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Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope - Review



2022 has been a pretty good year for video games. Just about everyone got what they wanted and there were dozens of surprises as well. It feels like 2017 and 2018 again where every genre got a new redefining entry. Elden Ring finally came out and was a culmination of FromSoftware’s best ideas crammed into a thrilling open world to explore. God of War: Ragnarok improved in every area the last game already excellently handled and brought a satisfying end to the Norse storyline. Return To Monkey Island was a surprising return of a classic click and point adventure series, Kirby entered the 3D plane, Horizon Zero Dawn and A Plague Tale got sequels, and Splatoon and Xenoblade Chronicles got a third entry. Then you have all the fantastic indie games that have innovated in creative ways. Neon White teaches you how to be a speedrunner, Tunic using an in-game manual to hint solutions, Sifu making each mistake have a lasting impact, and Stray being the first game to have a realistically recorded cat. There've been so many good games, but every so often you have games people seem to miss out on or forget they even came out. Such as the case with Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope, the sequel to 2017’s weird crossover between the Super Mario franchise and Rabbids. This game came out, and was forgotten a week later.


Which is a huge shame, because Sparks of Hope despite being a sequel to one of the most bizarre Mario games to date is actually really good. It’s better in numerous ways and may be one of my favorite games of 2022, no joke. Sparks of Hope began development straight after the release of Kingdom Battle. The last game, while being pretty niche even for Mario standards, had a crowd following. The team behind it put a lot of effort into what they were doing, and while not every idea they had with Kingdom Battle was executed perfectly they had a really good concept going on. Mario and friends navigate a goofy world, unlock new guns and unique skills, fight enemies in sprawling battlefields, and reward players for using tactical thinking to get the advantage. It was basically a more accessible version of XCOM, but it managed to trim away some of the fat and unforgiving nature those games were known for. Yes, I understand the unforgiving nature of XCOM makes sense logically and it’s what makes surviving each encounter satisfying, but I had a better time going through the world of Mario + Rabbids compared to grinding through the missions of XCOM. The game was great, but it was the type of game that felt like it would never get a sequel.


Then all of a sudden we did get a sequel that being Sparks of Hope. Developed by the same team as last time, those being the Ubisoft studios stationed in Paris and Milan. My opinions on Ubisoft are quite mixed and it’s especially hard to ignore the elephant in the room. The disgusting gross elephant labeled, “Sexual harassment prevailing for months in our company.” Sorry for any of the younger readers looking at this review. Reviewing their games has gotten harder as nobody wants to support a company who treats their workers like dirt. However, not everyone within the company are terrible individuals and some of them actually care about their jobs. Wanting to develop video games that dozens of people can enjoy as always. I can tell the team working on Sparks of Hope were passionate. It’s Mario, and Mario should be able to cheer anybody up no matter how old they are. They put a ton of effort reworking the combat and progression, making worlds that are more fun to explore, crafting a more thrilling plotline, and trying to avoid the same mistakes as last time. The teams in Paris and Milan obviously care, and that is the one thing I come to respect from developers.


Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope comes out during the fall of this year and critical reception is great. In fact, it’s much better than last time as the game received close to around 9/10 scores across the board from major outlets. The game feels drastically different from Kingdom Battle, but in doing so the team created a more well-designed experience. The tactical strategy game they probably envisioned the first time, and it turns Kingdom Battle into a proof concept. This game is great in so many ways. Of course, it’s not perfect and has a fair share of problems, but overall, it’s an excellent sequel which I highly recommend. This will probably be the last game I review in 2022. I wanted to finish this year by talking about some games that came out in 2022, so that’s why you saw me cover Sifu and Sonic Frontiers. Now we’re ending it with something that is great, and I’ll do my best to explain why. Today we’ll be talking about why I really loved Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope and why it deserves your attention. Let’s a go!


