You would be forgiven for being skeptical of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle following the original leaks back in May. The concept of the Mario and Rabbids universes colliding in 2017 was so absurd that many people simply couldn't believe the game was real — or perhaps didn't want it to be real.
But real it was. The game was officially announced for the Nintendo Switch, and the world braced itself for the big reveal during Ubisoft's presentation at E3. People were anticipating the worst; Nintendo reverting back to a 'kid-friendly' mindset and risking damaging their brand by associating with the Rabbids, an IP that hadn't been popular in years.
E3 arrived, and what we saw surely surprised every gamer watching the show. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle turned out to be a turn based strategy game in the vein of XCOM. Not a genre that either franchise had been particularly associated with before.
And, perhaps even more surprisingly, the game looked good?
Miyamoto himself appeared on stage during the unveiling, indicating it was a title he was proud to associate the Mario brand with. The creative director for Mario + Rabbids actually appeared to cry during the Ubisoft presentation for having the opportunity to work on the project. The visuals looked polished, and the gameplay looked entertaining. All the signals were positive, and there was cautious optimism surrounding the title.
Following a wave of previews earlier this month, things continue to look good for Mario + Rabbids. Now that we are drawing very close to the August 29 release date, it's time to ask the question you would have been laughed at for considering a few months ago: is Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle going to be the most surprising hit of 2017?
Combining Accessibility And Depth
Turn-Based Strategy isn't a genre known for its wide appeal. Despite being a huge fan myself, I appreciate that many associate the genre with complex mechanics, stat min/maxing, and brutal difficulty (and they wouldn't be completely wrong!).
A mainstream audience who would not have considered the genre in the past may be more tempted to give a game a look if it contains the familiar faces of the Mario crew. The Mario brand is still strong, and provides a guarantee of quality to consumers. The gameplay mechanics themselves also aim to attract a larger audience, such as the easy to understand cover system.
Of course, if Ubisoft went too far towards the accessibility route they risked turning away veterans of the Turn-Based Strategy genre. Based on the recent previews, it appears they certainly haven't done that. The variety of characters leads to some very interesting choices about who to bring into battle, and the combo system leads to a lot of depth. The encounters themselves are no joke either: Oscar Dayus at Gamespot claimed he got wiped out on the first level.
By combining accessibility and depth, Ubisoft are appealing to those who may never have played a Turn-Based Strategy game before, while still ensuring fans of the genre have a lot to look forward to. This factor will go a long way to ensuring Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle will be a hit.
Oozes Style and Humour
One of the main concerns gamers had about Mario + Rabbids was the use of minions humour in the previous Rabbids titles.
Based on the trailers and previews, it looks like the Rabbids are still wild, but have more complex humour to them than before, rather than just making weird noises and pulling annoying faces. Furthermore, having the somewhat more sane Mario cast acting as the "straight man" for the Rabbids to bounce off of creates a lot of additional humour, and I am really looking forward to seeing how the characters of the two universes interact with each other throughout the game.
One of the latest trailers contains a brilliant opera-singing boss who is funny in a way I was not expecting this game to be when it was first leaked. It's very self-aware of the reputation of both the Rabbids and Mario franchises, and how they each sit in the minds of gamers. Moments like the opera singer are what make me confident the tone and humour of this game will be well-developed and entertaining.
Kids love the Rabbids, but there was a fear from the outset that Ubisoft might struggle to appeal to adults with Kingdom Battle. It appears that Ubisoft understands that the Turn-Based Strategy genre primarily appeals to an older audience, and they have tuned their characters to create a genuinely amusing experience for all ages. Of course, this further increases the chance the game will see mainstream success.
Potential For Great Sales Numbers
To be a "surprise hit", a game naturally needs to have commercial reception higher than what might have been expected upon initial announcement.
Launching towards the end of August was a great decision by Ubisoft and Nintendo. Since the release of Splatoon 2 at the end of July, it will have been a quiet month, and Nintendo Switch owners will be looking for a new addition to their libraries. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle will fill this role perfectly. The release date is one of the reasons I correctly predicted ARMS was going to be a hit well-prior to its launch.
Furthermore, a quality title doesn't go unnoticed, especially for a game targeting a more "hardcore" audience. These are the gamers who are more likely to frequent social media and message boards to talk about a game they like. Everything we have seen so far indicates Mario + Rabbids is a game with a lot of time and heart put into it; if this is accurate to the quality of the title, the positive word of mouth could provide it with strong sales for many months.
Finally, the Nintendo Switch itself is a reason for Kingdom Battle to find financial success. The Switch has already proven to be a fantastic console for developers, often far exceeding their sales expectations (see: Super Bomberman R, and Ultra Street Fighter II), so this bodes well for Ubisoft's title. On top of this, Turn-Based Strategy is a genre that has particularly strong roots not only on handhelds, but on Nintendo systems in particular, with Fire Emblem, Advance Wars, and the upcoming Wargroove proving demand for strategy-on-the-go remains strong.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle has so many factors going in its favor, it seems extremely likely to me that it will be a surprise hit (thereby making it not so much of a surprise for me, I suppose). So long as the quality is as high as I predict, this could be a staple on the system for months to come, and could even be the birth of a new franchise.
Of course, if this prediction turns out accurate, this bodes well for future Ubisoft support on the Switch, and this is good news for all parties involved, not least the gamers.
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