Mario+Rabbids Sparks Of Hope REVIEW (Nintendo Switch)
''DONT LOSE HOPE''
Developed: Ubisoft Milan
Genre: Strategy RPG
Release Date: Oct 20th,2022
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
*Review copy provided to me by Ubisoft*
*THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*
Mario+Rabbids Sparks Of Hope is that latest entry into this strategy RPG series that is developed by Ubisoft Milan and published by Ubisoft. Having been 5 years already since the release of Kingdom Battle, Ubisoft and Ubisoft Milan are back once again to try to up the ante and give us the biggest and greatest entry yet, but.. do they succeed in what they wanted to accomplish? or was it a case of only being able to catch lightning in a bottle one time? Only one way to find out, so lets-a-go!
An entity named Cursa wants to consume the Spark' energy and take over the galaxy, spreading Darkmess, a type of dark matter, across its planets. It is now up to Mario, his friends and the whacky Rabbids, to come together once more and save the entire galaxy before its too late
Alright. This is going to be a game that's gonna to be hard to review. Not because its bad or there's some fatal flaw with it, no that's not it. Its mostly because, compared to the first entry in the series, Kingdom Battle, Sparks Of Hope is an absolute monstrous game with more cinematic story telling with its action and avenger like hero moments, more exploration given in each of the 5 planets of the game that allows you to discover new secrets, complete new puzzles, plethora of side quests and some of the most strategic battling I've had to do in a video game in a long long time. Honestly I feel the best way to tackle this juggernaut is to jump right in with some of the story, work our way into how the game plays and then detail everything in between so we can cover all our bases and make sure you, as the player, know exactly what you're getting yourself into with this 25-30 hour story mode. So lets drop some bob-ombs on this beast and jump into action.
The game opens up at Peaches castle in her main garden with the crazy Rabbids trimming bushes that look like Rabbid Kong from Kingdom Battle. I mean, it's good and all, but it's not as good what Edward Scissorhands used to make, lets be real. But that's not the real topic here because something terrible has happened that could threaten the galaxy as we know it... and that is.. uhh... Rabbid Mario has lost his overalls. What? Yes, this is literally the first mission of the game and it sets the tone for what is to come. So because he's hiding in a bush completely naked you must search bushes and trees and ultimately find his damn overalls. Crisis averted right? or so they thought. Suddenly a giant galactic manta ray appears, much to the dismay of our heroes. The manta ray throws black tar all over the garden, killing whatever it touches, everyone is in a panic until Peach gives Mario the ''do it'' nod like this is 300, and Mario leaps into action, ready to save the day one more time. This is where you finally get the first real taste of the basic mechanics of the game and learn everything you will be utilizing the rest of the game from here on out, obviously with upgrades and tweaks coming later on of course - but the core principal will always remain the same - strategy.
During combat your core mechanics are always about using your environment to your advantage, whether it be hiding behind a platform or rock to take cover to negate any enemy attack from either a 50% hit on you or even 0% should you be well hidden enough. Movement management will also be key in the way that each character attack will be utilized or played out as well, because since this is a strategy game in the vein of titles like XCOM, you will get a specific amount of movement squares to move across before ending that turn and not every character has the same movement distance. So you don't have enough movement left, but you want to get either up to a higher platform or close enough for a Dash attack for small damage to give you the advantage? the heck do you do? you've ran out of spaces, just like Rabbid Peach ran out of space for her thousands of selfies photos. Well that's where team based game play comes into play and something that you'll be using A LOT- and what exactly is that? - Team Jumping. Using your party members heads, you're able to to bounce off them and use a drone to carry you a short amount of distance, based off a timer each drone has, and upon landing, you will have a brand new movement grid to work with. I cannot stress enough how much this will be used in your playthrough, you only get one or two of these per match, so they must be used with caution. But this is just the tip of the iceberg here, lets hop back into the story for just a second before we get into the real deep dive into the nitty and gritty.
