Mario + Rabbids’ Sparks of Hope doesn’t release until Thursday, October 20, but the review restriction is lifted today. However, I’m still traveling through Mario’s latest tactical crossover, so I’m not ready to give full judgment just yet. In the meantime, though, here are some impressions based almost on the first half of the game.
As a Kingdom Battle fan, I have enjoyed the role that Sparks of Hope plays. It retains the original strategic gameplay of the original, so if you liked the first game, you’ll probably enjoy it too. However, removing the grid and having freedom of movement feels liberating, and is one of the big game-changers. It’s interesting because it doesn’t change my approach to playing turn-based strategy games. Heroes still have limited ranges and cannot move after attacking. But controlling the heroes is like what I feel in a regular third person game Better And adds flexibility to the situation, potentially, making it more inviting for non-strategy fans. I also love how Ubisoft Milan applied this philosophy to encounter and platform design. Some enemies and level threats work in real time; A lit bob-omb explodes in seconds regardless of turn order, and I love that I can avoid some of the dangers by simply getting out of the way, rather than planning further moves to do so.
There’s also a welcome element of strategy in Sparks. Equipping these Luma/Rabid hybrids increases standard attacks with elemental traits like fire or ice. Now, when starting a fight, I need to take into account the opponent type and the fundamental weaknesses on top of the terrain. I like how Sparks encourages me to be more aware of the playing field; I am constantly swapping sparks between heroes and assembling my team accordingly. Since you can equip two Sparks per hero, they make everyone feel more versatile as individuals. So far, Sparx has also helped keep me from sticking with the same line-up. It helps that the team structure is open. Squad assembly is more fun and interesting now that I can use any combination of heroes instead of being restricted to using a Mario character and a Rabbid like in Kingdom Battle.
Exploring the large, activity-filled overworld seems more appealing and rewarding. I’ve run into a lot of sidequests (though some are just more battles), some decent environmental puzzles, and little mini-games that help break the flow rather than running through fight after fight. They’re not the biggest overworlds I’ve found, but they’re miles better than what Kingdom Battle has to offer. Each planet feels full of hidden goodies, and gaining new abilities to open up inaccessible areas excites me to travel back to the old world to unearth mysteries.
On the narrative side (yes, there is a plot), the writing is engaging and unflattering. Hearing rabbits speak, even if it’s just short phrases, is still awkward but not terrifying. The story thus far tends to be animated film-level comedy aimed solely at the youth, which is totally fine. Hope’s spark of humor doesn’t part my sides, but it hasn’t made me face either.
I have a lot of games left to play, but Mario + Rabbids’ Sparks of Hope seems like the best kind of sequel in that its improvements make me wonder how we kept the boundaries of Kingdom Battle. I really like the added flexibility movement and combat convenience, the fighting has been enjoyable, and it still has that challenging bite that makes winning big ones feel like a real victory. We’ll see if the game continues its upward trend, but I’m happy with what I’ve experienced so far.