In 2017, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle shocked the world by merging the inhabitants of the iconic Mushroom Kingdom with Ubisoft’s Crazy Rabbits and throwing them into a turn-based strategy game. Surprisingly, it worked. The non-Nintendo-developed Mario spin-off has been well-received by fans and critics alike, praising it for taking an approachable grid-based strategy game with two toned-down IPs. Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope continues Ubisoft’s trend of teaming up with Mario, as the sequel offers a significant improvement over its predecessor.
This time around, combat is more dynamic, giving players the opportunity to move their characters around the map at will. In the first game, players had to follow the rules of the grid system, following a format similar to Fire Emblem or XCOM. Players can choose their character’s actions, and once they make them, enemies have a chance to attack. The goal of most battles is to take out all enemies (or at least a few).
Mario + Rabbids The cool thing about Sparks of Hope is the addition of Sparks. Unlike the first game, where playable characters have their own unique abilities on the battlefield, Sparks of Hope has over 30 sparks to collect, and these can be equipped on any character. They all have different abilities, and some have the ability to boost your team’s attack power or push enemies away. There are also sparks that deal heavy fire damage by dropping meteors on monsters, or electrocute damage when the player slides into an enemy. Sparks can be mixed and matched, and even upgraded to provide additional benefits to characters. It’s a big step forward for Kingdom Battle, giving players plenty of options when it comes to combat scenarios.
Most sparks can be earned in the main story, but some of them can only be found by going off the beaten path in the world and completing some side quests. There are five main worlds and each world takes about 3-4 hours to go through. In typical Mario game style, they’re all themed, with a sunny seaside location for the first, snowy mountains for the second, and there’s even a really cool fall-themed world famous for its Pumpkin Spice.
As mentioned earlier, players can complete the main quest if they wish, but it is important to try and complete the side quests for Planet Coins. These coins are used to buy useful items from merchants, such as healing mushrooms or keys to open secret areas. The side quests in each world are surprisingly diverse and interesting, distracting players from the main battle. Some side quests might ask the player to solve a statue puzzle in a secret temple or bring the penguin home. These can be done after the main story ends, so there’s every reason to jump back into each world and explore all of its nooks and crannies.
The story also requires solving puzzles, and at first, they were all as simple as pressing a block on a switch or using a scanner to find hidden objects in the environment. And a lot of carrying cubes and spheres and putting them in the right place. People who hate puzzles should have no difficulty, but throughout the adventure they can become monotonous and repetitive. However, the complexity of the puzzles increases quite a bit as players get closer to the game’s final moments, offering some mind-bending “attach wires to get power” type puzzles that might leave some scratching their heads for a second. There doesn’t seem to be any way to skip the mandatory puzzles, though, so keep that in mind.
We did experience some occasional frame rate drops and popping textures while playing Mario + Rabbit Spark of Hope, but it wasn’t enough to stop the experience. It mostly happens during cutscenes, and during damage animations when there are a lot of enemies on screen at once.
Using Merchant items is a must because if a player plans to play Mario + Rabbit Hopefire on medium (or highest difficulty) then they will definitely need some items as the game is not easy. If the player is not careful and strategized, waves of enemies will come and cause massive damage to the player. We played most of the game on medium difficulty and found ourselves dying countless times in later challenges and bosses.
However, the beauty of Mario + Rabbit Hope is that players can change the difficulty before any battle. There’s also an invulnerability mode in the settings, allowing those less experienced in strategy games to get close to the spark of hope and finish it off without banging their heads against the wall. For those who like a challenge, there are sure to be some exciting bosses throughout the story. Light of Hope could be a better game with more scenes and cinematic moments, but it’s good enough.
The Fire of Hope about Mario + Rabbit makes it not really something special anymore, however, is the combination of Rabbit and Mario universe. We did mention before that the first game was a huge success and most people loved it, but there was something wrong with how Mario and his pals interacted with their own version of the Rabbids. Some of the jokes don’t land the way they’re supposed to, and the rabbit’s voice doesn’t fit the character itself. Some might not care how they sound, but it does take away the sense of humor that Mario + Rabbit’s spark of hope should deliver.
Still, with an improved (and approachable) combat system, a semi-interesting story, and diverse side-activities, Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is an excellent game that can be recommended to almost anyone with a Nintendo Switch. We won’t say that’s a reason to go out and buy a Switch, but it’s one of the best ways to get into a turn-based strategy game that offers a lot more than its predecessor.
Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope launches on Nintendo Switch on October 20, 2022. Game Rant obtained the Nintendo Switch code for this review. Click here to navigate to the store page.