Ubisoft’s long-awaited Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope just launched for the Nintendo Switch – does it live up to the first game and is it a must-buy this holiday season? We checked it out, here’s our review.
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle came out over five years ago, and was one of the big surprises in the early days of the Nintendo Switch. We were surprised that Nintendo would license out their most famous mascot, but also that Ubisoft went in a very different direction with it – away from the normal platforming shenanigans of Mario and the minigame-laden antics of the Rabbids. Sparks of Hope builds on the strategic/tactical gameplay foundations of that game, but implements some pretty big changes in the process as well.
The biggest achievement of the Mario + Rabbids games is that they make an otherwise rather niche genre accessible to a wide audience. Beloved characters, a gentle learning curve and a friendly user interface are all layered on top of what is a deceptively deep concept for strategic gameplay. Sparks of Hope continues that, but you’ll instantly notice a few radical changes – the biggest and most eye-catching one being the fact that Sparks of Hope does away with the old grid-style for movement, instead letting you move your characters around freely in combat (as long as you stay within your movement range).
This change greatly enhances your ability to position yourself on the battlefield, giving more strategic options, like the chance to let other characters leapfrog over you. You can play around with your movement options more this time as well, as you change your position until you think it’s time to start attacking.
Sparks of Hope introduces a wide range of new weapons and abilities, and brings a selection of three new characters to the table. And because the game is less Mario-centric and lets you control all characters, it gives you a wide range of possible strategies to try out. It’s fun to try and experiment with them as well, because that means alternating between fun and personality-filled characters that are all brought to life with fun little touches like character-specific animations and voiceovers.
Adding additional depth, the titular Sparks provide boosts to your team with additional skills, which are unique to each combination of a Spark and character. Add an impressive range of unlockable skills from a comprehensive skill tree, and you have gameplay mechanics that start off as engaging and constantly keep evolving and engaging throughout the length of the campaign.
Compared to the first game, Sparks of Hope generally features larger battle arenas, which means more room to experiment with all those weapons, characters and abilities. It also means you might be facing more enemies per battle though, which requires more patience when it’s the enemy’s turn to move – even when you’re fast-forwarding. The developers have gotten very creative with some of the level/battle layouts though, so we enjoyed spending our time there and exploring some of the optional parts of the game.
Much more than an easy sequel that does more of the same, Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope manages to make a few bold changes to a successful formula and comes out a winner. Offering charming visuals and tons of personality, it lets gamers play around with the many mechanics it offers with a ton of freedom. Some of the larger battles go on a little too long, but we had a blast with this one – an easy recommendation.