Mario + Rabbids is the only turn-based Mario series since Super Mario RPG for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and it has been quite successful. Kingdom Battle, its first installment, was a huge hit for Ubisoft, and Sparks of Hope is sitting as the best-selling game on Nintendo’s eShop at the time of writing this review. While Sparks of Hope takes place some undefined time after Kingdom Battle, there is no prior knowledge required to enjoy the newest installment.
One of the most memorable scenes of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is at the very beginning, when everything goes haywire, and different objects begin fusing with Rabbids. It is a scene packed with comedy that serves as an explanation to the crossover between the two universes and sets the tone for the rest of the game. With that momentum, Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope begins in Mushroom Kingdom in a similarly humorous way as Rabbid Mario hides in a bush because he lost his overalls. Then, a large manta ray’s “Darkmess” takes over.
The manta ray is the minion of Cursa, a shadow entity that wants to consume “Sparks,” or Rabbid Lumas that give you power ups after you rescue them. Mario and his friends must travel on a spaceship called the WM ARC (Washing Machine Advanced Rabbid Carrier) and liberate a total of five planets before defeating Cursa and her minions. In the process, you will meet new and old friends (and foes) who, for one reason or another, are willing to join your fight in stopping Cursa.
Although the core concept of Mario + Rabbids is its turn-based battles, Sparks of Hope develops in a fashion that balances more RPG elements than the first installment. In fact, the overall RPG aspect of the game reminded me most of Super Mario Sunshine. The first planet is an island covered in Darkmess, and you clean it up, though through turn-based battles with varying objectives. Despite these highly complex battles, there are side quests that you are encouraged to accept throughout the planets that do not always involve battles. You can run openly through the planets finding friends and foes in dangerous, often hilarious situations and have a customizable difficulty setting to test your skills as a tactician as much as your heart desires.
Compared to the first game, Sparks of Hope allows for much more exploration making it more enjoyable than the already-fun Kingdom Battle. In this game, you can freely run around the planets, but you are unable to jump or swim despite being able to perform other actions like picking up objects or shaking trees. You can make this a straight-forward game by running straight to the main storyline and finish it in less than 10-15 hours, but that would be unfair to the game. Instead, exploring each planet and interacting with it will help you discover secret areas, build up the storyline, unlock new features, get you into funny scenarios, and develop your skills.
When I entered the first planet and completed all the main quest objectives, which consisted of freeing two key spots of Darkmess, I decided to run around and complete the side quests. Side quests can involve anything from the all-too-familiar delivery of penguins to solving puzzles laid out around the map. The menu will show you a completion percentage for the current planet with another for the overall progress of the story. Seeing those numbers can be enough to keep you going back to different planets, but if that is not enough, then perhaps the possibility of new Spark power ups can motivate you. The planet’s map has quest markers, so it makes it easy to continue questing.
Battles have evolved quite a bit from the first game. For one, there are more heroes to use, and each hero can use a wide variety of sparks. In addition, every planet has different stages featuring their own set of enemies with unique abilities. While in battle, there are a lot of variables to consider such as hero movement and abilities, cover percentage, number of enemies, types of attacks and defenses, differing cooldowns, and stage dynamics to name a few. It would typically be overwhelming to learn such a variety of features, but Sparks of Hope does a great job of easing you into the complexity of the battle by omitting some of these factors in the beginning. After all, its premise is mastering offense and defense in a pleasant manner.
Despite beginning with six heroes, Sparks of Hope features a total of nine, with new additions and some redesigns to the veterans. Every single hero has a unique battle style, skill tree, various weapon skins, and more importantly, abilities. In addition, there are some benefits to alternating between the heroes (such as saving on the cost of healing your party). There are also times when refusing to change your lineup will make the objective unnecessarily difficult.