Story


The dust has finally settled after the catastrophic events of Kingdom Battle. Mario and his weird new Rabbid companions pursued Bower Jr to retrieve a device that combined objects together to stop a wormhole getting ready to tear their universe apart. The wormhole managed to create a corrupt entity that took control of Bowser, but luckily, they managed to free Bowser of the entity and purge it from existence. All of the residents of the Mushroom Kingdom welcomed their new Rabbid neighbors. All as well as the Rabbid counterparts of Mario and his friends played in the fields outside Peach’s Castle. Mario woke up one day to check how everyone was doing, but all of a sudden, an object crashed into his face. Everyone gathers to see what the falling object is and it appears to be Luma. That’s what they thought at first until the Luma smiled with buck teeth and eyes similar to the Rabbids surrounding them. It appears to be a combination between both a Luma and a Rabbid, which they deem a Spark. The Spark dances happily around them until a giant manta ray flies above. One of the Rabbid counterparts gets sucked into the manta ray and Mario chases after them. Within the manta ray is a corrupt battlefield and foreign Rabbids wanting to destroy them. Mario manages to survive, and his friends come swooping in at the last second with a spaceship to save them. Soon blasting away to a planet far off from their home.


Beep-O, a robot who assisted them on their last journey, says a weird dark energy is spreading across their galaxy. It’s taking hold on nearby planets, and they have to locate the source of this matter before things get worse. They deem the goopy corrupt energy Darkmess, and identify its creator as a being named Cursa. She’s sending an army of minions after Mario’s crew, and even took control of Bowser’s minions. Mario and friends travel to new planets each containing their own ecosystem and societies. Looks like the Rabbids are inhabiting other planets, and certain Rabbids deemed Wardens were smart enough to set up towns and laws for the dumber ones. They give Mario directions on where to go and what to do to stop the Darkmess from spreading. Mario will make new allies like a sinister skilled swordswoman named Edge, team up with their former enemy Bowser, and meet Rabbid Rosalina who claims something terrible happened to Rosalina as she would have settled the ongoing chaos by now. They’re off to find the mysterious princess who lives among the stars watching from afar!


Gameplay


Sparks of Hope made a lot of changes since Kingdom Battle, and one of the core changes being how combat works now. The previous game used a grid-based system similar to XCOM or if you want another good comparison take Into The Breach. Each turn you would reposition your character, open fire on an enemy, and hope to hit land. It was all about inching your way up the battlefield and slowly making progress towards your goal. However, there were limitations to the grid-based system and with limitations came problems. Your characters moved oddly through the field and if you planned to dash into an enemy while moving to the next position you better do so because once you send them to another location they are stuck there until the next turn. This also meant if you choose a location to position them and accidentally choose another tile next to it because the selection cursor got confused at times it meant you were screwed. This wasn’t a huge problem and players like me quickly adapted to the finicky movement system, but it limited some of the choices players could make per turn.


The sequel is no longer grid focused and now allows characters to move freely. Think of the free positioning of Divinity: Original Sin 2 or Valkyria Chronicles. It feels less fidgety and characters have more options on what they can do before they take fire on a foe. You can no longer move them around once you open fire and this creates a little more consistency on what you should be doing before you attack. You can dash into a foe, run up to an ally to jump across the battlefield, dash into another enemy as you can now move after a jump now, choose a spot of cover, and then attack. This is what I mean by free movement. Not seeing this stop and go motion, and just navigating with ease. Every character has at least two energy bars and it allows them to perform two actions per turn. Meaning you can’t just spam all your abilities in one turn, and there’s a new feature that opens more options for each character, but we’ll address that shortly.


All the characters have been reworked so that they each have their own unique playstyle. In the last game some party members had similar weapon types and certain skills. All the Super Mario characters had what was basically the overwatch ability from XCOM where an enemy runs past their field of vision they blast them, and all the Rabbid characters had shields for themselves. This was fine, it gave you an idea of what characters were similar and who to bring into the field, but it also meant you would gravitate more towards the characters with the better weapons and abilities. Mainly Rabbid Peach and Peach herself, because they are the only healers in the party and one of them has a powerful shotgun blaster and jump heal with no cooldown. Another problem was that Mario had to be in the party at all times which limited experimentation even further. Sparks of Hope fixes this by not only allowing you to swap all three party members at will including team leader Mario, but also giving each character their own unique weapon and set abilities. Allowing for experimentation...


