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Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope (Switch) Review

November 14, 2022 | Posted by Marc Morrison
Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope Image Credit: Nintendo
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Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope (Switch) Review  

I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t play much of the first Mario + Rabbids game. It left a distinctly bad taste in my mouth and I think I stopped playing it after about a half hour, never to go back to it, and selling it to a used game store soon after. So it’s a bit curious that I asked to review Sparks of Hope and honestly I’m glad I did. Sparks of Hope is the game that I feel they were trying to make with the first one, it is that improved.

Mario & Rabbids Sparks of Hope (abbreviated as Rabbids 2 from here on out) is the obvious sequel to Kingdom Battle. That game had the premise that the Mario and Rabbids universes were separate but due to several things going wrong, the two universes merged and became one. Soon a threat develops with that both the Mario denizens and the Rabbids must team up to dispense.

Sparks of Hope starts off with this concept, the universe is still merged and the Mario crew and Rabbids are hanging out in relative peace. But wouldn’t you know it, a new enemy has appeared! This one is named Cursa and has the ability to brainwash people as well as spreading “darkmess”, which corrupts and kills the landscape. Cursa’s main goal is to acquire the titular Sparks, which are hybrid Lumas and Rabbids, which can generate a ton of energy and then to conquer the galaxy.

To start with Rabbids 2 retains much of the same skeletal gameplay framework of the first game. You do battle in strategic levels against typical Mario enemies like Goombas and Bob-ombs but also against new foes like Lone Wolfs (snipers) or Medicians (healers). You can bring three units into battle and unlike the first game, you’re free to mix and match your roster with whomever you want. If you want an all Mario team, you’re free to do so, likewise you can use an all Rabbid team. You’re not forced to have any unit in battle you don’t want to, except for very specific one-off battles.

At the start of your battle, you have your three units and face off against a team of enemies. Before you start, you can heal up your team, swap out units, or change your Sparks (I’ll get into that below). When the actual battle begins, you always go first and there are three phases to your turn, movement and two actions. Unlike with Kingdom Battle, or say XCOM, you’re not confined to a grid for movement. You do have a radius for movement, which you can further expand if you use a team jump, but you can freely move wherever you want to set up a tactical position, ideally behind some cover.

For your actions, you can use an item, use a spark, use your alternate ability (typically an Overwatch sentry, or a buff for your team/debuff for enemies), or to attack an enemy unit. Once you commit to an attack you won’t be able to move again, so it really is necessary to move your units beforehand, so they aren’t just left twisting in the wind where they can get easily stomped.

There are two additional wrinkles during your turn. You have a team jump ability, as said above, that lets you kick off of a friendly unit and you begin hovering in air for a short time. This lets you get up to a higher vantage point or lets you cross gaps in the level. You can also find jump pads in some levels that let you jump up as well. You get one team jump, per character, per turn, but the jump pads are have infinite use. Another ability is the Dash Attack that you can, again, do once per character, per turn. You can run up to an enemy and press A to quickly slide into them, doing a bit of damage. This also pops them into the air where they can be attacked by any of your units that have their Overwatch ability active. One of my favorite activities in the game is to use Mario’s Overwatch ability (Hero Sight), and then just run into enemies with my units, since Mario can lay waste to them all, and if you specialize him right, can regain Hero Sight charges.

There are 9 units for you to pick and choose from the game, though initially you start off with only 6 and they all play differently. Mario has two pistols and is a good short to medium fighter. Luigi is a sniper, Peach has a cone shaped attack range and can also shield your units. Rabbid Mario is a melee fighter who can counter attacks, Rabbid Luigi can throw a discus that bounces between enemies and finally Rabbid Peach can fire three low damage missiles but they are far reaching and can bypass some cover. She’s also the only character with a heal mechanic which makes her fairly invaluable.

Later on, you do acquire three more characters as units. Rabbid Rosalina has a rapid fire gun and can also put enemies into stasis. Bowser is an immense damage dealer who can summon Mechakoopas to hone in on enemies and explode. Finally, there is Edge, who sadly isn’t a Rabbid version of WWE wrestler Edge. Instead, she is a wholly new created character for this game, who throws a giant shuriken at enemies that can hit multiple foes in a straight line. Each unit does have more stuff they can do, this is just a very basic overview of your units.

Enemies, initially, start off as pretty basic, usually just kind of cannon fodder that either tries to rush and dash into you (they can do this also), or they might have a ranged attack or two. Later on though, you’ll face off against more specialized enemies that are far trickier to deal with. The Medician unit, for example, can heal surrounding units, can give units a shield to absorb one hit, or can attack you. Depleter enemies, on the other hand, heal themselves when they attack you. They also have a form of Overwatch, causing them to attack you when you attack them. Luckily, before a battle, you can cycle through all the enemies on any given battlefield and see what you have to deal with and to prepare accordingly. One thing to keep your eye on is on the elemental weaknesses of enemies and that’s where the Sparks really come into play.

Sparks are creatures you can equip in battle to help give you an edge. You have to actually use an action point on them but they can do things like increase your team’s damage for a turn, turn a unit invisible, draw in or repel enemies and so on. Some sparks also confer elemental attacks, either an actual attack or giving your weapon an elemental affinity for a turn. Let’s say an enemy is weak to frost attacks, it’s best to equip a spark or two that has a frost attack. Sparks also can provide for elemental resistances also, so the same can also be true. Having a fire-based Spark can be handy against a team of fire enemies since it will help reduce the damage they deal and cancel out their “Burn” status effect they can cause.