Details and Hero Classes
While no character can alternate between classes, there is such a wide variety of classes, and each hero has its own humorous personality making it fun to switch between them. These are the starter characters:
- Mario (dual slinger) can divide his attack between two targets. This ability comes in handy often when trying to stop monsters from spawning.
- Luigi (sharpshooter) has a long-distance bow that deals more damage the further he is away from his target. He seems to have overcome some of his fears from Kingdom Battle and become braver.
- Peach (protector) causes area damage with her “Boom-Brella” that can shoot from above cover. I wonder why she is a protector but always needs saving.
- Rabbid Mario (brawler) can hit through cover and deals quite a bit of damage up close and personal. He is a bit hilarious and always runs holding on to his suspenders.
- Rabbid Luigi (pest) helps drain foes with his chain attacking “Discruptor.” I found him the least useful.
- Rabbid Peach (combat healer) can hit targets behind cover with her “Triple Troll.” You will learn to love her “#HealingJourney.”
The remaining, unmentioned three are unlocked later highlighting classes that are variations of those above, but your starter party is quite colorful from the get-go. Lastly, Ubisoft is adding Rayman in a DLC adventure for the Sparks of Hope third DLC release, though no release date has been confirmed.
Skill Tree Building
I dread skill trees in most games, but Ubisoft incorporated a well-balanced variety of individual heroes’ skill trees. Each hero has his or her own ability, so each hero naturally has different skill trees. However, every hero has the same four categories of skills: health, movement, weapon, and technique. There is also a “secret” fifth category unlocked through side quests that is worth unlocking. To fill the skill tree, you must engage in battles to level up the characters and unlock “skill prisms.” Something I enjoyed in the skill tree is that you are free to refund skill prisms and re-distribute them at any time. If you acquire a new character, it has the same amount of skill prisms as the rest of the team available to distribute (at least in medium difficulty).
Sparks, or Rabbid Lumas, are the stars of this game! For one, they are the reason Cursa is wreaking havoc. They’re also cute and have individualized personalities. They feature a variety of power ups that add yet another layer of complexity in battles, such as elemental attacks, increased defense, and the ability to repel enemies. As you collect all 30, you can assign them to heroes, and in some planets, Beep-0 receives some upgrades in the form of Sparks that automatically integrate with it. They are the main reason you will want to complete the side-quests.
The aesthetics of Sparks of Hope were much better than I expected. Seeing as Ubisoft added so many new features, many people might think that they would have to either compromise game stability, graphics, stage complexity, physic variety of objects, or omit audio. None of these are the case; the game flows fluidly, and it is beautifully designed.
The visual art style of Sparks of Hope is lightly reminiscent of Odyssey in its 3D fashion. It is an unfair comparison because they are two completely different games with different focuses, but when you start running around as Mario, you are likely to think of it. What makes Sparks of Hope uniquely beautiful is that it synthesizes all elements from the different planets. Some of these are incorporated into weapon skins and Sparks as well. At the same time, it has a galaxy touch to it because you must travel through space on your quest to clean up the Darkmess.
To my surprise, there is much voice acting in this game, and it is just as hilarious as the dialogue. It does not always match the dialogue verbatim because sometimes it is paired to lengthy conversations, but it always adds to the overall mood of the scene. For example, a local character describes how excited he is about the sun coming out. In its paired audio, the same character says, “Suns out, buns out!” There’s even an instance in which a Rabbid DJ has all your heroes dancing to a song that could just as easily be in a Sonic level. I did wish there were more songs throughout the game as those are some of the most memorable aspects of previous Mario games for me.
Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope is the best successor we could have wished for the Mario + Rabbids franchise. It does a great job in incorporating different RPG aspects that were absent in its prequel. In addition, it developed the battles by adding different complex variables. This combination, along with the beautiful visuals and funny dialogues, make this game highly enjoyable. After this installment, there is no doubt there will be a third one down the line. The fanfare around this game is well-deserved and merits a dive into its universe.
Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope gets a 9/10.