Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope works surprisingly well

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle should never have worked, but it’s a fantastic game nonetheless. The fun-filled Rabbids are a great match for the merry Mario and his friends, and the tactical gameplay is remarkably deep and challenging. Sequel Sparks of Hope dares to take that foundation quite a bit. Again, that works surprisingly well.

For associate producer Quentin Correggi and the rest of the team, it’s still an honor to work with Nintendo on a Mario spin-off, he says at the Ubisoft headquarters in Paris. Since the pitch for the games, which Ubisoft originally came up with, the partnership with Nintendo has only grown closer.

“It’s a pretty direct collaboration,” he explains. “We have already played two games with Sparks of Hope and have built up a good relationship of trust with them. Nintendo really plays the role of supervisor and advisor. We are in regular contact.”

The conversations that are held include the balance between the Rabbids, from the Rayman franchise, and the Mario characters – as you might expect from a meticulous company like Nintendo. For example, aren’t the Rabbids too present? At least they’re still as jolly as before, from the selfie-taking Rabbid Peach to the new, melodramatic Rabbid Edge. That probably won’t change anything for those who denounce the beasts, but the number of droll characters passing by during our play session bodes well for the tone of the game.

like a hare

More important, however, is the scale of the game. Sparks of Hope takes place across a galaxy of planets, where Mario and his associates liberate areas from the so-called Darkmess. Each planet has its own theme with main and side missions, with which Sparks of Hope should offer a lot more variety than its predecessor.

We explore Beacon Beach – a beach planet turned into a stormy dystopia – and Pristine Peaks – a snowy planet with a central castle. Walking around immediately feels a lot freer than in Kingdom Battle. Instead of demarcated areas to collect some coins, players can go in all directions, enemies are everywhere, more puzzles to find and optional missions to take to earn extra coins. Being able to choose when you enter battles keeps the pace in the game.

That fighting works quite differently in Sparks of Hope. Instead of a grid system, where players take their steps with a cursor and then perform one or two actions, they now have all the space to walk around a certain zone in real time. Each turn also offers two action points, and when one of them is spent deploying your weapon, it is no longer possible to walk.

According to Correggi, Ubisoft has spent by far the most development time “reinventing” the combat system. “The first time we tried it, there was almost too much freedom,” he says. “You could move anywhere without limits, even if you had already attacked. That just didn’t fit the turn-based genre. Then we made another version of the combat system, this time with way too many restrictions – you couldn’t move after you did anything. So within the team we sparred a lot about that balance and made a lot of versions and prototypes. At some point it finally clicked.”

Cheating

Nicely enough, battles in Sparks of Hope do indeed feel a lot more dynamic without losing sight of the tactical gameplay. For example, during a turn you have plenty of room to knock over a Bob-omb and cause a chain reaction of explosions by throwing it on the rest. Or to set up an extra-long Team Jump with Mario, where he can punch enemies twice and hit two hidden targets from the air with his pistols.

Apart from the real-time elements, Sparks of Hope is still about thinking a few steps ahead and setting up the best possible combo. Each character fulfills a clearer archetype this time, with unique weapons and abilities that we can already sample during an advanced battle. Peach, for example, is an excellent partner for Rabbid Mario, who could use some extra defense while throwing punches at close range. And Rabbid Rosalina easily breaks enemy cover with her projectiles, giving Luigi free rein with his sniper.

Added to this are the titular Sparks, who simply add up to two elemental attacks to each character. Before each battle, it is therefore useful to scan each enemy for its unique characteristics and adjust the team accordingly. This also applies the other way around, so we are advised to take a good look at our own weaknesses before a boss fight in the demo.

Performing a combination flawlessly after minutes of deliberation almost feels like cheating. Make no mistake: Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is still a tough game, although producer Quentin Correggi promises that the difficulty level is more flexible than before.

“We spent a lot of time introducing the game and we’re offering players different difficulty options,” he explains. “Think about the difficulty of the enemies and the game in general. There is even an option to become temporarily invincible to skip a specific battle or play the game with less experienced players and children.”

However, the main story, which is similar in length to Kingdom Battle, will be doable for most. According to Correggi, the biggest challenges have been saved for the side missions.

Rest for Yoshi

Sparks of Hope therefore feels like an ambitious sequel that, above all, feels smoother. It’s nice that the battles seem at least as deep as in Kingdom Battle, with numerous systems to make them even more complex. The only thing that could go wrong with Sparks of Hope is the lack of our favorite character, Yoshi. “It was difficult to put together the game’s roster, so in addition to new characters like Bowser and Edge, we decided to give Yoshi some rest,” Correggi said. Anyway.

Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope will be released on October 20 for Nintendo Switch.

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