Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope – Game Review


Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope

(available for Nintendo Switch Only)

Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle was a major hit in the first year of the Switch’s life, and clearly Nintendo liked how it went, considering they not only commissioned more DLC for the game, but they have now created a sequel. The game was shown at E3 2021, showing off the new space theme for the game, as well as a few new characters.

My personal opinion on Kingdom Battle was that I liked it, but I felt that it had room to grow. It felt like they had a lot of good ideas but it needed some more scope. The game also felt a little too linear for my liking, and I wasn’t a huge fan of exploring all of the environments as a result. But overall, I felt like the gameplay was enjoyable, I just didn’t feel like it was the best game ever at the time – especially since it came out in 2017, which was an amazing year for video games, particularly Nintendo who had a fantastic first year of the Nintendo Switch’s launch.

So, if Sparks of Hope was going to expand on those ideas, I was very much up for it. But considering it came out a week before Bayonetta 3, I did feel the need to get this game over and done with pretty fast so I could put all my concentration behind Bayonetta.

So, with all that being said, how did Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope turn out? In my opinion, pretty well! There are a few issues with the game, but if anything, I think that expansion I was hoping for from the first game is here. However, in a couple of ways, I feel like the series has regressed, though I’m wondering how much the ongoing Season Pass might change that. I bought the Gold Edition of the game which comes with the Season Pass, but not much has been announced about what to expect from it, other than Ubisoft’s own Rayman will be joining the game at a later date- though if he’s coming with an extra story mission is another matter.

PROS

  • Improved Gameplay

Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope is still a tactical strategy RPG, you still go through moving character’s positions, choosing which characters suit particular opponents, managing equipment, and you need to use the environment to your advantage, there’s a lot of variables in the game. The big difference this time comes in two forms: the sparks, which is a sort of crossover from the Lumas from Mario Galaxy and the Rabbids (furthering the space theme of this game) and these act as equipment for your team which will add special abilities and attacks, as well as provide you with resistance to certain attacks, since there’s several different times of elemental attacks. The other change is that the characters are not on a grid anymore, the characters are a lot more free, and as a result when you do the character leap movement from the first game, you can be a bit more precise with where you’re going to land.

The game also adds new characters this time, including a new Rabbid called Edge, Rabbid Rosalina, and Bowser, who is the only new Mario character in the game so far. I have more to say on what this might mean later…

The biggest additions to the game definitely improve it in my opinion. I think that the sparks add another level of strategy and make character loadouts before battle much more interesting, I certainly put a lot of thought into these each time. I also thought that moving away from the grid structure actually benefited the game. It’s not the most drastic change ever, this is still basically X-COM for kids, but I honestly thought that giving more freedom of movement meant that the maps could have more interesting design choices.

If there’s anywhere else that the gameplay improved, I thought that the boss fights were more challenging than usual. Though many of them have a bit of personality, none of them match the Phantom from the first game.

The other thing that the improved in the gameplay was that the environments felt fun to explore, they felt less like boxed in hallways and more like living, breathing worlds.

Not including the final world, you travel to five worlds in total. The first four being based on the four seasons of the year. These levels actually do invite you to explore them after the fact, you get new equipment and abilities which make you able to traverse certain areas during your repeat playthrough, which adds extra incentive to do the side missions, especially considering many of the sparks you can get from doing side missions. In fact, some of the best sparks I got came from doing side missions!

Overall, this gameplay really feels like the improvement that I was hoping for with the Mario + Rabbids franchise going forward.

  • Graphics

This game looks really good, especially if you’re playing with a Switch OLED screen. The game is made in the SnowDrop engine that Ubisoft has been using, and while I personally think it hasn’t worked for many of their games, this game is definitely the exception. These games look really good and I think that this game has improved on the first.

The environments look really crisp, and the world designs are also incredible to back it up. Even if they are a little small for my liking.

There obviously is a resolution bump when playing this game in portable mode, though it’s actually not as noticeable compared to some Switch games that have come out this year. Though I would say, this is a game you will want to play docked as much as possible if you have a good monitor.

