Giant Bomb Review

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Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle Review

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This rollercoaster ride of a turn-based strategy game starts out almost impossibly strong, but by the end I mostly wished it'd been over three hours earlier.

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At first blush, the premise of Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle sounds like a twisted kitbash that would spring out of some bad, late-night message board conversation, only to be written off as "too weird." "It'll never happen," they'd say, as they pivot back to pitching their "Mega Man but with Wrestlers Instead of Robot Masters" idea to anyone who would listen. And that's why none of us are making video games. Ubisoft and Nintendo shared a vision and made a game that takes the characters of the Mario universe, smashes them up against the weird, underpants-fueled world of Ubisoft's Rabbids, and drops them into a turn-based strategy game that plays like a friendly version of XCOM with a lot more depth than you'd initially assume. Though the gameplay itself wears out its welcome about two-thirds of the way through its story, that initial premise and some terrific writing carry Kingdom Battle quite nicely.

The basic idea here is that a kid (who happens to be a big Nintendo fan) invents a set of goggles that can combine things together. Rabbids bust in and trash the place, as Rabbids are wont to do, and the goggles end up tearing a hole between this world and the Mushroom Kingdom. So the worlds, characters, and styles collide, usually in interesting ways. This leads to Rabbid versions of popular Mario characters, like "Rabbid Mario" and "Rabbid Peach" on your team, and fun enemies and bosses that probably shouldn't be spoiled here. Over the course of the story, you do what you can to right what's gone wrong and save the Mushroom Kingdom from this unwelcome blast of mashup culture.

The story's big beats are fairly standard, but there's a flourish and tone to the game that plays around with the very nature of what it means to be a Mario game. This leads to big entrances from classic characters on multiple occasions, but the writing along the way stands out, too. Not that all the writing is great, but the dialogue, most of which comes from a Roomba-like computer pal that serves as your cursor in combat, feels slightly more modern than you'd expect from a Mario game. Or, to put it another way, Rabbid Peach is obsessed with taking selfies and the game manages to make that totally work in an endearing way that feels subversive for a Nintendo game. There's even a boss fight against a singing character who lays down verses about Mario's perceived shortcomings, even touching on how he can't seem to string together more than two or three words at a time. The concept of Mario gets skewered in a way that almost had to have come from outsiders, people like you and me who have been living with the same burning questions for decades. Nintendo itself would probably never even think to ask these questions in the first place. This stuff doesn't permeate the entire game, but when it pops up, it's kind of incredible.

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All of this story lives at the edges of a turn-based strategy game that, at first glance, seems like a stripped-down take on the XCOM franchise. You'll move your squad of three characters around a map, taking cover whenever possible, taking shots at enemy rabbids along the way. As you start to get into the game's skill tree, the number of things you can do on a given turn begin to expand in a way that can almost be a little intimidating at first. Maximizing each character's full potential in each turn makes the encounters feel almost like a puzzle to be solved, rather than a straight-up strategy game. Part of that comes from less reliance on dice rolls than you might expect from a game of this sort. If a target is in range and not in cover, you will hit 100% of the time. If a target is behind full cover, you will hit 0% of the time, but most of the cover is destructible if you hit it enough times. Targets behind half cover is the only time you'll bite a nail or two, because those shots are always taken at a 50% chance to hit. You can also slide tackle targets while you're on the move and still get to where you're going with no movement penalty. Mario and Luigi have overwatch-like abilities that trigger with an automatic shot any time an enemy character moves, and that shot hits every single time. Combined with critical hit abilities that give some weapons a chance to pop enemies up in the air, and you're in for a show. Landing a critical hit while both Mario and Luigi are in position to lay down more damage as an enemy flies through the air in slow motion is a sight to see. Other characters can heal, land jumping attacks, draw enemies closer to force them out of cover, and so on. There are eight playable characters in all and you can respec your points at any time, so there's a pretty good amount of flexibility there.

