Come for the comedy, stay for the combat.
Earlier this month, Ubisoft invited Pure Nintendo to San Francisco for a hands-on presentation of the forthcoming Mario+Rabbids Sparks of Hope. At the media event, I was able to spend around three hours playing the game, an opportunity surpassed only by the time I spent speaking with the game’s creative director, Davide Soliani.
Our gameplay sessions were broken into two segments. The first involved the game’s prologue and the opening world. This introduced us (as it will the players) to the game’s plot and combat mechanics. The second session jumped a few worlds into the game, giving us a closer look at the intricate strategies that’ll be involved once things kick into high gear and the party configuration options become more intricate.
I had hoped to provide video of these sessions. Unfortunately, something went wrong with my gameplay capture, and I came home with no audio. My brilliant idea to record my own sound effects (ala Teen Titans Go) was nixed by my editors. So, rather than have you watch me (as Mario, Rabbid Peach, Edge, etc.) run silently through the game, here’s a much quicker bullet-point preview of what you can expect from Mario+Rabbids Sparks of Hope when the game releases on October 20, 2022.
- As anyone who has played the previous game(s) knows, Mario+Rabbids is very much a Mario experience. From the opening movie to well into the adventure, Mario fans will feel very comfortable inside these familiar worlds.
- There’s a lot to explore here, too. Rather than just bounce from combat phase to combat phase, you’re able to freely explore, locating secret areas and bonuses that can help you level up your characters. Some areas require some light puzzle solving to reach, such as placing boulders inside of cannons to shoot yourself to otherwise unreachable areas.
- There’s a slue of mini-games available, too. See a random ring standing up on the beach? Run through it to unlock a challenge that will provide you with a nice reward.
- The early levels start you off with just two heroes to ease you into the combat mechanics. They also focus on catching the “Sparks” you will use throughout the game.
- The Sparks come with various abilities to assist you in combat or open up different areas you can explore. You’ll want to spend time optimizing your party with these “buddies,” as their abilities can greatly increase your effectiveness against certain enemies.
- Having the right heroes in place will help, too. More than once I left a character open to attack, but was able to compensate with the right protection or healing ability during combat. If a particular fight is proving to be too tough, you can bail and try it again with a different hero/spark combo.
- Speaking of which, when you do enter the turn-based combat scenarios—be it as part of the story, as a side-quest, or just a random encounter—Sparks of Hope is serious about it. Fans of games such as XCOM or even Valkyria Chronicles should enjoy the new setup. For example…
- When it’s your turn, you can select your characters in any order and move them freely within a limited area of the battlefield. This allows you to see who they can attack and who can attack them, as well as to determine what type of damage you can do. You can continue to move until you’ve attacked. You can no longer move after that, so you’ll want to make sure you’re protected after attacking, but you can use an action point for another purpose (healing, a buff, etc.) if you have one left.
- Taking advantage of different characters’ abilities is key. Luigi is a great sniper, for example, but not if his enemy is behind protection. If you use Rabbid Peach to clear a straight shot for him, Luigi will do significant damage.
- Characters can even help extend your range of combat. If Edge can’t reach a certain area, for example, Mario can toss her into the air to float beyond obstacles and land behind the enemy for a devastating attack. Eventually, you even get the ability to attack from the air!
- All of this happens on impressively large and cleverly designed battlefields that use familiar Mario gameplay elements—such as warp pipes—to move around.
There’s plenty more to go over, but we’ll save the details for our full review. Instead, I’ll wrap things up by saying Mario+Rabbids Sparks of Hope almost instantly won me over with its deeply strategic gameplay that’l satisfy most turn-based strategy gamers. I’m more into that camp than I am the Mario or Rabbids world, but I am also charmed by the game’s colorful presentation and goofy sense of humor. Ends up tactical strategy games don’t need heavy doses of melodrama to be successful. Who knew?
Is Sparks of Hope better than Mario+Rabbids Kingdom Battle? I can’t say, as I didn’t play that. But that’s another feather in Sparks of Hope’s hat; you can enjoy it without having tried the previous entries in the series. A lot of gameplay has been jammed into this game, along with almost as many surprises. I’m sure I barely scratched the surface during my hands-on opportunity, and I’m looking forward to digging deeper when the game is released on October 20th.