After using your dash attack to grab eggs and destroy enemy tentacles of the manta ray, a giant portal opens up and a galactic hand comes out? huh? Master Hand? are you really that ticked off at the galaxy that this is your big plot? spread Darkmess across the universe and kill everyone? I guess I got to HAND it to you, its a good plan. I know, bad pun, sorry. But nope, its a bamboozle and it is really a being known as Cursa. She has taken Bowsers minions and all other inhabitants across the universe under her spell and turned them evil. Not being able to defeat her, the heroes, thanks to Luigi and Princess Peach, make their hasty escape on their space ship and regroup for the fight that's to come. From here in the story you meet new Rabbid Luma's that are a mixed breed of both Rabbid and Luma's which is disturbing thinking about how THOSE were even made, birds and the bees between Rabbids and Lumas? ya not touching that one, team up with AI friends Beep-O and new AI drone Jeanie, who act as your guides and narrators of the plot throughout the game, learn about 5 planets that need to be freed from Cursa's control by defeating enemy strongholds to obtain purified energy and ultimately learn you have to get to the edge of the galaxy in order to take down Cursa. But how do you do this? you must destroy the Darkmess in each of the 5 planets, only then can you obtain enough purified energy in order to create Warp Tunnels that allow you to travel at great speeds to your destination. From taking 100 years, down to 20 minutes, I say that's pretty good. Which is actually enough time to watch an episode of anime, right Beerus?
So story is good and all, right? but what about the REST of the gameplay? you know the dang stuff you'll be doing 95% of the time. Chill out my little koopas, were getting to it right now. In Sparks Of Hope as you go through Beacon Beach and discover its underground caverns with greek like Rabbid statues and its beachy sands, trek through the cold terrain of Pristine Peaks and drop baby penguins to their deaths just like the gopd ol days of Mario 64, because.. you know, I just had to, sorry, journey through the lands of Palette Prime, a planet that's always in the season of fall and October and luckily without Michael Myers there to stalk us, be in awe at the gorgeous scenery of Terra Florra, a lush garden with flowers, green grass and trees all on a planet in sky and clouds - which super reminds me of Sky from Final Fantasy 11 or even Sea Of Clouds from Final Fantasy 14. While you're doing exploring of all those areas, you will be tasked in taking on a barrage of enemies, some ranging from being easy as heck with only needing a few shots, while others will take you twenty to thirty minutes to complete. Oh ya, these fights are lengthy as all heck. While moving through these worlds, you can either attack an enemy you see on your map that has a designated level above their head indicating their difficulty level in order to start a battle or choose to take down Darkmess puddles found on each area of the map for both main scenario missions and side quests. Once you initiated the battle, only then do your true mechanics kick in and while they're very similar to the first title Kingdom Battle, they aren't exactly the same either as this title offers a more dynamic range of combat than you'd probably expect.
Using barricades for cover, you can use your main character attacks with ZL, with characters like Mario having a dual wielding shot that's capable of multiple short to medium range attacks, Rabbid Peach firing off a trio of rockets for mid range shooting, Luigi offering up more strategy with long range sniper action in case your enemy is too dangerous to get close to, etc. My early playthrough used the three team combination of Mario,Luigi and Rabbid Peach due to their abilities they have at their disposal that offers a pretty vast arsenal. Abilities you say? Well this is IS an RPG ya big silly, so what did ya expect? Yes, abilities, all 9 playable characters not only have unique special abilities and their own skill trees, but they are also able to equip aid minions known as Sparks. Sparks are beings that hold special powers that can give you a boost in elemental fire attacks, raise your defense, protection barricades, revive fallen teammates, summon fiery meteors without Bruce Willis's intervention, create a shockwave of ooze that damages any enemies with its hit distance, summon Rabbid Kong for a large quake attack that also raises the users HP, good lord man, there's so much depth. Alongside these 30 Sparks, as stated previously, each playable character has their own abilities and purpose, Mario being the jack of all trades and an all arounder in both health and attacks, Luigi focusing on long range attacks, Rabbid Peach acting as a red mage with both attack and healing abilities and topped off with skill trees for all 9 playable character that offer upgrades like extra health, longer gliding time after a team jump, multiple dashes to be usable- which is good for Mario with his little pudgy belly, longer weapon ranges, further reach for healing abilities, etc. You wanna know a secret? come here. Closer. Were still not done with the combat. I know this is nuts, but don't worry, were wrapping it all up in the gameplay department soon, since this can be pretty overwhelming.