Rabbid Peach can play safely and heal the team, while Rabbid Mario is a risk reward character as he deals heavy damage up close and personal. Rabbid Luigi can hit multiple foes at once if he can land the frisbee throw, and Peach can shotgun blast a group into oblivion as long as they are in her line of fire. Rabbid characters don’t just have shield providing skills and Mario characters don’t just have the overwatch ability. The only characters with the overwatch ability are Mario and Luigi, that’s about it. Rabbid Mario has a counterblow attack if someone decides to strike him, Rabbid Peach has a heal, Peach creates shields that allow a character to take a hit without receiving damage, Rabbid Rosalina can hold enemies in place for a turn, and so much more. Each party member plays distinctly now and you can now easily experiment without gravitating towards certain characters or seeing some become unviable. There’s also a leveling system now, but character characters level together rather than separately. Meaning you never have to grind to get lower leveled party members on the same performance level as the stronger ones. Everytime you level up you gain skill points, and these can be spent on a skill tree. The skill tree includes stat boosts and increased performance on certain skills. Allowing them to do more per turn.


You’ll face a wide amount of enemies on your journey. Basic goons, pyromancer, cryomancers, fat old hoopers who crush you above, ghoulies who provide support, big cities who deal heavy damage up close, sniper wolves, and much more. Learning who to prioritize next during a fight is what prevents you and your party from being cut down instantly. Another consideration to think of before storming into the battlefield are Sparks, the newest addition to Sparks of Hope. Hence the title. Not only do you have to consider character skills, but also the Sparks they go in with. Sparks can provide resistances to damage and certain elements, as well as provide a skill to use every few turns. Whether that’s giving an elemental boost, providing defense, or creating a big shockwave that damages foes as well as inflicting a certain element. Each character can carry up to two Sparks at once, and this allows party members who specialize in one field specialize in others. Rabbid Mario is a close range fighter, but you can give him a Spark who provides defense and one who creates a shockwave for when too many people surround him. Sparks further expand the options you have to combat and can make certain fights easier when used at the right moment.


That about wraps it up for combat, but one aspect they expanded upon since last time was world design and exploration. The last game was extremely linear and rewards gotten from exploration were 80% of the time just loose concept art. Now you explore more open ended worlds and there are side quests to be encountered while exploring. Some of these quests reward new Sparks, so be on the lookout for them. You can open up shortcuts to make backtracking through areas less tedious, and not every Darkmess pool has to be cleared to beat the game. Some are optional and I like how the game isn’t entirely just combat. Sparks of Hope may not be as complex as other big RPG titles, but it’s still a fun game with a good amount of mechanical depth. Hopefully you can defeat Cursa and her champions, and save the galaxy once again from destruction.


Thoughts


Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope is an excellently designed tactical strategy RPG that improves where the last game faltered. While both games play drastically different from each other, they both have similar spirits and Sparks of Hope feels like a more fleshed out concept. Any problems I have with the game are minor and don’t detract from how great of a package this is. Combat is the biggest highlight of Sparks of Hope. The more free flow movement, options to take on each turn, and character specializations is what makes it more forgiving and experimental. Learning who to bring into battle, where to keep them each turn, when to support them and their team, and trying to get their stats and skill upgrades in the right place. Some people will probably try to keep a certain team composition, but they will have to experiment at some point and even swap team members out as they run low on health. However, you can refill on health after winning battles which may prompt you to bring in two other members to help out the one with low health. Even if you do keep certain team compositions you aren’t punished, but rather rewarded for mastering team compositions and knowing which one will provide the safest approach for each fight. I rocked on with Luigi as he’s good for long range, Rabbid Peach for healing, and send a heavy damage dealing character like Peach or Rabbid Mario in the field. The combat is fun. It’s turn based though and not everyone may like turn based combat, but I come to really enjoy it


The Sparks are also a great addition as their stats bonuses make you consider who needs resistances and elemental abilities that can cut down the waves of enemies easily. One thing they did remove from the last game though we're different weapons. You could purchase weapons for character, each having their own affinities, and stronger weapons cost more. It gave a reason to collect gold coins and spend them, but now you can’t. Character stats grow stronger with skills on the skill tree, and gold coins are mainly used to purchase items at a shop. I never purchased any items from the shops, nor did I use them during my first playthrough. Probably because I felt discouraged from using one use consumables and I was fine with the stars I had. Plus, you have the option to refill your entire team to max health before battles begin and while exploring the world, and it costs only one hundred to two hundred gold coins. Basically, up to nothing once you start racking up to six thousand coins like me. Sparks of Hope has an inactive economy, but personally I like how you don’t have to purchase new guns every so often. You naturally level up now, and never have to worry about what affects the weapons have as Sparks now grant boosts for you. Progression is better and you really feel your party grow stronger the more you unlock.