You can also level your Sparks up which increases their effectiveness. This is partially gated by level progress, you can’t just max out a Spark at the start, but generally, every 5 levels you gain, you can level a spark up, if you so wish, to a max level of 5. This increases their active ability by 10% and their damage reduction passive by 5%. You can level Sparks up by either using Star Bits, which you collect from defeating enemies, or by a Star Potion which you occasionally can find in the game world or you can buy from a vendor.

Along with leveling up your Sparks, your units level up as well. Wisely, they made this a team-based thing, so once you gain a level, your whole team gains a level, just not the units that you might use all the time. Leveling up increases your health a bit but the main thing it does is give you a skill prism (skill point) to use in the tech trees. Each character has their own skill trees but they basically fall under four branches, from left to right: health, movement, weapon and technique. There is a fifth tree you can unlock later on called “Spark”, but it’s fairly tricky to do. Each tree has different abilities to increase the core branch.

Mario is a good example, I wanted to power the hell out of his Hero Sight (Overwatch) technique. He has four slots in that school, one to increase the damage of the ability, one to decrease the turn limit on it, one to grant additional charges for it per turn, and finally one slot to regenerate a charge in a turn if an enemy is defeated by the ability to trigger. Now, not each skill corresponds to a skill prism, the “regenerate a charge” skill requires for skill prisms to unlock. You can refund your skill prisms at any time though or completely reset all the skill trees. This gives you more chances for experimentation and to find out what best suits your own individual play style.

Most battles in the game break down into a few general archetypes. Usually it’s stuff like “Kill all the enemies”, “Kill a certain number of enemies”, “Survive X amount of turns”, or “Get to a certain place on the map”. A lot of this is pretty simple but there is just enough variety to keep you occupied and it never gets overwhelming. Occasionally though, there are more specialized and interesting levels that you have to do. One boss fight is pretty memorable since it jumps up, smashes down and runs at you whenever you attack it. There were four barrel sections on this circular map and the main goal is to draw the boss to the barrel sections, attack it when it’s over a barrel, have it smash down on said barrel, which then does massive damage to itself. Or another level had you needing to escort a Bob-omb along a gusty path, activating certain wind switches along the way, eventually having it blow up a Darkmess enemy which completes the level.

Outside of the many battles you’ll partake in are the hub worlds. There are five that’ll explore from Terra Flora to Barrendale Mesa. The first four basically break down into Summer, Winter, Fall and Spring worlds. The last one is a nighttime desert/mechanized area. Each planet has many things for you to do aside from just beating up enemies. There are small riddles for you to solve, fish to collect, red coins to pick up, other NPC’s to do side quests for, etc. If you want to mainline the main quest of the game, it’ll take you about 15-20 hours but doing the side content could easily double that.

However, that is where one of my small issues with this game comes into play. Some of this hub worlds stuff feels a bit half baked. Like, Mario can’t jump during these sections at all and playing a 3D Mario game where you can’t even jump, just feels weird. Pushing/pulling blocks is also pretty bad. I legitimately had to look up a guide on the first world to figure out how to make it pass a simple block puzzle, I had to clear a path of water around a few blocks. I knew what the game wanted me to do, but pulling at one block couldn’t get it to move correctly. After watching a video on it, I saw that the block could move further left, by about a centimeter, more than the game let on, and once I did that, I was able to solve it. I would consider that a problem with the puzzle implementation rather than my understanding of it, I could see what I needed to do but the game didn’t quite let on how to accomplish this.

Another odd issue with Rabbids 2 is the AI of the enemies. I noticed that the longer I would play the game in a session the dumber the AI got and the worst the game would start to perform. It was almost like there was a small memory leak in the game and if you ran it for more than 5 hours at a time, it would just be a roll of the dice on how it would perform. There were a few levels in these long play sessions where enemies would forget to activate. This happened a few time in “Survive” stages, where you just have to let the turn count run down, but some enemies would be aggressive in hunting me down and trying to attack me while other enemies…didn’t do anything. Believe me, it made it real easy to complete some of these stages, since I could kind of bust the AI occasionally. Or, like, during one very long session, I hit the map button almost by accident and it took about a full minute to get into the map, when normally it only takes about 10 seconds. I was praying the game didn’t crash on me when it eventually showed up but it let me know I had to restart the game and then it went back to normal.

The actual biggest problem I had with Rabbids 2 though is with the UI. Frankly, it’s not very good. It’s functional enough but a lot of stuff feels like it takes an extra step in order to do simple things. Like the skill trees, each character has one but there’s no easy way to swap between them. What ZL/ZR or L/R should do is swap between characters, go from Mario to Luigi to Peach, etc. Instead, these buttons swap between pages on the menu. To go between characters, you have to back out of one characters skill tree, select the character you want, then go into that one. Or the Spark menu can be a bit of a mess once you get more than a dozen of them. You should also be able to save sets of Sparks with characters, so you can just easily assign a set to a character, if they are required in a certain battle. Obviously, in the grand scheme of the game, this is pretty minor but it’s one of the few things that stuck out to me.

One last thing, this isn’t a “problem”, but something I’d like to mention. I do kind of wish the game had a rewind system for battles. Not something that you could abuse but there were occasional battles where I would hit the wrong button by accident or would do something dumb. It would have been nice if every match permitted you like two “do-overs” to rewind and start the turn, or better yet, make it a consumable item you buy in the store, so you don’t have to rely on it too much.

The final score: review Amazing
The 411
Even if it has the smallest of issues, Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is a fantastic strategy game to play. The levels are varied, the units are distinct, it’s colorful and charming and it remains an approachable challenge throughout its length. It might be a bit on the long side but if you really get into the game you will be rewarded for your efforts.