Preview Nintendo Switch: Mario + The Rabbids Sparks of Hope, the video game designed for all types of players?
Unveiled last year at the Ubisoft Forward conference, Mario + The Rabbids let themselves be approached for the very first time. Since the summer of 2022, the little lagomorph has grown up! Preferring to free itself from various constraints linked to the genre of Tactical, it aims at both accessibility and depth in order to bring together young people (newcomers discovering the genre) and adults (XCOM-like enthusiasts). Rabbits included.
The Hare and the Koopa Troopa: Tell Me About Sparks of Hope!
In space, no one will hear the Goombas being crushed. After a Mario + The Rabbids Kingdom Battle released in 2017 as well appreciated by critics as by players, Ubisoft is finally putting the cover back. In Sparks of Hope, Mario and his friends leave the Mushroom Kingdom to visit the outer reaches of the galaxy. Their mission? Destroy Cursa, a gigantic and malevolent antagonist who absorbs the energy of the universe. As usual, the prologue of the title serves as a vast tutorial exposing in a didactic way the basic rules which govern this Tactical. The opportunity to discover direct controls (yes, it’s Mario we’re controlling) that respond well, with the possibility of sprinting while maintaining “X”. Where the structure of the first Mario + Rabbids was mainly based on alternating between exploration light and battles, Sparks of Hope opens up to more diversity with planets to explore that we thought were richer, side quests, puzzles and various hidden challenges. Particular attention has been placed on exploration, and the player will have to return to previously explored worlds if they want to find secrets, according to the development team.
Kingdom Battle was a mix between Rabbids, Mario and Tactical. This surprising cocktail succeeded in convincing both neophytes and amateurs thanks to a general simplicity in its mechanics which did not remove the strategic touch essential to the genre. Sparks of Hope follows the path carved by its big brother while reinventing various elements. The first is the removal of the movement grid during fights. In fact, the team of heroes, made up of three protagonists starting from the second world, moves freely in the arenas until they reach the limits of an area that can vary according to the characters (and skills). When a character gets behind an area of cover, a slight snap indicates that the player is protected. It doesn’t seem like much, but this development makes movement much more pleasant while adding a nice dynamism to the whole, some powers being based on movement (dash, jump, etc.).
Hero Powers, Weapon Powers, Spark Effects, and Inventory Items burn one Action Point (of the two available) when used out of the two available per turn. Other movements are possible without it consuming an action unit, such as the dash or the team jump. The latter use their own counter (again varying according to the character). Once a hero attacks with their primary weapon, they cannot move. It is therefore advisable to take cover behind an area of cover before firing at the risk of getting into trouble. Controller in hand, the mechanics put in place by Ubisoft work well and promise lively confrontations with constantly renewed challenges. Also, removing the grid is definitely a great idea to appeal to an audience unaccustomed to Tactical and who would have found the first Mario + Rabbids’ clashes too austere.
A Tactical really for everyone?
During our test, we had access to the first two planets of the adventure. Enough to meet an NPC who invited us to destroy the tentacles of confused-shadow in order to put the weather back on its feet. We also visited a mansion lost in the ice. Designed both to make Tactical accessible without betraying fans of the genre, Sparks of Hope adopts a configurable level of difficulty for each mission (easy, normal, demanding). This changes the statistics of enemies, the magic they can use, the possibility of healing themselves at the start of a fight or the autofill of the skill tree, among other things. In normal difficulty, the game allows you to heal your team during the exploration phases (against a few coins). If you’re wondering, know that the entire team earns XP in case of victory (even for the heroes who remained on the sidelines). In combat, the objectives range from destroying enemies to reaching an area on the map, passing through the defense of a protagonist. The development team assures us that each boss has its own way of being defeated.
It’s nice to see that the Ubisoft teams have taken this new merger with the Nintendo universe seriously, even if the Rabbids are the heroes.. The worlds are teeming with details that fans will appreciate. This ranges from the re-orchestrated music from Mario 64’s Castle to the item “POW” which allows you to take the advantage over your opponents. In the same vein, the skill trees of all the heroes are inspired by what they really are: Mario has, for example, new skills linked to his jumps, such as firing in the air or to crush the creatures. The codes of the Nintendo universe are respected with Bob-ombs that explode once activated, teleport pipes or even mushrooms that restore health. Although Beep-0 has a real spoken VO, the protagonists express themselves mainly with exclamations. Our regrets are mainly based on a somewhat outdated technique. Yes, the graphics are a little less shiny than we had imagined. It must be said that the hardware that equips the Switch is beginning to show the weight of the ages. Also, we noticed a few small slowdowns, mainly when speed is increased during enemy turns, which the final version may fix.
Not so stupid, the rabbit
This long game session in the company of Nintendo heroes and Ubisoft rabbits allowed us to test advanced combat, that is to say with a team of three well-equipped warriors facing tougher opponents. The heroes of the game each have a unique archetype, weapon and technique. The good news is that the player has the possibility of customizing the classes of his fighters thanks to the skill points gleaned. Luigi, the band’s sniper, has the ability, for example, to be even more powerful at a distance, or to toughen up in close combat in order to take more damage in the event of bad hits received. Filling the skill trees unlocks an anthology of unique abilities (shooting while jumping, etc.) depending on the hero.
Up to two Sparks are assignable per fighter, Sparks who themselves hold active and passive skills (attack and defense). A Spark with a burn super effect makes the equipped Warrior resistant to the burn super effect. These little creatures also gain levels thanks to the Starbits they eat like kibble, to unearth during the exploration phases or by winning fights. Each opponent is both sensitive and resistant to a super-effect, but the player must know which ones by bringing Beep-0 to the enemies concerned. You will surely have understood it, all these knobs that the player controls in terms of personalization of his team and his Sparks give the opportunity to imagine powerful builds that stick to any style of play. Better, the good students will develop complementary trios capable of turning any situation to their advantage, even if some opponents come out of teleporters everywhere on the map during a turn of the game. See Mario spread his little arms to shoot at enemies positioned around him thanks to his double gun is one of those little pleasures that Sparks of Hope has in store.
A spectral monster is invading the galaxy to suck its energy? Neither one nor two, Mario jumps into his overalls and shoots the Goombas with… a laser gun in each hand. Surprising in more than one way, Mario + The Rabbids: Sparks of Hope once again uses the Nintendo universe with great respect while bringing some well-felt freedoms. This opus that the development team envisages as a new episode rather than a sequel (hence the absence of a “2” in the title) makes fun of everything, takes some distance with the codes of the genre , but delivers gameplay that Tactical pros and newbies alike are sure to enjoy. It’s not a Rabbid that Ubisoft pulls us out of its hat, but potentially one of the Bob-ombs of this end of the year.