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Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope Review

Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope

Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is the sequel to Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle; an early Nintendo Switch game that gamers didn’t realize they wanted until they played it. There was a lot of speculation of what kind of game it would be during the leaks and the idea of Mario using guns was something nobody ever thought would happen.

As it turned out, Kingdom Battle was a delicious hybrid of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup proportions; a brilliant mixture of Mario, Rabbids and the cover-based strategy RPG gameplay of XCOM. While the RPG elements were very light (in order to appeal to children), the core of the game was pure strategy and character building at its finest.

The goof-ball story emphasized humor above all else and there were even some puzzles thrown in to mix up the experience. Kingdom Battle may have been an early Nintendo Switch classic, there was room for improvement. How does the sequel improve over its predecessor? Find out in Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope review!

This is a review coupled with a supplemental video review. You can watch the video review or read the full review of the below:

Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope
Developer: Ubisoft Milan, Ubisoft Paris
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: October 20, 2022
Players: 1
Price: $59.99 USD 

Kingdom Battle was often remembered for its systems being heavily inspired by Xcom. In Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope, the boys at Ubisoft have aimed to make the game feel a lot more original and be more like a traditional RPG than before.

The structure in the prior game was set in heavily linear courses, where players would engage in scripted, lengthy tactical battles. Mario and company would get very little breathing room between encounters; having only scenery and a simple puzzle to break up the constant string of battles.

Gameplay is more open ended in Sparks of Hope and much less restrictive. Not only is it now possible to have a party without Mario or a Rabbid; the overworlds are non-linear with towns and dungeons too.

In Kingdom Battle, Beep-0 was like a cursor that the player controlled and the party followed him. In Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope, he is resituated above the party leader; making the control feel more like playing as a character and less like leading them around on a leash.

The battle system is incredibly refined and is made deeper and with improved pacing. Strategy RPGs tend to have very drawn out battles. This is due to the complexity of players managing multiple units on a field and having to select various actions in menus, on top of considering the enemy’s position and potential actions.

Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope streamlines the experience in an innovative and creative way. There is no more grid to account for and part members are freely controllable in analogue movement. Commands are now mapped to buttons instead of menus, making the battles flow smoothly like an action game.

Encounters are much faster paced now. There is less time wasted on navigating interfaces and it is like the strategies immediately translate from the player’s brain- straight to the battlefields in an instant. It is still a deliberate and methodical strategy game, but now it has a greater sense of energy and responsiveness.

Not all battles are simple. Some have specific requirements, like defeat only specific enemies, get to a location or survive a heavy onslaught of powerful foes. While there are still the odd fodder fight with weak mooks, Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope keeps most encounters interesting.

Not counting the intro and final area, there are five planets where most of the game is set. “Planet” is not really an accurate way to describe the worlds. They could be anywhere and there is no effort to make it feel like the party is ever truly on a space adventure.

Most of the plot centers on the gang going to place to place to refuel the space ship. The cast does help out a lot of characters along the way and can even participate in side quests. There is not a larger overarching story aside from heading towards the big bad.

Even the smaller stories that make up each planet’s “episode”, are very straightforward. There is no character development and the most players can expect is the banter between Beep-0 and Jeanie, his sarcastic AI companion.

Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope doesn’t need to be an elaborate story with complex characters, but past Mario RPGs have made exceptional attempts. One of the reasons why Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars or the first two Paper Mario games are so beloved was because they were a complete package of great gameplay and had some character development.

For a lighthearted kids game, Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope will deliver the kind of drama that most people would expect from a title that features obnoxious, jabbering gremlins. The only real surprise is that the rabbids have voices now. This is the extent that these characters get fleshed out.

Ubisoft goes full on with embracing cringe with Edge’s try-hard edginess. She carries a massive buster sword and does all kinds of anime-style posing. What makes this character charming is the fact she is a lumpy rabbid that is really desperately trying to look cool at all times.

There is very little connections to Kingdom Battle. How Spawny could have fused Edge with whoever is never revealed, nor how Rabbid Rosalina was created. The washing machine is also nowhere to be seen. Thankfully, we see how Rabbid Luigi gets his pants.

While the story may not matter in a goofy RPG full of drooling mascots, Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope does have a feature that subverts its incredible gameplay. Having various difficulty options is nothing new in games. Most of the time it is very common to allow players to freely adjust the difficulty as they see fit during the adventure.

Sparks of Hope takes this too far by giving players a toggle for invincibility that can be activated in the settings or at the begin battle screen. Having an “easy” mode should have been good enough, but being able to completely invalidate all the careful planning that players put into their team cheapens the experience.

It is like choosing to put one hand behind your back when sword fighting. At this point, the game isn’t challenging the player- the player is challenging themselves. There is no penalty or trade-off either; a tell-tale sign that this was implemented at the behest of awful game journalists who can’t understand a strategy game.

Gamers who can look past how the game undermines their best efforts will still be engrossed by the deep character building and battles. The “sparks” Sparks of Hope are where players can get very creative how the party can be used in battle.

These little guys give the carrier extra abilities beyond their innate talents. Since every character is completely unique from one another, the range of possibilities are nigh endless.

There is always a lot to think about when approaching any situation in battle and a lot of the joy in Sparks of Hope is coming up with creative ways to beat the enemy.

When battles do go on a while, at least you’ll be hearing some head bopping tracks. The music in Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope ranges from atmospheric whimsy, to swashbuckling excitement. It never really sounds like a “Mario” game, but it definitely does capture the feel of adventure.

The music is surprisingly very cohesive. Yoko Shimomura, Grant Kirkhope and Gareth Coker are all heavyweight champions of game music and Sparks of Hope never sounds like its in a tug of war between three artists. At best, there are some moments where the background music does sound a little bit like Banjo-Kazooie.

Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is the kind of game that taps into that child-like innocence inside us all that you think had died a long time ago. It has excellent production value that gamers would expect from a huge studio like Ubisoft, but barely any cynicism that usually comes from a massive and soulless multi-national corporation.

Ubisoft is understandably unpopular with a lot of gamers for their yearly approach to making games. Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is an example of them proving they can make something wonderful if they take their time and to miss out on it would be a great tragedy for everyone. Just make sure to never go into the settings menu.

Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a copy provided by Ubisoft. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is now available for Nintendo Switch.

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The Verdict: 9

The Good

  • Bouncy and lively animation quality that gives the characters a lot of personality
  • Amusing shenanigans with the Rabbids
  • Incredibly deep, strategic and varied combat that is supported by fun characters
  • Excellently paced out combat and exploration; where players can discover side objectives and puzzles
  • More RPG-like than its predecessor and more Super Mario elements

The Bad

  • The non-committal difficulty modes and free invincibility in the settings trivialize the game's existence
  • Thin plot and story

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A youth destined for damnation.