Libra: Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope (Switch)
Libra is our “first impressions” series. These are generally spoiler free, but may reveal some base plot points and mechanic details.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle released in 2017 and was a surprise hit — it’s actually one of my favorite games on the Nintendo Switch. The unique mashup of IPs (Mario and Rabbids) and refreshing change of genre pace (tactical, which is new for both) really resonated with me. Fast forward five years, and Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope is finally here, the follow up to the aforementioned Kingdom Battle. Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope brings most of the same cast of characters from the first game (sadly, no Donkey Kong) in addition to some new ones. The game claims it’s bigger and has more to do than the first game, while also replacing the original grid-based system with a free movement one during battles.
With these claims in practice, does Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope live up to, or surpass, the original? Well, sequels are always an interesting subject as the developers need to break the mold of just giving the player more of the same, while also changing it up without making it unrecognizable. Sadly, Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope feels like one step forward, and two steps back overall. It’s a good game, but it’s not as good as the original.
The combat in Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope is definitely better, and the improved movement system works really well, but the open world aspect to each planet drags the game down a bit, especially when you are looking for 100% completion. Outside of the main story where the battles for the most part scale with your party’s level, the battling feels pointless and a waste of time, outside of doing the repeated quest on every plant to clear three of a certain type of enemy.
Going back to the first planet at level 30 and seeing level 3 enemies wandering around the world and having them run at you just feels tedious and ultimately breaks the immersion of exploration. This reminded me a lot of Paper Mario and the Origami King, where the boss battles were fun and creative, but any other battles outside of those were pretty dull. It may have fared better if everything scaled to your level and you still received EXP for every fight, but you don’t. A nice quality-of-life feature would have been allowing the overworld dash to instantly defeat lower level enemies, but instead it forces you into combat. Although completing these trivial battles even on the hardest difficulty takes no time, you spend more time waiting on loading screens rather than actually playing the game.
At first, the open world with the Mario Odyssey inspired maps and objectives was very appealing, but after a while it wears thin and makes you long for the linearity of the first game. That’s not to say it’s all bad – the improvements the team have made to the tactical battles and forcing you into various scenarios with pre-determined party configurations over the course of the game’s story makes you adjust your play style and learn each character’s strengths and weaknesses. I really appreciated this because at first, I stuck with Rabbid Peach, Mario, and Luigi, but over time I found myself changing it up because the game forced me to in earlier situations.
- Great soundtrack. Grant Kirkhope and Yoko Shimomura really nailed it.
- Improved combat and freeroaming works well.
- The quirky humor from the first game still exists and works for some quick laughs.
- Exploration can be a drag, especially going back to earlier planets.
- Non-boss/story battles feel repetitive.
- Side quests lack variety.
I look forward to seeing what the team adds to the mix with the various DLCs coming next year, which promise to add additional content to the main game along with a new character (Rayman) and campaign. Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope , while not the sequel I had hoped for, still offers 40+ hours of enjoyment despite its shortcomings, especially if you play on the hardest difficulty setting.