, this is a no-brainer and will hold you in good stead for the rest of the year, and then some.
For everyone else, this isn’t quite go out and grab a Switch for, though if you were to package it up with the first two games, the recommendation quickly switches. Either way this is a fun romp in the Mario universe with Rabbids again, I just wish they never learned to talk.