When it comes to making sequels, developers always have to solve a particular conundrum – do you stick with what made the original a success, or look to iterate and innovate, while hoping to hit the jackpot once more? In the case of Ubisoft’s Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope, it is more of the latter, and thankfully, all the risks have paid off, leading to one of the best turn-based strategy games of the year.
If you are not familiar with this particular alliance between the Mario crew and the Rabbids, it brings together all the beloved characters from both sides into the same world. And instead of party games or platforming, the whole affair is a tactical action-adventure, tasking players to think on their feet to defeat various foes to save the day.
On the narrative front, Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope definitely leans heavier into the absurd than Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. Not content with the invasion of the Mushroom Kingdom, the sequel adds in a big bad that is out to corrupt all in sight, using its army of evil Rabbids to do its bidding. A pretty straightforward setup, so don’t be looking for any dramatic depth in this tale.
Of course, it is the gameplay of Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope that really sets it apart from both its predecessor as well as other titles in the same vein. The strong foundations remain from the first game, but Ubisoft has done extremely well in expanding upon everything while sprinkling a healthy dash of freshness and inventiveness, making combat and puzzle-solving a joy to behold.
Jumping into any engagement instantly feels different, but in a good way. While the absence of a proper grid might throw some players off, the freedom of movement afforded to the nine different characters in your team is a satisfying perk. Although you are still limited by the overall movement stat, the ability to run and jump around naturally is a big plus.
If that’s not enough, Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope introduces the useful team jump, where large distances can be covered in an instant with the help of your teammates. Once in the air, players also maintain control of where to steer their characters and land at the right spot, adding another layer of strategic consideration in your fight against evil.
And we haven’t even touched on the dash attacks, weapon attacks, and the more intriguing Spark powers. As you progress through the game, more Sparks will be added to your collection, and they each grant unique abilities that can drastically change up your team. Elemental powers and resistance, useful perks like invisibility or the ability to revive teammates, these are but a few applications of the adorable Sparks. Being able to equip up to two Sparks onto every hero, the possibilities will make any would-be tactician happy.
Combine that with the fact that each of the characters in Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope also brings their special skill set to the table, and therein lies the depth of this strategy game. Upgrading your characters in line with your play style, using Sparks that enhance their strengths, and executing your game plan in battle make for an utterly enjoyable time, and even with dozens of hours spent, it shows no sign of losing steam.
It also helps that the Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope crew are oozing with personality, shining new light on familiar characters and the more wacky Rabbids that are along for the ride. Every character has their own quirks and behaviours, and it is amusing to see them in action, especially Rabbid Peach, a standout amongst an already excellent cast of characters.
Jumping to the other side, the enemy variety is equally strong, even if there are still similar variants being used to up the challenge. Armed with the same type of powers at your disposal, knowing how to adapt to them and exploit weaknesses is the way to victory. There are also memorable boss battles to contend with, even if they seldom hit the levels of Kingdom Battle.
The action is nothing if the map design doesn’t keep up with the quality levels, and predictably, Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope gets it right once more. Most levels contain interesting mechanics that shake up how you approach the objective, be it warp pipes, jump pads, destructible cover, and more. There is much incentive to keep the pace brisk and firefights constant, which also means you have less time to get bored.
When the fighting is over, players can also take a short break by exploring each of the planets, full of puzzles and secrets to find, and the next big battle to participate in. None of the puzzle designs is outstanding, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that they are usually fun and quick affairs, and a perfect palate cleanser from the hustle and bustle of combat. If you are preparing to get everything like a good completionist, expect to spend more than 30 hours cleaning up, such is the breadth of content available.
The only gripe about the game is the fact that it is on the Nintendo Switch, affecting performance in some of the more busy worlds. Expect to see plenty of loading screens as well, even just entering the menu. For a game that will see plenty of changes made to your roster, it can all become a slog if you are not ready to take things slower as Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope loads.
At the end of the day, Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is as perfect a sequel as you can ask for. Building onto already great combat design with new mechanics and tactical decisions, iterating on maps with interesting points of interest and freedom of movement, and giving the characters plenty of life and strategic possibilities, this title has certainly taken care of the issues from yesteryear and delivered an experience that is above and beyond, right into the wacky space where Rabbids and the Mario gang can coexist in perfect harmony.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
An improvement in every aspect, Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is an excellent tactical affair enhanced by characters that you just love to see in action.
Gameplay - 9.5/10
Story - 8/10
Presentation - 9/10
Value - 9.5/10