Home Feature news 'Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope' is a challenging strategy game that...

‘Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope’ is a challenging strategy game that prioritises freedom and fun

Nintendo and Ubisoft are teaming up again, hoping to recreate the success of turn-based strategy game Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle with sequel Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope. If my recent three-hour preview session is anything to go by, it’s in with a good chance.

Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope follows Mario, his friends, and their Rabbid counterparts as they fight against a sinister cosmic entity named Cursa. For the uninitiated, Rabbids are energetic, slightly deranged rabbit-like creatures created by Ubisoft, and Mario is a plumber who is regularly tasked with saving his country’s reigning monarch.

Having attacked the Mushroom Kingdom, Cursa is now spreading dark matter (called “Darkmess”) throughout the universe while capturing Sparks — improbably cute fusions of Rabbids and Super Mario Galaxy’s chibi-like star creatures called Lumas — in order to harness their energy. Sparks are new creatures introduced in Sparks of Hope, which players can equip and activate during battle to provide boosts such as elemental attack buffs.

Like the rest of the Rabbids, they are also nowhere near as annoying as ditzy, hyperactive, screaming rabbits might have been.

Enemies can be vulnerable or resistant to different elemental effects.
Credit: Nintendo / Ubisoft

I went into Sparks of Hope pinning my own hopes on appealing gameplay rather than nostalgic charm, having no nostalgia for any of the characters involved. I’m one of those people who was denied a gaming console as a child, meaning Mario and his friends were closer to mythological figures than familiar companions. On top of that, Rabbids just aren’t my thing. Like Minions, Angry Birds, or practically any of Disney’s dopey sidekicks, I tend to find such characters more irritating than entertaining.

As such, I was pleased to find the Rabbids much less hyperactive than expected, acting like goofy caricatures at worst. They were certainly tolerable, and potentially even enjoyable for adult players as well as children. I was also charmed by the game’s wholesome and surprisingly delightful humour, which resisted straying into cringeworthy, boringly sanitised, or irritatingly juvenile jokes. Granted, searching for Rabbid Mario’s missing overalls isn’t the weightiest quest, but there’s something lovely about how seriously everyone in-game takes it.

Combined with its engaging gameplay, Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope seems set to offer a fun package.

Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope bears a lot of similarities to its predecessor in terms of gameplay. Dash attacks and team jump moves have returned, as have pipes which you can use to shuttle yourself across the battlefield and back again. Your active party is, again, restricted to three characters in most battles, with Mario, Luigi, and Peach all returning alongside their Rabbid counterparts,

However, I did play at least one battle where they were joined by a fourth ally — new character Rabbid Rosalina. Also appearing for the first time is Edge, a green-haired, leather-clad Rabbid with no Nintendo counterpart. (That is, unless Sparks of Hope has secret plans to unveil a new addition to Mario’s gang.) Edge is a decent answer for players looking for a female character less prone to princess gowns, and her giant throwable blade has earned her a regular position in my team lineup.

Another significant difference between Kingdom Battle and Sparks of Hope is that the latter has no grid. While Kingdom Battle‘s fights repositioned characters along a clearly demarcated square grid, Sparks of Hope has a more fluid movement system. Now characters are surrounded by a blob-like radius marking the area in which they can maneuver. Movement within this area is unrestricted, with players able to reposition characters as much as they want before locking in their attacks. 

A screenshot of 'Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope' showing Rabbid Rosalina in battle.
Rabbid Rosalina joins the fight in a battle involving four playable combatants.
Credit: Nintendo / Ubisoft

This was vital in making my time with Sparks of Hope feel loose and fun. Turn-based strategy games often use a limited number of action points for movement, forcing players to choose between attacking or repositioning. Each move needs to be carefully calculated beforehand and mistakes can be costly. 

In contrast, Sparks of Hope‘s more relaxed movement system provides freedom and encourages experimentation, enabling players to run around and check out different positions. I wasn’t counting squares or planning every step in my head, knowing I could explore, try different ideas, and simply backtrack if it didn’t work out. The game does still allocate action points to characters, however, which players can spend to attack or use items.

Sparks of Hope also makes trying out different strategies and team lineups easy by letting you replay a battle immediately after you’ve finished it. This is useful if you want to challenge yourself to see if you could have finished a fight in fewer moves, or to find out how different characters might have fared in that battle. Or even to grind up experience points (if you’re a sicko like me who enjoys that). Regardless of which characters are currently in your active roster, everyone will gain experience from battles along the main storyline, though side battles only dispense experience to the characters who are actually on the battlefield.

A screenshot of 'Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope' showing Mario's skill tree.
Characters can unlock a skill tree as they level up.
Credit: Nintendo / Ubisoft

I only played through a handful of Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope‘s story and side battles, and the build wasn’t yet finished. Even so, I had a lot of fun and found myself wanting to spend more time with it, regardless of my lack of nostalgic affection for the characters.

I am still opposed to the entire concept of Rabbids and their ilk. However, Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope might be good enough to make me forget that.

Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope will arrive Oct. 20 on Nintendo Switch.

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