Hopping back into the story as you continue your journey and help a big Rabbid named Augie free the sunless beach from its plight of the giant Darkmess tentacle, watch Rabbid Mario take no crap from evil enemies that try to ambush you, and he's like ''See ya chump!'' and swats them out of the way, meet the mysterious Edge who seems to be hiding a very dark secret that she wont tell us.. but who cares she's awesome, discover more hidden treasures on Palette Prime as you run into an old rival, none other than the king of the koopas himself, Bowser, who is just awesome. His introduction is both bad ass and funny as he takes on a block woman named Bedrock in a battle of fisticuffs. Yeah I said that, he's fighting a woman, dude don't care if he's gonna get canceled. But it doesn't end well at all, poor Bowser has to re-live the past and he gets swung around ala Mario 64. He couldn't escape his fate in 1996 and he can't do it here in 2022. Poor guy. SO LONG, EH BOWSER?. But that man has a friggin bazooka, so I know I won't talk too much trash on him, I know better. Being able to freely choose whos your party leader and walk around as that character is actually pretty cool, it gives you a choice of how you want to go about your game and play as a favorite character of yours. Early on I played mostly as Mario, but soon as I got Bowser? ya, screw off Mario, Bowser is my main now, and I'm sorry I'm going on about him, I just love Bowser and being able to freely play as him and roll around in his koopa shell, made me feel like I was back in the days of Super Mario RPG on SNES again. Yes, I'm being a fangirl, hit me to slap some sense into me. Wait, no don't do that, touch me and I'll sue. While the story isn't exactly.. monumental, as you can see, its still far greater than what you get in a mainline Mario game with actual stakes on the line, new villains, broad locations, TONS of comedy from the Rabbids and the gang themselves. Like Rabbid Peach now having a voice that sounds like a valley girl and always cracking me up when she levels up by saying ''I'M ALL ABOUT PERSONAL GROWTH''. It sounds so silly.
Wondering where the actual ''strategy'' is to the game, well remember I told you about all the attacks that you can do? yeah, well I forgot to tell you a crucial part, oops. Even with all your abilities, you're only able to perform two actions using your Action Points, per turn with each character, using your regular weapons, Spark techniques, character skills, and using items in battle like mushrooms for health, Rabbid clocks to lower the cooldown timer on your abilities, immunity charms to protect yourself for three turns, movement boosts to give you more area of movement, etc, they ALL take an Action Point away and should you run out, you will either have to switch to the next person in line or give the enemy their chance to attack. This in turn is where you strategize and pick which crew member is the best fit for you, depending on the enemy variety presented. For example bigger cat like enemies will be weaker to ooze, so using the ooze spark is beneficial, whereas other enemies like the Wild Cats will react and rush you every time they get hit, which means, close range is absolutely a no go and thus making you have to use a character like Luigi for long ranged attacks or set them up for a sneaky attack with Bowser by summoning 3 Mecha koopa's to survey the area and explode on whatever they find. Just don't be like me and accidentally blow up your own teammates like I did, it can cost you the round. I'm sorry Rabbid Peach, forgive me. I need to be clear on one thing with all of this though, this games difficulty is all over the place. One minute you're breezing through it and the next you're getting ticked off and man handled left and right due to Darkmess portals opening up and unleashing 3-4 new enemies, each giving them 2-3 chances to attack before you can move again. OH MY GOD. Nope, I got to save that rage for my dislikes section. Calming down. Calming down. Thankfully, there's options in this title that allows you to play at a relaxed pace with a Relaxed, Average and Demanding setting, which are your Easy, Medium, Hard difficulties.. or be a total freaking baby penguin and play with invulnerable ability enabled to negate all damage to you. But if you do that, just like a baby penguin in my presence, you TOO will be thrown off a cliff. So watch your back.
I know you probably want to hear about stuff I always gush about like Boss battles and more about exploration, since this title has more broad open areas that are akin to wild areas like Pokemon Sword and you want to hear more about the varieties of puzzles - oh we will, we will, because were heading into the home stretch of this review, which I didn't think would get this long. While you further investigate this big scale story(in Mario's case) and save the light spark from the caverns of beacon beach and watch Mario act like a freaking creeper as he smiles and walks towards it(seriously the heck mario), befriend a spark named Decibel that allows you to use Sonic Powers to move heavy objects around. No, no, sorry guys, you don't get to go FAST, its not THOSE type of Sonic Powers. You can use it to raise platforms, knock down obstacles or find secrets hidden in the wall, travel to the ice mansion of Pristine Peaks and save Rabbid Rosalina for Captain Orion, the warden of that planet, laugh your way through the forest in Palette Prime as you try to find your way through and Rabbid Mario suggests to burn the whole damn thing down, like jeez bro, what the hell, smokey the bear would like to have a world with you, watch Cursa's plan unfold as she absorbs poor innocent sparks to make herself even more powerful, get train tracks running in Terra Florra after reviving the Everbloom Tree for Rabbid Bea, that reminds me a lot of the Great Deku tree from Zelda and get that train a rollin, which awakens a giant wiggler from his nap, leaving him SUPER enraged and chases you like a scene out of Jurassic Park. Even after all that adventure, you're still hit with one final revelation in this story, with the reveal of Cursa's strong hold, that ends up being none other than the Comet Observatory. Dun Dun Dun!. Rosalina has been captured and is being held prisoner inside Cursa herself. The final battle is upon us, but are you SURE you're ready for the battle that lies before you? have you taken into account everything I have told you about? I'm not so sure. Just to be on the safe side, use Beep-O to heal your party members outside of battle or buy the necessary items at a local merchant that inhabits every planet you go to. Using regular moves and abilities by themselves will NOT be enough to win the day.
