When Ubisoft originally introduced the concept of pairing Mario with the Rabbids it seemed a bit strange. After producing two games with this concept I can safely say it was a great idea. Mario and a bunch of his friends teaming up with different Rabbids provide some great comedic moments along with entertaining gameplay. For those who don’t know about this franchise, the Mario + Rabbids games play similarly to the XCOM games. It is a family-friendly tactical role-playing game where you need to utilize some strategy and the environment surrounding you or you might not survive many fights. Before each battle, you can choose the party you want to fight with, except for the rare occasions when the story requires a certain character to be involved. As the game progresses you will be allowed to have more party members during battle which gives you access to more potential abilities.
Mario+Rabbids: Sparks of Hope introduces something new to the franchise with the Sparks. Sparks are hybrid creatures combining Lumas and Rabbids. The main villain in the game, Cursa, is trying to consume all of their energy so that she can rule the galaxy. Your overall mission in the game is to stop Cursa and you will rescue some Sparks along the way. As you rescue Sparks, they will be able to join your team and help out in battle. Sparks can also be leveled up to give you even more of an advantage. For example, my Starburst Spark is at level four and he reduces incoming physical damage by 115%. Another of my Sparks is Reflector, which will increase my weapon-based attack damage by 25%. At first, you can only equip one Spark but you will eventually unlock the capability to have two equipped at the same time. You are going to want to think about which Spark will give you the best chance in combat. Fortunately, before every combat sequence, you have the option to manage your party and set everything up how you want it.
As far as the combat itself is concerned, Mario+Rabbids: Sparks of Hope introduces a new system. This time around combat is a bit more dynamic featuring direct control of the heroes on the battlefield. There are real-time elements combined with a turn-based system. The way it works is that you have this battlefield that you are fighting on but you don’t have access to everything at once. For illustrative purposes, imagine the battlefield has nine squares in a 3×3 formation. When you begin the battle you might be able to run around the middle square in the bottom row. You can attack any enemies that are within your range. Keep in mind though that once you attack, you can no longer move until your next turn. This is important because if you attack an enemy out in the open, you leave yourself open for an attack as well. For this reason, you want to try and utilize your surroundings and take cover before initiating your attack. If there aren’t any enemies for you to attack, you can move up to the border at the top of your square and your next turn will now have you running around in the middle square in the middle row. These battlefields are a decent size and battles can get pretty complex, however, that illustration will hopefully help you visualize how things work in this game. Once all members of your party have taken their turn, you have to end the move and then the A.I. will unleash their attacks. You go back and forth with the A.I. until someone wins. I know it sounds kind of simple but, especially in the later stages of the game, the combat can get really complex so you really need to strategize the attacks you are going to unleash, the items that are in your inventory, and the party members that you are going to use in battle. Each one has its strengths and weaknesses. Luigi was a favorite of mine during my playthrough since he had a long-range attack, almost like a sniper. There is definitely going to be some trial and error here until you figure out what works best for you.
The length of Mario+Rabbids: Sparks of Hope was right around the 21-hour mark for me. I haven’t done every side quest or anything but going through the game and beating the main story, the game clock was sitting at just over 21 hours. There are five planets for you to explore in addition to the prologue and the last part of the game. For me, that is almost the perfect length for this type of game. If they had tried to hit the 30 or 40-hour mark, I think this game would have overstayed its welcome and it just would have been too much. A little over 20 hours gave me a decent amount of time with the game without feeling like it was bloated or there was just filler content. Of course for the completionists out there, it will take you longer to 100% the game so there is that as well.
The team over at Ubisoft clearly set out to make this game as accessible as possible so that everyone could have fun playing it. There are a number of different options for you to toggle so that you can maximize your enjoyment of this game. You can select how big of threat enemies are, whether your skills are added automatically by the game or you do it yourself, and your invulnerability. This game has three different difficulty modes that will offer the appropriate amount of challenge depending on how you want to play. If you are someone that wants a big challenge with some intense fights, the hard difficulty is definitely for you. If you are someone that wants a little bit of a challenge but not at an expert level, you can have that too. There is also the invulnerability option that I mentioned above. If you turn this on, your characters can not be hurt. You are invincible and can not lose a fight. Obviously, this takes away from the vast majority of the challenge the game has but if you are someone who just wants to experience the story and the atmosphere and not have to worry about strategy in your next fight, this is a valid way to go through the game.
In addition to the main story content, there are a number of different side quests for you to explore as well. There are timed challenges, some reflection-based challenges, optional battles, some story-based side quests, hidden enemies, and more. You don’t have to do any of these if you don’t want to but I recommend going through at least some of them as it will help give you a better overall experience with Mario+Rabbids: Sparks of Hope. Completing these side quests could give you the ability to buy planet keys which will unlock another secret, give you the currency to buy memories and weapon skins, and much more from the merchants you will see on the different planets.
As I was going through the story and experiencing what the game has to offer, there were a couple of things that annoyed me. They don’t really hamper the experience or anything, it just would have been nice if a couple more options were added. For example, some of the fights can take a pretty long time. The reason for that is all of your party members have to go through their turn and then all of the enemies have to go through their turn. If you are dealing with 5+ enemies on the battlefield, one turn can take a little bit. There is an option for the battle to run at normal speed or to have it run a bit faster, which I appreciated. However, I would have also liked the ability to just skip watching the enemy go through its turn and just return to my party. There were also a few instances where the controls weren’t as responsive as I would have liked. This was most evident in one of those optional challenges, where I have to catch a number of fish within an allotted time. The problem I was having was I couldn’t just run by the fish and catch it. I actually had to stop, stand right next to the fish, and then push the “A” button to pick it up. At times it seemed if I pushed the “A button too hard, I would pick it up and then throw it way too early. This would get me frustrated as you can imagine because I did have a limited time to capture and return as many fish as I could and these were precious seconds that were lost to the controls. There also appeared to be a few instances when the game would tend to stutter but that seemed to happen mostly in transitioning from cinematic to gameplay and it only happened on a few occasions during my 20+ hour playthrough.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time with Mario+Rabbids: Sparks of Hope. It is a fun, family-friendly title that should have something for everyone. The accessibility options with the difficulty help to make sure that if you are a veteran of these games you will have a significant challenge, while if you are someone that just wants to see the story and not have to worry about combat strategy, you can do that as well. The normal cast of characters is here including Mario and his friends, along with the Rabbids. The Sparks introduce a new layer to the equation that can help change up the combat scenarios that you will experience on the different planets. If you enjoyed the first game, be sure to pick this one up. If you weren’t crazy about the first title, I would still give this one a chance as you might like the changes that were made.
Originally posted on Gaming Target
Please note: Ubisoft provided me with a code for Mario+Rabbids: Sparks of Hope for the purposes of this review.