Mario and Rabbids Sparks of Hope provides the same enjoyable turn-based combat as its predecessor, with some minor tweaks to make it more accessible to a wider audience. A greater focus on the Rabbids opposed to the Mushroom Kingdom feels like a backwards step though, with the slapstick crossover comedy failing to sparkle this time around.
- Excellent turn-based combat
- New elemental powers are fun
- Improved exploration
- Cartoony visuals look great
- Too much focus on the Rabbids
- Not as funny as the previous game
- Boring story
- Platforms:Nintendo Switch
- Release date:20 October 2022
- Genre:Turn-based tactics
A Super Mario and Rabbids crossover with XCOM-style combat to boot initially seemed like an absolute disaster on paper. And yet, the original Mario and Rabbids Kingdom Battle was a hugely entertaining and tactically rich adventure, impressing fans so much that it managed to secure a sequel.
The new Mario and Rabbids Sparks of Hope continues the adventure, but this time taking Mario and his Rabbid companions up to space to fight off a new threat.
And while Ubisoft has tweaked the combat slightly to make Mario and Rabbids more accessible to a younger audience, it’s still very much the same thrilling turn-based action from the original game.
But does Sparks of Hope offer enough new twists to make it even more enjoyable than the original and one of the best Switch games of 2022? Or is the novelty of the chaotic Rabbids crossover starting to wear thin? Here are my thoughts.
- Planet-hopping adventure
- Greater focus on the Rabbids than Mario
- Rabbids not as funny as previously
One of my favourite aspects of the original Mario and Rabbids was seeing the carnage that the Rabbids were unleashing upon the Mushroom Kingdom. In the background of your travels, you’d see Rabbids toying with classic Mario items such as power-up bricks, and there were countless hilarious crossover villains such as Rabbid Kong and Pirabbid Plant.
Unfortunately, Sparks of Hope doesn’t continue this tactic, leaving the Mushroom Kingdom behind in favour of a journey into space. With Rosalina captured by a mysterious new enemy, Mario and co are tasked with saving the princess, as well as the many Sparks – hybrid species of Lumas and Rabbids – that roam the galaxy.
During the adventure, you’ll visit various planets that act as mini open-world zones for you to explore. Each planet looks drastically different from the next, from snowy mountains to a serene town surrounded by a dense forest.
All of these worlds are inhabited by Rabbids, with no sign of the Mushroom Kingdom world that Mario has left behind. This was a personal disappointment, with Sparks of Hope feeling more like a Rabbids game with Mario-themed guest stars than the other way around. The story is bland too, with lengthy dialogue from your AI companion that’s so boring it’s practically begging you to click skip.
Ubisoft has also attempted to introduce a couple of Rabbid characters that have a larger presence than the slapstick gags that have previously drawn comparisons to Despicable Me’s Minions. Edge, a new punk-themed Rabbid wielding an oversized sword, is the very first playable character that has no connection to the Mario universe. She’s simply here to push the story forward but lacks any interesting or funny character traits to win over fans.
There have even been attempts to make players take the existing Rabbids cast more seriously, with Rabbid Mario, Rabbid Luigi and Rabbid Peach now featuring voice actors. They keep speech limited to short outbursts during battle or a story cutscene, but I still feel that it draws the attention away from the physical comedy that was so entertaining in the preceding game – Rabbid Peach is a particular downgrade compared to her iconic performance prior.
Ubisoft does at least introduce Rabbid Rosalina and Bowser as playable characters, both of which are excellent additions to the roster. But I still can’t help but bemoan the fact we failed to get a Rabbid Bowser, or even have the likes of Wario and Waluigi make an appearance.
- Same fantastic turn-based combat
- New elemental power-ups
- Greater freedom of movement during battle
Mario and Rabbids Sparks of Hope uses the same XCOM-style blueprint for its turn-based combat as its predecessor. During each turn you’re able to navigate characters across a gridded battlefield, taking cover to avoid gunfire, and using vantage points to deal optimum damage.
Each character has their own unique weapon and special ability. Rabbid Mario can pummel enemies up close and Luigi can strike from afar as a sniper, while Rabbid Peach is able to heal surrounding squad mates. With three character slots available per battle, there are plenty of different combinations you can use for each scenario.