Oh wait, never mind, hold your horses, you CANT do the final planet yet. Why? because filler of course. Ugh. if you've read or watched my reviews for the last few years, you would know that I almost have a zero tolerance for stuff that I consider filler. My definition of filler is the extension of a game that already has a clear path to its ending. Like here in Sparks Of Hope, its no different. After getting enough purified energy to make it to the final section to fight Cursa, an electrical storm takes place that causes you to have parachute onto a 5th planet before you can advance. While this is actually really funny with the way it as handled with Beep-O thinking they were barely off the ground, when in actuality it was thousands of feet, which causes everyone to sky dive down to the planet below, safely landing on a big balloon. Or so they thought anyways since Bowser is WAY too heavy and he lands on it with everyone else and it pops and explodes and sends everyone flying. Its comedy gold. But that's about all the good things I have to say about Barrendale Mesa. The whole purpose is to fix Big Momma's windmill so she will agree to fix your shape. No, its not Martin Lawrence's big mama, I wish. The slog through the planet itself to get there and the final boss battle of the planet is just.. ugh. I'll explain more in my dislikes section, but for now we need to talk about, what is that? oh yeah, the boss fights. That will lift my spirits.
Oh boy. Here we go. The boss fights in this game range from a balanced difficulty and up to a difficulty that makes you want to rage a bit. There's really no in between. With boss fights like Giant Wildclaw Tiger, who I guess you could say is ''GRRREAT''.. yeah I apologize for that one. On surface level its rather simple because of his physical strength that hits you for 300+ damage, to counter this, you must move around the map at all times and keep your distance, simple but fun. However, not all boss fights are versus physical big baddies either, with fights that require you to take the fight to a large Darkmess tentacle inside a volcano where you have to plan carefully and destroy Darkmess eyeballs on its body to ultimately take it down, climb the mountains of Pristine Peak as you ward off dozens of enemies while totem heads blow wind at you to throw you off the stage. Strategy is key here in timing your movements and destroying the wind totems so you can advance to the end of the area. Battle against the woman who kicked Bowsers butt earlier, Bedrock, as you use your brain power, not raw power, to outsmart her. Physical attacks wont work at all, so you must place your characters in strategic spots around the battle arena and lure her to you, then make her jump and land on a trap full of landmines. Kapow! - its very satisfying. Sadly though, not all boss fights are as cool as the final battles against Dark Bowser, who has a whopping 10,000 hp, abilities of your Bowser and takes like 40 minutes to beat due to his difficulty. Good lord was it hard for me, but I when I did manage to beat him I felt super accomplished. Hell not every battle is even as awesome as the giant finger form of Cursa, who I didn't know whether to poke back or invite to join Cartman's band from South Park. To me, this fight is awesome because it reminds me very much of the final battle against Sephiroth in Final Fantasy 7 where every single party member goes into a group and fights different sections of the enemy, so to does that play out here with party members of three taking down Cursa for good. So all battles are good? ya, nope, some battles are a chore like the fight against Midnite, a ghost woman that watches over a mansion. Good lord, I hate this fight. Its a case of you beat her and she's like ''Ah haha fools, this wasn't even my final form'' like she's friggin Frieza or something. Normally, I do not mind this as bosses having multiple forms is nothing new to gaming, but.. you literally play the SAME fight, THREE TIMES. The only change? furniture and barriers are moved around. Give me a break. I'm sorry. I'll compose myself. I'll save it for my dislikes section. Overall, the boss fights, even down to mini bosses, are fun and extremely entertaining.
