Back when I previewed Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope at BGS 2022 earlier this month, I mentioned how much of a surprise the original game turned out to be. At E3 that year, I got to watch Ubisoft’s press conference live on site, and seeing game director Davide Soliani’s emotional reaction to meeting Shigeru Miyamoto in person was one of my highlights of the show.
And it’s apparently with that same excitement that his team at Ubisoft Milan, along with several other Ubisoft studios, have crafted a vastly superior sequel with Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope now, five years later. It realizes the promises made by Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle which that game stumbled with and got really close to meeting, creating one of the most enjoyable twists on the tactical cover-based genre that’s made so beloved by the likes of XCOM.
Then again, a lot of what makes Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope such an amazing time is how much it tries to set itself apart from other games in that particular style, including its predecessor. A game-changing feature that’s introduced is the freedom of movement outside of the grid. That in and of itself makes Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope that much more dynamic, giving you ample room to position your team and pull off combo moves like the assisted jump much more easily.
That’s not to mention that being able to freely move does away with the chance of making mistakes when moving your characters around, as there’s no limit to how many steps you can take within the limited range within the map that you’re given. Coupled with a much snappier encounter system that throws many more fights your way by placing enemies in the world as you explore, there’s hardly a moment to feel bored throughout Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope.
The game starts off in a marathon’s pace and doesn’t let up as Mario, Luigi, Peach, and their Rabbid counterparts get pulled into yet another adventure when a Spark, a mixture of Super Mario Galaxy’s Lumas and of course, a Rabbid, crash lands into the Mushroom Kingdom, prompting the team to investigate its origin. That also includes finding out what happened to Rosalina, the caretaker of the Lumas in the Galaxy games, and just what is behind Cursa’s – an evil entity with the power to corrupt all living beings to do its will – plan to take over the universe.
In the end, it’s about as flimsy of a story as the format of the game allows, but serves its purpose well in giving a good reason as to why Team Mario has to go around a bunch of planets riding them of Cursa’s influence and gathering rocks that will allow them to power up a wormhole in order to reach their domain. And in exploring these worlds, the crew get to discover a number of new Sparks, each with its own perks that help power up the team in a variety of ways.
There’s plenty of options when it comes to fleshing out your team. Besides Sparks, who can be leveled up by feeding them star bits – just like in Galaxy! – you can invest skill shards that are picked up every so often when out and about in order to power up each character’s skill trees, boosting their core stats and raising their individual powers to your liking. Much like in Kingdom Battle, each fighter has their own discipline in battle that helps provide a lot of permutations when it comes to decking out your group when starting a new fight.
For instance, my boy Luigi is a range-based sniper who is absolutely deadly, but can only shoot once. Rabbid Mario, also my pal – don’t you dare make fun of his overall mishap at the start of the game – is a brawler type that can hit multiple targets at once, making him especially versatile. These are only a few examples, but safe to say, every team member has their place in the group.
All the team composition possibilities coupled with the sheer amount of unshackled movement options help make Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope very friendly to just about any type of player that will end up picking the game up. Whether it’s a veteran of many XCOM-likes or someone just dabbling into something like this for the first time, they’re bound to have a good time. And there are even a number of difficulty options that can be changed at any time to suit your needs.
Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is a gorgeous Nintendo Switch title in every way. The camera this time is much closer to your characters than in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle which helps show the amount of detail that has gone in designing not only the team, but just about every nook and cranny in the game. And surely, while none of the models in the game are particularly super detailed, they look as sharp as the Switch can possibly handle, almost without any loss in performance, out of a few longer load times when popping into fights or from menus.
The same can be said about the musical score. Headed by legendary names such as Grant Kirkhope, of old school Rare fame, Yoko Shimomura, who headed Super Mario RPG’s epic soundtrack, and Ori and the Will of the Wisp’s Gareth Cocker, the music in this game was bound to be epic. And indeed it is, paying homage to the Super Mario Bros franchise and at the same time being completely of its own flavor, a feat which very few scores manage to. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle was already an amazing effort in this regard, and Sparks of Hope elevates it even further.
It’s frankly bonkers to think such a crossover would turn out this good and even more so that there’s now a second and even better sequel out, possibly the last one we’ll see on Switch before whatever’s next for Nintendo rolls around the corner. The unlikeliest of sources, Ubisoft’s hit-and-miss Rabbids of all things are actually quite lovable in this game, and it’s without a doubt the best game to feature them up to this point. It goes without mentioning that the Nintendo charm is undeniably all over Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope, but honestly, it wouldn’t be quite the same if it did not include the Rabbids.
Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is one of the best Switch games of the year, and probably of its entire catalog. Taking into account the sheer amount of bit-hitters within that list, that’s saying a lot. It’s a game that’s positively packed with charm and a ton of humor, varied worlds to explore and characters to meet, along with fast-paced tactical gameplay and a cute, albeit shallow story. Don’t overlook Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope as a throwaway cross-franchise game, you’d be doing yourself a disservice and would be missing out on what’s likely one of the strongest offerings among XCOM-esques on the Switch.