Less flexible, then, are the weapon selections. Each character will have two weapons at their disposal, and the weapons are first unlocked in various ways, then they must be purchased with coins. Coins are fairly easy to come by, and you'll probably get most of yours by doing well in combat. Each chapter of the story breaks down into one or more encounters, and each one of those has a set par time for the number of turns you want to try to finish under. Doing so (without also losing anyone in your party) marks that encounter as perfect, giving you the maximum number of coins at the end of the section. You'll eventually have opportunities to return to the earlier worlds and take on new challenges, giving you plenty of opportunity to grind out currency, which may end up coming in handy later in the game.

No Caption Provided

Outside of combat, the game has a lot of walking. You'll hoof it from one fight to the next, and the game peppers these connecting areas with light puzzles and a ton of unlockable music and concept art. Most of those prizes are a little underwhelming in the context of the game itself, so after seeming charming for the first world or so, these puzzle quickly become tedious challenges with little reward. It's a shame that there isn't more variety here, because the core idea is sound, but before too long these bone-simple block-pushing puzzles just feel like a bad use of time.

The combat takes a turn in the third world. Right around the time you've got a good grasp on your abilities, enemies that nullify some of your best stuff start to pop up and ruin the fun. This forces you to change things up a bit and potentially swap in some new characters. The orbs that let you purchase new abilities are good for every character, so you won't find yourself in an ability hole if you need to swap in someone new, but purchased weapons are only good for one character. So you might find yourself out of coins and unable to purchase viable weaponry for the characters you haven't been using. This ends up being frustrating, creating a situation where you may need to go back and grind out some challenge missions to get your team in order. Either way, the increase in difficulty is not unmanageable, but the teleport abilities used by later enemies make them far less fun to fight. I found most of the combat in the back half of the game to just be kind of a hassle, which ended up with me limping into the final confrontations, ready for it to all be over. It's a shame that the gameplay couldn't quite keep up with the rest of the game.

The out-of-combat drudgery and late-game enemy design are probably the only negative things about Mario + Rabbids, but they end up casting a large shadow over the experience as a whole. That's not to say that the game should have just been some friendly cakewalk from start to finish--the game's got difficulty options that ensure that anyone should be able to get through the fights with enough persistence--but the way the game changes things up near the end makes the combat feel like a chore on any setting. It's an unfortunate shift that mars the final product quite a bit. This is still a wild ride with a handful of amazing moments, but the gameplay part of it needs more variety than it has, so the whole thing ends up coming back down to earth and feeling a little disappointing by the end.

Jeff Gerstmann on Google+

75 Comments

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fatalbanana

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Solh0und

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Solh0und • 

Guess I will wait for it to go on sale.

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doncabesa

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doncabesa • 

Ubisoft always has this issue, I'm loving AC:O but man is that game just freaking dense with content. Thankfully the writing can pull it through there at least.

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Liad

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Liad  Online • 

Good review. I was pretty addicted to the game in the beginning, then I just felt like I was going through the motions during the last third of the game.

The singing boss is also the only time I feel like Ubisoft really takes a stab at poking, prodding & having fun with the Nintendo license they acquired. It just seemed like they were too scared of disrespecting this beloved license that they ended up turning all the Nintendo characters into these dull, stoic heroes. The only time the game struck out with an identity for me was with the Rabbids, and I wish they would have played around more with the license, instead of playing it so safe.

Having said all that, there's a good chance that Ubisoft wanted to take it in a "riskier" direction, but Nintendo put its foot down every single time.

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killerDLS

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Edited By killerDLS • 

This is one of the most feel good games ive played all year. Very solid game. It gave me strong Costume Quest vibes while I played it.

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Cube

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Cube • 

Weird that you reviewed this one almost 3 months after it came out.

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dvorak

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dvorak • 

Like Liad said above, I'm pretty sure with all the adult focused jokes they wanted to push the envelope more, but Nintendo had to have put up a lot of bars for them to limbo under.

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JuggaloAcidman

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JuggaloAcidman • 

It’s a really good game that needs a little bit more in the end. Maybe more heroes or something? Better unlock tree? Can’t really put my finger on what it needs.

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bio595

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bio595 • 

This review nails it.
I was having a blast with the game till the third world when they introduce enemies that can teleport, negating any positioning and not triggering Mario or Luigi's overwatch abilities.

I feel like they could have maybe made this easier to swallow if you could swap Mario out of your party for someone who has different abilities.