So you beat Cursa and and saved the world did ya? that doesn't mean your journey is at its end you know, for you see, you HAVE WAY more to do in regards to exploration, further power use, secret zones and side quests. While saving Beacon Beach from the Darkmess tentacle, you can beat up some bob-ombs to save a village, do secret blue coin mini games that have you run around changing objects in the environment in order to win the prize of more star bits to feed your sparks to level them up or gain more unlockables for memories in your special items menu, obtain Planet Coins to purchase all the weapon skins in the game to look super stylish, buy special keys like the Sunrise key on Beacon Beach to enter secret zones that reminded me a bit of a Captain Toad like level that makes you take a stealth approach instead of fighting in order to complete your objective of saving a trapped spark, find side quests like ''Pugilist and the Princess'' where you must duo team with Princess Peach and Rabbid Mario, meet a psychic and enter a portal to take part in battles that are more challenging than normal battles, gather ice blocks to build Rabbids an igloo that would even put the Ice Climbers to shame, collect ALL planet coins in the game, fuse saved Sparks with Beep-O to gain the ability of light that shows you hidden floors or hidden ladders to pass chasms, use your sonic ray to evaporate statues or raise and lower platforms in conjunction to a specific path needed for puzzles, find a sonic wave upgrade to bring back plant life in Terra Florra, the list goes on and on my friend... some people started singing it, not knowing what it was, but they'll continue singing it forever just because... oh no, no no, were not going for another Lambchop joke, that song will be stuck in my head for days. Too long didn't read or didn't watch version, with 125 side quests in this game, you will have a TON to keep you entertained, that I guaranteed you.
Oh man. I'm feeling like the ''no no'' meme cat right about now. This is the section of the review that I was dreading. For a game blooming with positives, its ugly roots for me become unearthed. Some of these gripes include things like floor textures in Terra Florra looking a little bland at times, flat looking and seeming almost TOO smooth looking as if it didn't render properly, multiple frame rate dips as you explore the planet Pristine Peaks that has the game slowing down in certain areas of the planet, cheap enemy movements that allows up to to 4 to 5 enemies to spawn from Darkmess portals and attack you before the next round starts, which can hit you for anywhere and upwards to 1000+ HP, tedious task stopping missions like when you're on the top of Mt Sprout in a part of the level that has you covering water holes with rocks. Yeah, that's literally all you do for like 15 minutes. At first I was annoyed like really? just let me do a fight or walk past, this is pointless, but then I figured oh wait its going to be a huge explosion due to the pressure built up from these water holes being blocked, this is going to be awesome, but was it? nope, a tiny rock just went ''ploop'' and that was it.. disappointing and anticlimactic. But the REAL headache of my playthrough, which I touched upon briefly earlier, is Barrendale Mesa. This is a filler world 100%. Going through the path to get to the windmill objective, each fight takes you literally 35 to 40 minutes to beat, if that was just the first fight, sure, ok, but second fight, nope another 30 minutes, this goes on for roughly 4 of these fights and by then, you STILL aren't to the windmill yet to activate it. This is when I said its starting to outstay its welcome, because between the hour long electricity puzzles, using cranes, moving to next area, another mini boss battle, repeat repeat repeat, it got boring.
But the worst fight of all? has to the final battle at the windmill. You're tasked with protecting four different mechanisms, they must be defended and protected from damage, its not too hard, but its just long and very monotonous. Having to defend four different directions for EIGHT turns with portals spawning 3 to 4 guys on each side, all having ranged attacks, all who get to attack first, is not fun at all, intense yes, but not fun, I was miserable, a total oscar meyer weiner, yes, that's what I'd truly like to be. Finally after 20 hours of that battle though, you defeat Daphne, the boss of this planet and escape this hell hole of a planet in super epic fashion I might add. You remember when I said you were doing this for big momma as a favor? well the big bad upgrade to your ship ends up being.... a rubber ducky with a drill. Ok that's pretty awesome, that's almost enough to make me forgive this level.... but not quite.
At the end of the day Sparks Of Hope is one of the best titles you could play on Switch this year. Its got the creativity and playfulness that just screams and oozes everything about the Rabbids and Mario franchises that everyone loves. Sure its not perfect with bad filler content, certain enemy battles feeling unbalanced and uneven, frame rate dipping, some slight textures issues, but with its in increased exploration for secret treasure finding, engaging and dynamic combat that allows you to build your characters the way you want to build them, getting to laugh at a giant wiggler as you wake him from his nap on your train, new bouncing abilities that allow you to bounce off your party members and when landing either create a shockwave to injure bad guys or heal party members, gorgeous environments like in the Everbloom of Terra Florra with its greenery and waterfalls, watching Rosalina go Super Saiyan God like Goku as she opens up a portal for our heroes and finally finding out the reason this whole situation in the first place ended up happening is because Rabbids used their time traveling washing machine to go to Comet Observatory, which gained Cursa's attention in the first place. Good lord, first they messed up ancient china, now the Mario universe... better be careful, Sonic, they just might invade you next.
So with all this having been said. My verdict is clear, GameNChick says BUY NOW.