Review: Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope invigorates turn-based tactics with open-world action

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Ubisoft’s long-awaited sequel to the Mario and Rabbids franchise, Sparks of Hope, is officially launching today. Delivering a fresh take on turn-based tactics gameplay that fuses in a compelling story with open-world exploration, the Game of the Year contender arrives as one of the most enjoyable Switch titles in a long time that is easily worth your consideration.

Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope review

Back in 2017, Ubisoft first tapped into one of its more nostalgic properties with the completely unexpected launch of a new tactical Rabbids game. In what was ultimately a recipe for success, iconic Nintendo characters were also brought in to pair the quirky mascots with a more nostalgic property. Now, the sequel launches today with Mario + Rabidds Sparks of Hope, landing on Nintendo Switch.

And while it very much is a sequel to the original Nintendo and Ubisoft action, the latter has delivered plenty of adjustments and improvements to the title that make it an even more exciting release.

Open-world through and through

By far the biggest change this time around to the turn-based tactics formula is the open-world aspects. Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is taking a drastic step forward in order to make the game more than just a series of combat missions, which carries over from the overworld itself to the actual gameplay. Different worlds are packed with exploration and fun little challenges that help break up some of the more intense actual battles and missions. It’s a similar approach to what we’ve seen from other games taking the open-world route but one that Ubisoft executes on quite well.

Everything comes together into a very satisfying experience where levels are gorgeous to look at and just beg you to run around looking for coins or little mysteries. Some games try to shoehorn in a more explorable world in what I would call the Breath of the Wild effect of equating a title’s success to its open-world design. But Ubisoft embraces that freeing philosophy in a way that actually makes the game better, rather than watering down the experience.

Weaved right in with the exploration of the more open world is all of the usual Nintendo charm you’d come to expect from a flagship Switch title launch. This is, of course, not an actual first-party game, thanks to the Ubisoft Milan development team, but you’d have a hard time telling that from the actual gameplay, writing, and even sound design. Everything about the game feels as fleshed out as you could hope, and absolutely oozes the kind of silly, witty, and endearing humor that you should be used to from Mario and friends.

The actual gameplay and cutscene animation are every bit as charging, with a delightfully-stylized look that is just as fitting for the Rabbids as it is for the Mushroom Kingdom residents. And then there’s the story, which feels very much like a forethought rather than something tacked onto the actual combat. In much the same way that the game goes out of its way to be entertaining and humorous, the writing is much more compelling than just making sure there’s context as to why you’re about to take on the next wave of baddies or go toe to toe with a boss. I won’t spoil all too much, but there is actually an enjoyable narrative to follow along with that makes the gameplay all the more fun.

New mechanics make the turn-based tactics far more accessible

Speaking of, there are all of the new mechanics. Just like how the rest of the game has received more of an open-world face-lift, the actual gameplay has been tweaked to be way more fluid. Before, there was a grid mechanic system that was far more rigid with actual combat. It delivered on the true turn-based combat action as the genre had been defined for ages before. Now that’s no longer the case, as you are free to move around in a much more open style that lets you take full advantage of the character’s weapons, abilities, and power-ups.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s still plenty hard. Just as moving away from the grid system lets you enjoy less formulaic gameplay, it also allows Ubisoft to get more creative with the foes you’ll face and the tactics they use.

There are also plenty of other fun aspects of the game that make gameplay even more enjoyable. Those aforementioned open-world design cues also enter in the form of plenty of ways to personalize your team. Everything, from skill trees from leveling specific characters to interchangeable players for combining different classes, makes Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope all the more enjoyable on your first playthrough but also adds value for revisiting levels in the future.

Ultimately, all of this makes the game more engaging, natural, and fluid. Especially for someone like myself who isn’t the biggest turn-based tactics fan, which is my favorite part about the game, finally accessible in a way we haven’t seen from the genre in quite a long time, if ever.

9to5Toys’ Take

Back in September, Ubisoft was kind enough to invite me out to their NYC headquarters to dive into Sparks of Hope ahead of time and explore what the latest collaboration between Mario and the Rabbids had in store. Back at the event, I got a full rundown of what to expect from the title and a chance to play several hours of the game. I was already thrilled last month from that short gameplay session, but now getting the chance to play the finished title for the past week has been even more exciting.

Rabbids was a game that I was expecting to enjoy to some degree but not something that I was expecting to be blown away by. When Mario first suited up to take on the turn-based tactics with the Rabbids a few years ago came, I never ended up getting a chance to play it. Those kinds of games just weren’t at the top of my list at the time, and so I assumed that this would largely be the case for the latest adventure.

But oh was I wrong! Ubisoft Milan, the specific studio behind Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope, really brought out an entirely different game this time around with just how improved the whole experience is. Every adjustment and improvement feels very intentional and specifically oriented to bring the turn-based tactics formula to a larger crowd than before.

All of that polish means that this feels very much like a first-party Nintendo game, which I mean in the best possible way. Actually, if anything, this is a more fleshed-out title than we’ve even seen from some of the Switch releases in the past. Ubisoft really delivered not just on fun and engaging gameplay but a satisfying story and so much more. I haven’t played a game this polished in a long time, especially when it comes to more narrative-driven, single-player titles.

So while other games, like Elden Ring, Horizon Forbidden West, LEGO Star Wars, and even Stray, all vie for Game of the Year on the main stage, Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is the unlikely contender that deserves consideration. It is, at the very least, a thrilling and fun game if not one of the best titles to land on the Nintendo Switch in ages.

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