Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope builds on Kingdom Battle with a bigger story, better combat, and exceptional exploration!
- Title: Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope
- Release Date: October 20, 2022
- Price: $59.99
- Suggested Audience Age: Rated Everyone 10+ by the ESRB
- Availability: Switch
- Recommended for fans of: Tactics Games, Dumb Jokes, and Side Quests
Geek to Geek Media was provided with a review copy of this title.
Almost exactly 24 hours ago, I started playing an advance copy of Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope. With such a short window, I didn’t think there was any chance I’d have anything to share on release day.
I absolutely adored the first Mario + Rabbids game. I went into this one knowing that I would love the game, but I figured I’d need to invest way more time in it before I could really talk about where it succeeds and fails.
However, I was very wrong. The opening few battles that set up the story and served as a tutorial didn’t give me much to work with. As soon as I hit the first open area, though, I knew that this sequel was more than just more of the same.
Like most stories, Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope starts off with a search for pants.
After the events of the first game, the Rabbids and the extended Mario family have settled into a pleasant, peaceful life. As Mario, Peach enlists your help in finding Rabbid Mario's overalls while he waits in a bush.
How did Rabbid Mario end up nude in a shrub? Some questions are best left unanswered.
Anyway, then an existential threat shows up and the whole crew takes off in a spaceship to save the universe. There are a few cute cut scenes here, but c'mon… This is Mario + Rabbids. You’re here for the fun tactics battles, not the story, right?
Focusing on Fighting
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle might have been the very first character tactics game I got into. I loved the Advance Wars games back on the GBA (still waiting and waiting on that Switch release…), but this series is built more on the backs of Fire Emblem and XCOM. The focus is on the movement and positioning of a small squad, rather than resource management on a big battlefield.
Sparks of Hope’s first reveal showed a radial-based movement system in place of the first game's grid system, but in practice, the combat doesn’t feel terribly different. Even though your movement is shown as a big radius around your character, the maps are still built on a grid, so movement feels more fluid without drastically changing the actual mechanics.
Just like the first game, the movement-based systems in Sparks of Hope are my favorite aspect of combat. Figuring out how to tackle a Bob-omb, lob it at a group of enemies, do a flying leap off an ally to land behind cover and then shoot a fiery arrow at another enemy to make them go running around setting their fellows aflame is amazing, and feels even better here than it did before.
The thing that has really impressed me with Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope over the original game is all of the outside-of-combat stuff. It’s been years now since I played the first game, but my memory of the exploration was that it was a lot of very long, linear levels. I know there were side puzzles and things to explore, but my recollection of the critical path was that it was a direct, restricted corridor from one fight to the next, so I didn't really engage with those side things when they did pop up.
It doesn’t help that I am mostly a “critical path” focused gamer lately.
In Sparks of Hope, there are five planets to explore during your journey. I’d love to tell you about the variety of these worlds, but the truth is that I have spent the several hours I’ve played exclusively in the first world. Rather than the straight line from A-to-Z of the first game, the planet I dropped onto here is an open world, albeit a very small one.
Leaving the Critical Path
There’s clear signposting telling you where to go to complete the mandatory objectives in Sparks of Hope, and I’d say I got through the required battles in the first area in about an hour. The rest of the time I’ve spent exploring a ton of side quests and optional battles, just because the world is fun to explore and the writing is just goofy enough to keep me hooked.
Past the pants hunt in the opening, I’ve entered a fish punching competition, solved an archeological riddle, hunted Bob-ombs, and helped a sky-high DJ get his groove back. Beyond experience and cash for consumable items, the sum total reward for all of these diversions has been some purely cosmetic weapon skins and codex entries that I will probably never read.
I just did it because doing it was fun.
Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is an additive game to the original, and I’m glad that it’s not as different as it originally looked. The new movement mechanics slot in really well to make things a little faster and more fluid, without drastically changing the absolutely wonderful combat of the first game. Instead, the great part of the first game is just as good, and the mediocre part is now absolutely delightful.
I don’t know if the charm I’ve found in the design of the first world will carry through to the end of the game, but I have no reason to think it won’t. Ubisoft has, from what I’ve seen, managed to make a sequel to a great game that is just a bit better in every single aspect.
Oh, except the Rabbids talk in this one and that is totally weird and I’m not okay with it. Of course, since all the side quests I’m loving are given to you by Rabbid NPCs I can see why it’s necessary… but it’s still weird and off-putting every time Rabbid Peach yells “selfie time” during a battle.