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Onemanarmyy

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Onemanarmyy • 

the end of this sounds like it was an unpleasant drag.

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kevinski

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Edited By kevinski • 

I mostly enjoyed Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. It's frustrating at times, and the final boss battle is complete bullshit in terms of how it completely betrays the player's expectations from a strategic standpoint, but it's still one of my favorite games of the year.

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effache

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effache • 

I don't really disagree with anything in the review, but something in my gut tells me three stars seems a little harsh. I guess I just enjoyed the systems more even as they started to get stale at the end; I ended up tackling all but the 'extreme' challenges and getting a perfect on everything but the final boss.

He's right about the combat in the last half of the last world, and the puzzles in pretty much most of the game. Just obnoxious drudge that gets in the way of the really fantastic encounters. Honestly, firaxis could probably learn a thing or two about how to make soldier movement in xcom more interesting from this game.

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spankingaddict

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SubwayD

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SubwayD • 

The game would get a really positive 4/5 from me... whoever the hell I am.

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Eribuster

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Eribuster • 

I recall one or two interviews where the developers were encouraged by Nintendo to get weird. Granted, I can imagine both companies would avoid anything risque for Mario's wide audience.

Shame about how the game ended for Jeff. I'm getting the game soon from some left over airline miles. I hope to enjoy at least the first two-thirds of the game.

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Geralt

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Geralt • 

All games review are consider "just-in-time" for me as long as it released before Black Friday sales.

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Atwa • 

Makes sense, Jeff always seemed open about not liking turned based strategy games.

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Edited By xbob42 • 

I got to world 3 and just went back to XCOM 2's new expansion at the time, which was a thousand times more enjoyable. Less polished, sure, but a vastly, vastly better game.

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ZombiePie • 

Push Warren, Push Rabbid Mario.

Peach Rabbid is ten times the character Rabbid Mario is and is a strong contender for character of the year.

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FlashFlood_29 • 

Good review, though I didn't mind much of the puzzles between fights. They didn't halt my progress enough to become too tedious but also didn't feel completely thoughtless. The non-rewards weren't a bother because the I'm all about intrinsic reward, anyways. This goes two ways, though, with M+R rewards. You know you can skip them but then you'd miss out on some hefty skill-point bonuses and weapons. If the game were to tell you which were worthwhile, you'd be able to skip most of the puzzles if you wanted, only doing the actually rewarding and necessary (for progress) ones. But then where's the exploration and discovery?

It's exciting to work though a puzzle in anticipation of the chance to receive a bonus that could really expand your battle strategy.

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Catlicker

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Catlicker • 

Super late review, but happy to have it, good job Jeff!

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DarlingDixie • 

Even though the escorts and 'reach point' stuff is boring I couldn't give this thing a 3. That's devil talk.

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Sorensyntax

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Sorensyntax • 

Great review, I do have to say though that the game had some truly amazing environmental design, and some very fluid animations(especially the weapon screens) which added to the charm that Jeff mentioned. Thought I'd throw that out there for the art nerds.

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GrizzlyButts

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GrizzlyButts • 

Thanks for the write up, much appreciated insight.

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TwitterBeef

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TwitterBeef • 

Yep. Spot on. Stopped playing in the third world after the teleporting guys showed up. Hopefully will come back and finish it one day..

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Edited By Ravelle • 

Pretty much agree with Jeff here, I would have enjoyed the game more if the last part of the game didn't feel as lazy and rushed, using a lot of old enemies types and throwing too many at you to slow down the pacing. Even the levels started to loose its clever design which is a bummer.

The Rabbit Kong battle was a great puzzle boss and had a lot of personality, it's one of the few with a cinematic after the fight as well. A shame most of the other ones were just a quick name screen and not much attention of character besides that.

If there's gonna be a sequel I could do without the dumb box shoving puzzles and walking every where and perhaps better pacing.

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PhilipDuck

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Edited By PhilipDuck • 

Dead on review with what i thought, enjoyed my first 10 hours with the game, fell off in the final world and will probably never go back to finish it..

