Not one to be missed during the September blitz of Tokyo Game Show, hands-on previews and reviews, and media events taking place every single week, Wccftech recently sat down in a relatively intimate session of Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope among a roomful of select other journalists. After a brief onboarding session, we were given a free run to explore the Prologue followed by the second planet to see whatever we can within a three-hour period.
Even if you haven’t played Kingdom Battle, the second in the Mario + Rabbids franchise should feel accessible for players of all skill levels. The teams at Ubisoft Paris and Milan (among other ancillary studios such as Montpelier and Chengdu) have revamped the tactical RPG in more ways than one. Ubisoft began its presentation with some numbers. Development for Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope began in 2017 when Kingdom Battle was released. Many players, according to Ubisoft, stated that Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle was their first tactical game. It wasn’t just a select few that decided to pick up this Nintendo Switch-exclusive RPG; Ubisoft touted surpassing more than ten million players ahead of our preview session.
One of the most notable omissions from the first Mario + Rabbids title was in Nintendo enemies. There were a number of redesigned characters in the likes of the final boss and cosplaying Rabbids Bwario and Bwaluigi, among others. This time around, expect to square up against Shy Guys, Bob-Ombs, and other iconic Mario antagonists in Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope. Similarly, the hero roster will be shaken up, removing Yoshi and replacing them with the likes of Bowser and Rosalina.
Square isn’t a word you’ll see very often in Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope. First and foremost, the tactical gameplay has been overhauled to get away from the typical square grid in place of a free movement system. Mario and his square can freely move in centimeters, not designate squares, to approach enemies and a number of circular attack radii to strike more than one enemy for select attacks and abilities. There’s still a constant system of only being able to move prior to shooting (Rabbid Mario has a key ability to circumvent that restriction), but it is possible to move, use a character ability or two, and finish the character movement phase before attacking. Stationary cover also plays an important part in combat, with full cover blocking any direct shots for only a couple of brief hits as it whittled away. The partial cover is still quite useful as it reduces the chance of being hit by half with hit percentages neatly appearing along the line of fire. Some weapons, such as a certain Rabbid’s rocket launcher, can arc over and shoot over partial cover.
Sparks of Hope, much like the prequel Kingdom Battle, is a much more focused tactical approach than most other RPGs out on the market. For starters, players only control three heroes in a given battle (starting with just two to get players acclimated to the gridless changes). With such a minimal squad to send out on skirmishes, the synergies are more important than ever. Each hero only has a single weapon style to carry through the entire adventure and a similarly limited set of skills. However, as characters progress through the adventure and level up their given heroes or complete objectives, skill points in a five-tier skill tree (only the first four were available to modify during the preview with the fifth locked away). Players can invest in newcomer Rabbid Edge’s Stormblade to increase its range or damage multiplier, for example. There isn’t a risk of making the wrong build or investing too many points into a single hero as players can freely swap around unlock skill points that are allocated on a per-character basis.
Discovering the strength of each hero and finding how to make that specialization shine with the skills of two other heroes. Most heroes in the roster come with both the standard Nintendo versions as well as Rabbid characters that have completely different weapon types and approaches to combat (Mario is a mid-range gunner with a natural affinity for jump-based attacks while Rabbid Mario is melee and counterattack-focused). For those that want to have a traditional tank character, investing in the ability for Peach to give a Hero that assists her with a Team Jump a one-hit barrier can easily help mitigate any oncoming damage. Another team combo that was suggested was to use Rabbid Rosalina to destroy cover while Luigi snipes enemies behind that partial cover from afar.
The aforementioned Sparks imbue Mario and the team with passive boons as well as an active skill to be unleashed during battle. With characters being able to equip any two Sparks at a given time and get the passive effects from both, this adds yet another layer to the tactical potential of Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope. Giving a character like Edge that already has the highest number of dashes a Spark like Electrodash that makes all dashes deal over 150 damage for that turn means that she can simply move forward ahead of the pack and significantly cripple the enemy strength just with a few quick dashes and that’s before even drawing a weapon to attack normally.
When not engaging in combat or mortal peril, Mario and his team are free to run around the open sandbox environment, shaking bushes for coins, spinning around on conspicuously marked patches in the ground, or solving the odd sidequest here and there. Most of what Mario and his Rabbid entourage will discover pay off not just in the immediate but also in long-term potential. Collecting keys for later use or accumulating enough Sparks to bypass a secret checkpoint is all part of taking some extra time to explore the open maps for all manner of tucked-away secrets.
The wait to get hands-on with Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope isn’t too far off, as players can look forward to on October 20th, 2022, as a Nintendo Switch exclusive. With only a month to go until launch, there’s plenty of time to check out the original Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle to cut your teeth on Ubisoft’s newest tactical RPG series. Now, if only we could see a new Ghost Recon in the vein of the 3DS exclusive Shadow Wars with a similar battle system.
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