The Mario + Rabbids crossover was a pretty big surprise when it was announced. Back in 2017, the game was met with glowing praise and, like myself, became a favorite for many Switch owners. It gave a wonderful tactical experience akin to XCOM, but with the color and charm of both Mario and the mischievous Rabbids. Now, I was able to go hands-on with Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope and learn more about how the game has evolved for this new entry.
In terms of presentation, Sparks of Hope is beautiful. The colors are vivid, the environments detailed and varied, and the music is incredible. Instead of the stage format used in Kingdom Battle, Sparks of Hope has a more open-world design, allowing you to explore entire areas and complete sidequests at your leisure. The areas are very well-crafted, giving tons of things to do, puzzles to solve, and secrets to find.
They also implemented a better Fast Travel system to get around the locations easier, which was a minor complaint from me for the first game. Since they are using a more open format to the areas instead of being segregated into chapters, they also added enemy battle encounters into the field areas. These are smaller encounters with a variety of enemies. While entirely unnecessary for progression through the main story, they are sometimes involved in sidequests and give some money and experience.
This brings up a new addition. Instead of being entirely gear-based, Character Progression is now based on levels. Completing battles gives you EXP, increasing your major stats and providing you with skill points to spend on each character’s skill tree. If you’ve played Kingdom Battle, the abilities are pretty similar to how they were before, with apparent additions and changes to facilitate the changes to the battle system, which I will cover in a moment.
Mario still has Stomp and Hero Sight, Rabbid Peach and Peach can still heal and grant shields, Luigi is still a sniper, etc., but each character has been enhanced with new buffs, weapons, and skills. Mario has the new Jump Shot, letting him fire his dual pistols from the air, Rabbid Peach has a triple rocket launcher that goes over cover, Peach still has a shotgun because, of course, she does, and Rabbid Luigi’s shots can bounce between enemies for group damage. Every character has a role in fulfilling, and none play the same. Since even Mario can be switched out of the party now, anyone can play the way they want, with whatever team of characters you want.
During the preview, I played as two new characters, Edge and Rabbid Rosalina, with very distinct playstyles and attacks. Edge uses a sword, can dash multiple times, and has powerful counterattacks, making her very powerful at close range. Rabbid Rosalina uses a machine gun for tons of damage and the ability Ennui, effectively making enemies skip their turn unless they take damage. She is also powerful at close range but, unlike Edge, is quite frail by comparison. I only got to use her during the boss fight of Chapter 2, and she was pretty powerful, so we will see how she balances out on release.
Now, what is new? Loads. Starting with the battle system itself, battlefields are no longer grid-based. Each character can move along a circular radius from their starting point and move inside that area as much as they want until they attack with their primary weapon. The freedom to move to set up, switch to another character to team jump, and then switch back to the first character to carry a different direction is fantastic, and it’s far from the only example of the freedom you have with the new system.
To complement the movement, we are given counters for how many actions a character can make per turn. You have Dash points, Team Jump points, and Action points. While you can typically only use Dash or Team Jump once per turn, some characters can spend Skill Points to gain extra charges for these actions. Action points govern your use of Skills, Sparks, and primary weapons. Each character has 2 Action Points per turn, meaning you can’t do everything every turn, so planning your actions is more important than ever.
Since I mentioned them, and they are in the title, what are Sparks? Well, they are effectively your gear for your characters. Unlike the first game, you don’t purchase new weapons for your team since their stats increase via levels and skill tree upgrades. To add variety in place of weapon upgrades, we are given Sparks, which are a Luma/Rabbid combo. These bunny-eared stars have various combat and passive effects, like increasing attack, adding elements to your dashes or weapons, immunity to status effects, and more.
You can gain more Sparks via story and sidequests. At first, you can only equip 1 per character but gain more slots later, meaning your team can take advantage of various builds based entirely on what you want for any given battle situation. You can also upgrade each Spark to increase their effects using Star Bits, which you gain from clearing battles and completing quests.
If a Spark has an elemental attack, it offers defense from not only the same element but also immunity from status effects caused by that element, like Fire Sparks being immune to Burning. Enemies also have resistances and weaknesses, which you can view using Beep-O’s scan during battle preparation and combat. During battle prep, you can switch your party, change equipped Sparks, and upgrade your characters and Sparks, letting you adjust to what you need for any battle you encounter. Sparks of Hope is about freedom, and they do a lot to grant you that freedom.
The last major thing I want to mention is status effects. Kingdom Battle had statuses like Honey, which stops you from moving for a turn, and Bounce, which throws you in a random direction. Instead of using these again, Sparks of Hope made all status effects based on elements, like Fire causing Burning, Water causing Splash, which replaces Bounce, and Ice causing Frostbite, which replaces Honey.
I feel like a small amount of charm was lost with this change, but it fits the theme of the Sparks better, so it’s not a total loss. However, I did notice a lack of explanation as to what each effect even did. When I mentioned this to the Developer at the preview, they did confirm they intended to add more details in the final build to help players understand the effects. Due to the new abundance of products and enemies also using them more frequently, I’m glad they intend to explain these better.
My last comment about the changes will be the jarring addition of the Rabbids speaking and voice lines for the characters. I say jarring because, as odd as it was to see Rabbid Luigi and the others talking and having fully voiced lines during combat, it was also very well done, so I can’t say it was terrible. Just a strange thing I needed to adjust to, but I enjoyed my time with the preview.
Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope is coming to Nintendo Switch on October 20, 2022.
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