Spark of Hope introduces the new Sparks companion mechanic, allowing you to assign elemental power-ups to each character. This can range from fire that will cause foes to run around in a panic when scorched, or even gusts of wind that blow enemies away when getting too close for comfort.
There’s a rock-paper-scissors system going on here, with certain enemies weak to specific elements, while others have resistance. This makes it beneficial to survey the battlefield and plan out your strategy rather than recklessly diving in. That said, since you’re able to switch the Sparks powers between characters before any battle, it doesn’t really encourage you to experiment with different playstyles.
Ubisoft has also made a couple of tweaks to make combat a little easier and more accessible – that’s no bad thing since the original was notoriously difficult. You’re now able to freely move your characters within a certain radius, allowing you to test out different covers to find the best vantage point, or even to move closer to an ally in order to be healed without having to commit to that location.
Die-hard strategy fans may argue that this tweak means you no longer need to carefully plan out each move, instead being able to rely on trial and error instead. I was dismayed by this change at first, but Sparks of Hope still provides a challenging experience. Set to Normal difficulty, I still found it difficult to dispatch certain enemy types, including ghoulish Rabbids that can disable your attacks and Magikoopa which are resistant to every element.
There’s a great variety of enemy types in Sparks of Hope, while Ubisoft also occasionally chucks in a fresh objective such as guarding an object, surviving multiple rounds or reaching the end of an obstacle course. But it doesn’t really push the boat out too much compared to Kingdom battle – it feels more like a rinse and repeat rather than a striding step forward.
Exploration and puzzles
- Improved exploration with mini open-world hubs
- Simple but fun puzzles and riddles to solve
- Colourful and vibrant artwork
The best upgrades for Mario and Rabbids Sparks of Hope, compared to its predecessor, are actually found outside of combat. Previously, Mario and his companions were ushered down a linear passage in-between shootouts but the sequel instead allows you to explore mini open-world hubs for each planet you visit.
This allows for a great variety of optional side quests, whether it’s solving a riddle to score a bounty of coins or engaging in combat for even juicer rewards. Even now after hitting the end credits, I could easily spend a few additional hours completing every remaining objective.
A number of puzzles have also been added into the mix, acting as welcome respites from combat. Most are very straightforward, but towards the end of the game, I did have to don my thinking cap in order to progress. This usually involves pushing blocks onto buttons or hunting down lost items, but they did occasionally give me minor The Legend of Zelda vibes.
Every location is wonderfully detailed too, with the colourful cartoony worlds looking dazzling on a Nintendo Switch OLED. And, despite being developed and published by Ubisoft, there’s a Nintendo-level polish here as I didn’t encounter any graphical or performance issues.
Should you buy it?
If you enjoyed the previous Mario + Rabbids game
Mario and Rabbids Sparks of Hope feels very similar to its predecessor when it comes to combat. A couple of refinements have made the shootouts more accessible, but it still feels very familiar.
You want another laugh-out-loud story
Sparks of Hope struggles to hit the same heights for comedy compared to the previous entry. By straying away from the Mushroom Kingdom and making the Rabbids the central focus, the sequel has lost its sense of humour.
Mario and Rabbids Sparks of Hope takes the same excellent blueprint for combat as its predecessor, with a couple of minor adjustments making it more accessible while still providing a rewarding challenge for more skilled players.
Exploration has also been improved upon, with a new open-world format allowing for more optional side quests and collectable hunting.
But the sequel fails to push the series forward in a meaningful way, while an attempt to make the Rabbids more serious unfortunately reduces the number of laughs. Rocketing away from the Mushroom Kingdom was a big gamble, and I don’t think it paid off.
How we test
We play every game we review through to the end, outside of certain exceptions where getting 100% completion, like Skyrim, is close to impossible to do. When we don’t fully finish a game before reviewing it we will always alert the reader.
Played on Nintendo Switch
Played through the entire single-player campaign
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No, Yoshi (as well as Rabbid Yoshi) has sadly been cut out of the game. Instead, Bowser, Rabbid Rosalina and Edge are added to the roster.
The villain is called Cursa, who is a new character to both Mario and the Rabbids series.
There are 9 playable characters, three of which you need to unlock by progressing through the story.