Almost every fight in the game is fair. Character deaths felt like they were on me, poor planning, and trying to rush headfirst into no man’s land. I say “almost every fight” because sometimes Sparks of Hope get these weird difficulties or challenge you in unfair ways. There are annoying enemy types like ghouls who specifically prevent you from attacking or using skills, and these debuffs they cast have no cooldown. You have specific clawed tank enemies who call your party members over and deal a heavy slash. Sometimes the difficulty of a fight is based on the large number of enemies they throw at you and continuing to spawn them. Battlefields get bigger as the game dives into later worlds, and fights can drag on for a long period of time as you and your enemies navigate across them. There’s this boss fight against a Wiggler, and it’s really annoying as it’s alongside a train and every turn the Wiggler moves up and down the train. You can’t move your party members to where the Wiggler is each turn, and there are enemies homing in on you. Turning what was a unique gimmick fight into a rough one. What’s with games thinking the best way to challenge players is dumping a group of enemies onto them? Even though the final boss was great, by the end I was ready for the whole adventure to be over from how combat began to drag on. Still, I think the combat is great and every aspect is an improvement from the last game.


I like how they expanded the universe they created. Showcasing different planets and the many Rabbid societies on them. How Rabbids take on different forms besides the scrawny forms they currently have. Small detail, but I like how they give different voices to the special Rabbid characters, and it helps characterize them more than the high-pitched voices they mainly used. I enjoy the banter Beep-O and the new AI character Jeanie have, and how Bowser is trying to get his minions back which breaks him away from the villainous role he usually has. The animation is still fantastic as characters express themselves through gestures rather than talking. Although this is a more dialogue heavy game and there’s a couple subplots they try to take seriously. I said during my Sonic Frontiers review that it had a tone issue, and trying to make a cartoon hedgehog dramatic was a bad idea. They’re trying to do that here, but it’s not as terrible. The writers are still aware that this is Super Mario and Rabbids, and that it’s supposed to be silly. They play on this idea and make fun of some of the maturity they are trying to create with these characters. It’s not fantastic and the story is still rather weak, but I enjoyed it. Other aspects I enjoyed were how you could freely explore the world, be rewarded for exploration, how there are now side quests to do outside the main story, and the music which is composed yet again by Grant Kirkhope. Conducting one big symphony of madness. Everything that makes a great RPG is here.


I do have more complaints. I don’t like how whenever you swap characters you have to re-equip the Sparks you were using. This forces you to open up a menu every time, and sometimes I wish they would automatically re-equip the ones you were just using to the character you swapped in with. An animation plays every time a character uses their unique skill and for the first few times it was cool. Ten times later it gets really annoying and even though you can skip the animations you just wish they would get the action done with. I don’t like how the camera turns around whenever an enemy is running around on screen, and you have to readjust when it cuts back to your character. The biggest complaint I have with this game is the performance. The game runs fine most of the time, but when the framerate tanks it absolutely tanks! It usually happens when too many visual effects are happening on screen or when you try walking through dissolving mist quickly. The game is probably struggling to keep up with the bigger world the team created, and it shows how the Nintendo Switch is really starting to age. It’s the console’s biggest problem, and this wasn’t the first game to. Bayonetta 3 struggled to maintain consistent framerate with its high-speed action, and they had to downgrade the graphics and art style to create the bigger environments. Somehow looking worse than the first and second game. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 had really rough edges from how big its open world was, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity tanked for how it wasn't ready to handle multiple thing happening once on screen, and then there was recently Pokémon Scarlet & Violet which is the biggest mess of the year. Yet again, that last one was a result of laziness. Besides technical issues and a couple of inconveniences, Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope is a fantastic tactical strategy RPG which I highly recommend. It goes on sale for around thirty dollars now since not many people bought it when it released, so I suggest getting it before the price goes back up. In the end I am going to give Mario+ Rabbids: Spark of Hope a 9/10 for excellence at best.


9/10, Excellence

This critique was written by the single man at Review on. Stay tuned for more content and feel free to check more reviews out over at my site!

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