Initial release date: October 20, 2022
Genres: Turn-based strategy, Tactical role-playing game, Action-adventure game
Developers: Ubisoft Milan, Ubisoft Paris
Composers: Grant Kirkhope, Gareth Coker, Yoko Shimomura
Series: Raving Rabbids, Mario + Rabbids, Rayman
Platform: Nintendo Switch
"Review Copy Provided By Ubisoft and Nintendo"
One of the most surprising game announcements of 2017 was Nintendo and Ubisoft collaborating to make none other than Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle as it seemed incredibly out of character for Nintendo to allow a 3rd Party developer to have access to not just any of their IPs but their premiere franchise being Mario. Many didn’t think too much of the game and assumed it would fail, however, it went on to be one of the greatest new subseries in the Mario franchise and helped make the Rabbids a mainstream attraction. Kingdom Battle was effectively a simplified XCOM which is a tactical strategy RPG centered around moving about a grid like map and positioning yourself to be able to attack your enemies and the like. So, after 5 years Nintendo announces a sequel that promises to be even more bombastic than the original. Does it live up to the original or does it do too much of the same? Let us find out!
Considering that this is a Mario title, the plot isn't the deepest or the most important aspect of the game in comparison to the gameplay, however, for sake of giving you a general idea of what the game is about I’ll go over it here. The general plot of the game sees Mario, Peach, Luigi, and their Rabbid variants on a quest to find Sparks to use their powers to take down the dark cosmic entity known as Cursa. Cursa infected the game’s five worlds with Darkmess in the form of a sticky black goo that damages anything it touches. Mario and company need to defeat the Darkmess of Cursa and reclaim the purified Darkmess crystals to power up their spaceship to traverse to new worlds, leading ultimately to a final showdown with Cursa herself.
What was something I enjoyed and to an extent disliked about Kingdom Battle was the fact that it was very much a straight line of point A to point B affair with little reason to explore. This simplicity respected your time in a lot of ways and allowed for the game to be enjoyed in lengthy playthroughs as well as bit-sized chunks. Spark of Hope completely changes that formula by giving you a lot of room and reason to explore as it is a much more open-ended experience over Kingdom Battle.
Gameplay is very similar to the original in that it is turn-based battles on fairly large maps with you being able to get behind objects to take cover and switch on the fly between party members. Where this game differs is in how battles themselves playout as no longer are battles on a grid as you are able to move about so long as your character's sphere extends far enough. You can dash into enemies causing them damage and then choose to attack them or use your Sparks; once you attack you can no longer move about the map and will either have to switch to another character or end your turn. With the nine characters that you can choose from and with each of them having their own flavor and advantages and disadvantages; you’ll want to try out as many characters as you can as you can bring up to three party members into battle
You gain access to Rabbid Lumas known as Sparks of which change up how the battles play out as they can be activated to do a full range of actions such as giving your party a stat buff or even various elemental attacks or even revival of fallen party members and summons. You’ll want to experiment with each of the Sparks to see which one suits your playstyle overall and even then, you’ll still want to switch them out based on your situational needs. Their inclusion just makes the flow of gameplay and battle that much better.
Just like the first game Kingdom Battle, Sparks of Hope truly rewards players for just playing the game and everything you do. There are skill trees for you to explore and develop as you gain experience points from battle and such. When on the field, you can shake bushes and trees and get coins and even items that you can use in battle and there are even breakable walls that you’ll find as you explore that have memory containers and treasure chests. The game's environmental puzzles are a fun diversion from the formula of exploring and getting into battles as the puzzles will often either lead you onto side quests or progress the main plot; you’ll earn various rewards from doing puzzles such as collectables, star bits, Planet Coins, and money. The side quests are numerous, and many will have you needing specific pairs of characters. There’s just so much that you can do, and the game just eggs you on to explore its worlds.
Visually, Sparks of Hope looks beautiful and when you play it on the Nintendo Switch OLED it just pops on that screen. The UI is crisp and easy to see, and all the menus have that Mario charm to them. The framerate is consistent at 30fps, however, there are times when the framerate dips below 30fps and it becomes very noticeable. The dips usually occur when there is a lot going on and primarily during battles, but it isn't anything that happens too often or brings the action to a crawl. There are also occasional instances of texture pop-in and you can see it occasionally when you pan the camera around, but hopefully with some patches they can fix this and the framerate issues.
Audio wise, Sparks of Hope has more voice acting in comparison to Kingdom Battle with more than BEEP-O having voiced lines. Oddly, the Rabbid Mario characters will talk in battles yet in the game during cutscenes they talk in the typical Rabbid gibberish. What I also don’t get is why there are moments where BEEP-O is talking in cutscenes and no one else is speaking. It is honestly a biut jarring only hearing BEEP-O talk, then again, that is a call back to Kingdom Battle. The OST is incredible as it is composed by Yoko Shimomura, Gareth Coker, and the legendary composer Grant Kirkhope. Kingdom Battle’s OST was awesome, but Sparks of Hope takes it to a whole new galaxy with how superb it is with every track fitting for the situation that you’re in.
There are TONS of Accessibility options which shouldn’t come as a surprise if you ‘ve ever played a Ubisoft game. You have the ability to make accessible changes to the audio and even the difficulty, yet they don’t have any options to adjust the visuals to help those who may be visually impaired.
The only downside to this game that is the most in your face is that it starts to get a bit long in the tooth and starts to drag substantially as you get to the end of the game. It can feel like there is unnecessary padding just to stretch out the game and make it a lot longer when there were a few points where the game felt like it could and should have started to wrap up instead of continuing. Other than that, the game is a gem.
Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is an utterly amazing game and in a year of many tactical strategy RPGS, it stands near the top of the pack. You don’t need to play Kingdom Battle before you play this game as this allows you to dive right into the fray, however, I STRONGLY suggest that you pick up Kingdom Battle and Sparks of Hope if you are a fan of the tactical RPG genre as they are seriously some of the best games out there. Sparks of Hope improves on the original entry in every way, and it just leaves a smile on my face knowing that the Mario franchise can go into new genres and be at the top of the charts. This is a game you need to play!