Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope

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Welp, guess it wasn’t a one night stand after all. Mario and Rabbids, sitting in a tree. Paying an exorbitant licensing fee. So we’re going through this little dance again, are we, in which Ubisoft’s proto-Minions mainly distinguished by their resemblance to a half-melted Spongebob Squarepants ice cream attempt to sustain their long redundant existence by clinging to the coat tails of one of the few video game franchises with an even more overdone shtick, making the combined tiredness of this hacked-out sequel somewhere on the level of a truckstop whore the morning after the viagra shipment passed through OH ALRIGHT I ADMIT IT I KINDA LIKED MARIO AND RABBIDS SPARKS OF HOPE. You dragged it out of me, you bastards. Hope you’re happy. I liked a mainstream thing. Now when I go to the snarky impossible to please Youtube reviewer meetup I have to wear the silly hat and sit in the wheelie bin of shame. See, Nintendo has two patterns from which Mario and Rabbids: Snarks of Hope benefits. First, Nintendo doing a thing doesn’t mean much. Nintendo does a lot of things. They very much participate in the thing-based economy. But it’s worth paying attention whenever Nintendo does a thing TWICE. That’s how we got Majora’s Mask and Paper Mario 2.

Once they’ve set the bar and gone through the motions, Old Man Nintendo turns his back for five seconds and the grounding creatives can start pissing about with the concept. And the second pattern is that the quality of a Mario RPG-style spinoff is always, with zero exceptions, improved by Bowser being a playable character or party member. When he’s not just dutifully sticking his head in the “insert convenient antagonist here” cutout and he can act like his off-the-clock self, a sort of grumpy insecure divorced blue collar dad figure who works hard but always shows up to his kid’s football games and gets a little bit too into it. Anyway, Mario and Rabbids: Bars of Soap kicks off with surprisingly little fanfare. I know this is the sequel, but still, I’d expect some kind of cinematic to reestablish things, maybe showing Princess Peach unveiling a statue for the Tomb of the Unknown Cupcake or whatever the fuck she does all day, but no. We go straight into gameplay with Mario, Luigi and Peach just sort of hanging about in a meadow with the Rabbid versions of themselves, which is instantly a weird dynamic. It’s like celebrities still hanging out with their terminally ill fans the day after the Make-A-Wish foundation photoshoot.

Scant seconds later, this week’s inhabitant of the “insert convenient antagonist here” slot shows up in the form of a giant manta ray made of darkness, which was very effectively terrifying because I thought we were back in that one fucking level from Mario Sunshine, and the appearance of Rabbidified Lumas from Super Mario Galaxy implies that shit’s going down in space town and the whole crew pile into their spaceship that they conveniently and mysteriously have to see if Princess Rosalina’s alright. I said about the first game that it doesn’t feel like getting Mario involved was adding much to the concept beyond big name star power and that’s even more the case here, now that there’s no obligation to keep Mario as a permanent party member or maintain a certain amount of Mushroom Kingdom and Rabbid demographic representation. You could easily make Mario and Luigi hang out in the background comparing mustache vibrancy for the whole game if their unique overwatch abilities weren’t so cocking useful. The story barely checks in with them once things kick off. This is the Rabbids’ world, now, Mario’s just living in it. Hopefully in a well-soundproofed apartment.

So we travel across the requisite linear sequence of themed hubworlds helping the local Rabbid weirdos to repel the evil black goo excreted by the evil black antagonist. I wonder if all the black goo excreting generic evil forces in video games ever hang out together. I wonder if they exchange viscosity tips on r-slash-purpleisthenewblack. A smattering of mandatory combat missions to unlock the next hubworld and a scattering of optional ones if you’re the kind of asshole who holds up the line at McDonalds for five minutes trying to decide if you want to supersize it. But I see you creeping in on the flank there, reasonable horse, you want to know why Mario and Rabbids has crept up to kinda liked from eh whatevs. Well, for a start, movement in combat has taken a cue from a promiscuous waterfowl in that it’s a lot more loosey goosey. Rather than the XCOM style “click on the spot within range and our dude sprints straight there like a teacher’s pet being asked to collect the homework,” the game just stakes out the whole area within range and you can run around it to your heart’s content . Kick a bobomb in the nuts, carry it halfway across the map to yeet it at someone else before it explodes, go around to every other enemy and give each one a kiss on the lips, then pick your cover spot, and all of that’s still one movement phase.

In brief, the key improvement here is “flexibility.” You can strategically bounce pad and partner boost all the way around the map in one turn and then change your mind and bounce pad all the way back because you were holding out for a cover spot with an ensuite bathroom and a sea view. The hub worlds have more character and feel a lot less like glorified menu screens. The addition of equippable Rabbid Lumas with different powers adds more choices to combat, and of course there’s the aforementioned fact that we can tell Mario to piss off out of the party and stick his head in a bucket of ravioli for the whole game if we want to make some empty statement against globalized media. Whoops, mustn’t overload the pros side lest we lose our balance and tip into the bottomless pit of dismissive Youtube comments, let’s balance things out. The GUI menus are kind of shit. Especially when you’re going through the motions before a battle. Picking your three dudes and their lumas and packing their lunchboxes, the game’s got a bad habit of closing the whole menu just ‘cos I wanted to go back one page, like a car where the cigarette lighter button’s right next to the ejector seat. And the upgrade trees are more like flimsy little upgrade saplings such small sour underripe bonuses I really couldn’t be arsed to deal with.

Luckily there’s an Autofill button, but I wish it would do all the characters at once. I wanna get on with it, not go around the classroom handing out cookies. But getting back to the big picture, I think the main reason I kinda liked Mario and Rabbids: Farts a-Plenty is that it’s acquired some fucking personality, and it’s funnier, ‘cos it relies less on extracting maximum mileage from falling down and going bwah and has given the rabbids actual dialogue and voices so wit can be on display. I enjoyed how the returning AI support character and the AI ​​that runs the ship kept getting catty with each other. I appreciated how one of the new main characters is a sort of Rabbid version of a generic broody anime character with a sword and stupid neon hair. Whose name is literally Edge. It offers a bite of satire that I’d be feeling pretty attacked by if I were one of, like, nine different Sonic the Hedgehog characters. So I enjoyed the generally cleverer tone, I just worry it would be lost on the Rabbids target audience. “Why are you making caustic satirical jokes about this one Rabbid character’s singing career? When is she going to fall down and go bwah? Please hurry up so I can stick these pencils up my nose and get back to campaigning for state governor.”

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