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fetterdave

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fetterdave • 

Agree totally. The game is 5/5 for the first two worlds, then... well, what everyone else has been saying. I'm still glad I bought and played it, as those first bunch of hours are totally worth it.

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jacksukeru

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Edited By jacksukeru • 

I'm close to full agreement here, only I didn't really start burning out on the game until world 4. By that point, no new enemy types are introduced. Even one mini-boss encounter just feature reskinned versions of other enemy types.

My other issue was the limitations that they put on your party makeup. On their own they weren't a huge deal; 3 characters, Mario has to be the leader, a Rabbid has to be in it. But combined they really felt like they limited my choices.

I don't know if it was balance or difficulty design considerations that resulted in these choices (or even narrative, as I discovered that certain cutscenes would use different Rabbids, with the same animations, depending on which was in your party) but I really hope that if a sequel was made, that they would ease up on these restrictions somewhat.

Still a pretty cool game.

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damonkey64

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Edited By damonkey64 • 

This is a beautiful game and a great first attempt at the concept. With that said, I do not like the party jump mechanic that you must engage with, and unlike X-Com the 0%, 50%, 100% hit mechanic is too simplistic. On top of that some of the enemies are just spongy or won't take damage unless flanked which leads to it sucking some of the fun out of the whole endeavor. Hopefully it sold well enough for a sequel and some of these things can be tweaked and that game can come out more balanced.

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MocBucket62

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MocBucket62 • 

Woah! Wasn’t expecting a review for Mario + Rabbids since it came out in August. But thanks for the review Jeff.

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YoThatLimp

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YoThatLimp • 

I'm close to full agreement here, only I didn't really start burning out on the game until world 4. By that point, no new enemy types are introduced. Even one mini-boss encounter just feature reskinned versions of other enemy types.

My other issue was the limitations that they put on your party makeup. On their own they weren't a huge deal; 3 characters, Mario has to be the leader, a Rabbid has to be in it. But combined they really felt like they limited my choices.

I don't know if it was balance or difficulty design considerations that resulted in these choices (or even narrative, as I discovered that certain cutscenes would use different Rabbids, with the same animations, depending on which was in your party) but I really hope that if a sequel was made, that they would ease up on these restrictions somewhat.

Still a pretty cool game.

Yeah, the party makeup stuff was so limiting, but I get why they wouldn't want you to just run through the game with just Mario, Luigi and Peach.

The last 5 or so hours definitely felt like a slog, and I went from lovingly exploring the world to kind of just mainlining the battles. I had got in a habit of going back through the levels to unlock more stuff with the new exploration abilities it gave you but I could not be bothered doing that by Level 4.

I'd say the game was a 4/5 most the way through and then took a dip by the end.

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mintyice

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Underwhelmed

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Underwhelmed • 

I dumped a lot of hours into this for the first half of the game (I was actually choosing this over War of the Chosen) but I slowed down right before I hit world 3, and then revisited the game for a couple levels now and then for the rest of the game. I think in small doses, the end levels didn't grind me down. I can see that they might of had I been still binging on the game.

On one hand, I think a sequel that fixes some of the rougher edges could be amazing. On the other hand, I'm not sure the cross over gimmick could work a second time.

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Edited By superdomino • 

I'd have given it at 3.5/5 because I'm a rebel like that. I totally agree about the endgame slog being bit tedious. World 3 was the last place I felt an appropriate level of challenge (plus OMG that fucking boss fight). World 4 didn't feel like it added anything other than 20% more health to enemies.

One of my biggest complaints would be the movement; which initially I thought I would love. I had assumed that, if it was utilized correctly, it was a way to always be one step ahead of the enemy and constantly keep them flanked or on lower ground. In reality, it meant attempts to keep my team in cover were futile, as they were just as mobile as me and constantly uprooted my attempts to hold a position. Im sure much of that is due to the hit detection being boiled down to only 3 options (0,50 or 100%) thus meaning you would need to always get a shot or else matches would take forever, but that is the exact kind of balancing act these kinds of tactical games need to nail.

Overall I really enjoyed how weird of a thing this game was but there were enough small problems to weight it down from a proper 4/5.