MIXED

  • Game Length

Mario + Rabbids is once again a pretty short game. The main story can be beaten in about 14-16 hours, and if this is the only game you have for a while, you might want to max this out as you can get about 42 hours from it.

The problem for me was that by the end I felt like most of the improvements (in terms of graphics and gameplay) were running short on me. I kind of feel like in some aspects this game is a little too jam-packed with very similar battles. You’re going to see a lot of repeat battles and they tend to feel similar.

I personally thought that the game length was perfectly fine but I also felt that for many people it could hit a nerve, especially considering that this game is full price and actually costs more to get with a Season Pass, which you won’t feel the benefit for until next year, and it could be further beyond that since the note suggested that we could be getting the DLC in 2024 (not accounting for potential delays as well).

If anything, I think Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope might hit that middle ground that it doesn’t want to hit. Too short for the people that want a long game and too long for people who want a short experience. Again, this will vary depending on how many of the side missions you want to do, or if you want to go straight for the story.

Personally though, by the time I got to the final boss, I was losing a lot of the adulation I had in the early portions of the game. I was starting to notice more and more that it was just a slightly better version of Kingdom Battle instead of the vast improvement that I thought it was initially.

  • Story

I actually think that the story is a lot better this time around in many regards. It centres around Mario and the Rabbids taking on an intergalactic being called Cursa, who wants to use the Spark’s power for its own gain.

The story wants to be kind of epic whilst also being kind of silly, and it doesn’t quite hit the balance that it wants to. I did like some of the tie-ins to other Mario games that we got towards the end of the game, but that’s also another issue I had with the Mario cast being here, is that they kind of feel incidental this time. While the Mario Galaxy theme is sort of here, it also feels like the Rabbids take most of the focus this time, especially newcomer Edge (who was my favourite character in the game).

As a result, the story does feel like kind of a mixed bag and feels like less of a crossover, which I felt a lot more after Nate the Hate pointed it out on an episode of SpawnCast, with a suggestion that Ubisoft might be looking into the idea of keeping the franchise going if Nintendo doesn’t want to create any more of these games.

CONS

  • Difficulty

My advice is that if you want a challenge, you’ll have to turn this game up to the highest difficulty. The boss fight is the only challenge in this game that I faced, I very rarely had to hit the reset button for any fights..

I think it was also because you’re not buying new weapons this time, you’re only spending money this time to buy new items like mushrooms for healing or power blocks to provide a bit of environmental damage. You can change the way your weapons look but that requires collecting the local currency of each planet by completing side missions, and I didn’t bother since they didn’t provide any stat boosts, and you get a couple of new looks anyway with the purchase of the Season Pass.

Other than that, I thought that the game was a bit too easy, especially once you’ve figured out all of the enemies weaknesses, and you don’t get a lot of enemy variety in this game.

  • Yoshi Missing at Launch

I’m saying this now because he could be added later, but both Yoshi and Rabbid Yoshi aren’t in the game. I think personally that this was a bit of a bad decision, since I really like Yoshi and to see him missing feels a bit off. Though I will say, the game’s Season Pass will go down in my estimation if his addition is part of it, because at the end of the day that’s essentially taking out content from the first game only to charge to get it back. That being said, it won’t affect the score too much this time due to it being a personal opinion and I can’t mark it down since we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen with it at this stage.

Final Thoughts

Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope is an improvement on Kingdom Battle, but it’s not a huge one in my opinion. It is a good improvement where it counts like in the gameplay, environments, graphics, and it even has a great soundtrack made by all-stars such as Grant Kirkhope and Yoko Shinomura.

Overall, I didn’t think that this game was amazing but I still enjoyed my time with it, even if it was weighing on me towards the end. If you enjoyed the first one, I think this one will give you more of what you liked. If you’re curious about it but don’t have time for both games, I would recommend this one more. It doesn’t tie in too much to the first one, but the only context the first one provides is why Mario and the Rabbids are sharing a world. If you’ve never played tactical RPGs either, this is a good way to get into them.

Final Score: 7.7/10
Calvin – Nerd Consultant

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The Next Axia6th March 2024
12:00 pm to 2:00 pm

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