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Y2Ken

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Y2Ken • 

Huh, weird to see a review go up now but I guess Jeff decided he wanted to talk about it in some more detail and I'm all for that! I've finished the first two worlds and I adore it - it solves a lot of the problems I have with XCOM, such as trained soldiers missing exposed enemies at point-blank range or, more generally, percentage calculations being somewhat unclear.

After enjoying Enemy Unknown a ton but falling off XCOM 2 somewhat, this actually turned out to be exactly the game I wanted. I'm interested to see how it holds up in the back half (as that seems to be where most people are cooling on it somewhat), but I'm holding off playing until I next go away as it really works well as a handheld Switch title for me.

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Lanechanger

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Lanechanger  Online • 

Huh... wasn't expecting a review for rabbids at this point!

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Bicycle_Repairman

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Bicycle_Repairman • 

To be honest this game deserves 5 stars for being a Mario / Rabbits game. And not being a micro transactions filled mobile game.

This game is, in these trying times a beacon of light and childlike joy and wonder in a sea of darkness.

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Dray2k

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Dray2k • 

Giant Bomb proving again that they're really keeping it real.

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Deathpooky

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Deathpooky • 

Interesting to see a late review! This for me is one of the weirdest games of the year. It went from leaked announcement, where it looked like nonsense that I couldn't believe Nintendo would sanction. To the E3 actual announcement, which made the game seem actually amazing. And even the start of the game holds up to that - the changes they make to the XCOM systems are really smart and maximizing your actions to take down enemies efficiently is pretty amazing. But once the difficulty takes a turn the game really becomes a slog and defeats that fun.

It's one of the most surprising games that they pulled off the concept, and one of the most disappointing given that they fail to balance out the concept over more than half a game.

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jred250

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jred250 • 

Jeff proving again that he is one of the best reviewers in the industry. My thoughts on the game mirror his, where I found myself really enjoying the game initially but ultimately finding it a slog.

My only issue with the review is that it is so late after launch that if it is intended as a method to help a purchasing decision, those decisions have already been long made. However, with that said I love Jeff's writing so I'll take a review no matter what the timing is.

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MooseHead

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MooseHead • 

Late review but ultimately glad I ended up waiting. This helps temper my expectations for a game I'm excited to own and play for the Switch. I sent my wife a direct Amazon link to the game when a 1-day sale popped up ($20 off) so looking forward to playing this around the holidays.

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stick100

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stick100 • 

Personally it was a 4/5 for me. I found the combat to get nicely challenging in world 3 and 4. I used Rabbit Luigi nearly constantly and he basically breaks the game. He has a 100% chance of vampire when slide tackling up to 3 guys for up to 80% life steal on all attacks. If you have him you can basically full heal your party every turn.

I think without him I would have had a much tougher time but I really enjoyed the challenge all the way until the credits. I looked at the final challenge mission and that sucker is impossible. You have to escort a toad for about 30 turns. They spawn enemies so often and high level you have to play basically perfectly clearing 3+ guys per turn for all 30 turns.

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GRIMREEFZ

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Pierre42

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Pierre42 • 

Hmm this reads more like a 4-star review to me.

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chilibean_3

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chilibean_3 • 

Really can't disagree. I ended up going easy mode for the last bit just to get it over with quicker.

That Opera boss was pretty dang cool though. Bowser Jr was fun. What a weird thing this game was.

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milehigh17

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Edited By milehigh17 • 

Fair review. I really I enjoyed it for what it was, and I happily day 1'd the game just to support crazy shit like this getting made.

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doctordonkey

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Edited By doctordonkey • 

The game definitely seemed like it needed one more Mario character and one more Rabbid character. By the time the last character is introduced, you are pretty much finished the campaign. I feel like it didn't start to drag until world 4. 3 still felt fresh enough.

I think the people that had issues with the difficulty all had the same problem: they didn't use Rabbid Luigi, and they kept using Rabbid Peach. R.Luigi is the strongest character in the game by a fairly large margin. He is both your tank and your healer. His insane 160 damage double dash that applies vampiric puts him above any other character. He also has the best shield out of all the Rabbids.

Seriously, you can beat the entire game with just Mario and Rabbid Luigi after you've upgraded his vamp dash. It doesn't matter who your third member is.