Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope blends tactical gameplay with Super Mario and Raving Rabbids-themed mayhem, and it clearly aims to build on its predecessor, Kingdom Battle. I’ve always been a fan of Mario, but Rabbids on the other hand, have always left me a little frustrated. Yet, Sparks of Hope seems to be the quirky strategy title that might change things.
When I jumped into Kingdom Battle for the first time, I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t for Rabbids dressed as Peach to be fighting alongside Mario and applying turn-based tactics during their reclamation of Mushroom Kingdom.
Recently, I was given a small glimpse as to what fans can expect from Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope. Ultimately, it promises to deliver more of the same puzzling tactics and nonsense story, albeit with even more chaos added to the mix.
Sparks of Hope has a larger story, and even larger characters
Davide Soliani, creative director of Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope, introduced the game as a “tactical adventure” in which players will “be able to experience a totally new kind of gameplay with real-time actions and strategy at the core.”
While Kingdom Battle followed Mario trying to free the Rabbids from a powerful device that was causing them to become disorderly (more so than normal, anyway), Sparks of Hope takes a slightly more intergalactic turn. When Cursa, a mysterious entity, begins trying to claim the energy from titular Sparks (a creature formed when fusing Rabbids and Loomas), the universe is suddenly in trouble. So much so, even Bowser is struggling to fight them.
The story behind Kingdom Battle truly let the game down. But if you enjoyed the amped-up rabbits, tactical combat, and beautiful worlds, it was easy enough to overlook. What seems so promising about Sparks of Hope, however, is that the story appears to be a hell of a lot more developed. We’re not just trying to rescue Rabbids and our heroes, but we’re trying to rescue the entire universe in Sparks of Hope too.
Throughout Sparks of Hope, it’s up to Mario and co. to stop Cursa and restore the universe back to normal. Perhaps one of the most surprising reveals about the game is that Mario is to work alongside his long-time enemy, Bowser. Bowser has no choice but to seek Mario’s help against Cursa so that they can go back to Mario versus Bowser shenanigans, and Davide Soliani explains that Bowser’s reclamation of his army is going to be “explosive,” accompanied by a humble smile. Considering that Bowser sports a huge cannon, we can certainly anticipate that the Koopa King’s debut is going to be a blast.
When it comes to characters, there’s no doubt that Rabbids will often steal the show. Not only is the humour of these raving rabbit-aliens rampant, but there are some distinctive individuals that players will no doubt find themselves fascinated by.
Captain Orion will give you missions that’ll have you exploring all the content that the galaxy has to offer, Rabbid Rosalina makes her debut as a playable character, and Edge is another new, mysterious Rabbid companion to play as. With sharp teeth and an even sharper haircut, Edge’s weapon of choice is obviously a sword.
Another new non-playable character, who is likely going to end up being a personal favourite, also happens to be one of Cursa’s many minions; a Rabbid-pig hybrid who sports Thwomp on their back. They’re cute, although they could also act as nightmare fuel if you stare at them for too long. Either way, there are plenty of characters to love or hate, and I’m looking forward to what the community consensus may be.
Another satisfying blend between the universes of Mario and Rabbids
It’s still strange seeing beloved characters firing armed weapons when usually, a mere stomp on the head does the trick, however, a successful combo still allows you to pull off a satisfying stomp. Seeing an incredibly clear blend between the universes of both Rabbids and Mario like this feels very fulfilling, and simultaneously provides a nice change of pace compared to other Super Mario and Raving Rabbids titles.
I’ve always associated Rabbids’ games with being disorderly, and that being most of the fun. The same can be said for Mario, but the platforming structure of most Mario titles sees gameplay feeling a hell of a lot more orderly in comparison to a Rabbids title.
Combining the two by allowing the player to explore Mario-like levels while engaging in turn-based combat with unique abilities shows off the distinctive gameplay blend even further. Once again, the camera of Kingdom Battle returns, giving you the best view of everything that happens across the battlefield and somehow immersing you in this playful world.
Based on the preview footage shared with us, Sparks of Hope is set in a large, eccentric universe that is packed with surprises. This huge environment is the result of merging both the universes of Mario and Rabbids, and appears to be packed with familiar minions, but also with plenty of new sights to see. It’s a chaotic crossover, but Ubisoft has managed to intertwine the two worlds - dare I say it - perfectly. Even in battle, there’s plumber's pipes that can come to the rescue, making the feeling of Mario wielding a gun a little less odd. Everything about Sparks of Hope, so far, feels so inherently Mario and Rabbids.
It doesn’t just look and feel amazing, but you can tell that it has been crafted with the utmost care for the series’ involved too. It would certainly be easy to turn the Mario + Rabbids combined universe into one big cash-grab, but Sparks of Hope feels feels like a game about Mario and Rabbids, created by talent that also loves Mario and Rabbids.
Music is one particular element that creative director, Davide Soliani (who I talk about a little more later), put an emphasis on during the event, explaining that music is key to making these worlds feel alive. Music can be an important component to any game, but without the twinkly tones or battle themes that we got to briefly be privy to, the battlefield and surrounding terrain would feel dull, and that’s one thing that Sparks of Hope certainly refuses to be.
That being said, Sparks of Hope will feature music composed by a team of outstanding composers: Grant Kirkhope (Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64, Perfect Dark), Gareth Coker (Ori and the Blind Forest, ARK: Survival Evolved, Halo Infinite), and last but not least, Yoko Shimomura (Super Mario RPG, Parasite Eve, Xenoblade Chronicles). Needless to say, the score for Sparks of Hope is the last thing any player needs to worry about with these three involved.
Gameplay is more of the same, with diverse characters, environments and weapons making things feel fresh
We also see Mario soaring through the stars in a spaceship during the exclusive look at the game. Now, there’s no saying whether Mario will actually be able to engage in space flight, and here’s to hoping that he can’t, because to be frank, we’ve enough games involving space coming out over the next year.
We do know that Sparks of Hope is set to feature multiple worlds though, from beaches of Bob-Ombs to snowy grottos, there’s plenty to see and there’ll be ample opportunity to explore freely outside of battle. Much like Kingdom Battle, Sparks of Hope will also have you directly controlling three heroes of your choice across these worlds, and combining their abilities will be incredibly important for combat.
Combat follows the same style as Kingdom Battle, with it being tactical, real-time, and turn-based. It’s entirely up to you as to who will strike next and where from, or whether you line up your three heroes for a daring yet rewarding combo.
Every character wields their own unique weapon or ability of sorts for you to utilise, and you’ll have to keep this in mind as well as battleground positioning in order to secure a win. Battles shouldn’t become boring easily either, as new threats are regularly revealed across the battlefield, and new moves or characters are introduced to combat them.
Mentioning the unveiling of unknown threats, you’ll want to be mindful of various foes beyond Cursa’s minions, but also take note that many of these can be used by your squad in combat too.
Not only did we see Mario fleeing from Bob-Ombs, but we got to see him flinging them towards enemies too; it’ll be exciting to see how other foes can be exploited in this way. I certainly hope I can launch a Goomba across the battlefield, that's for sure. Similarly, Sparks can be used to benefit your team, too.
These adorable little hybrids between Rabbids and Loomas certainly look a little strange at first, but they can help heroes to harness their powers, providing yet another layer to combat that wasn’t present in Kingdom Battle.
Combat certainly feels like it has a lot more options now, and it looks as though putting a team together that compliments each other is going to be incredibly important for successfully clearing battles and rescuing the galaxy. Combined with the beautiful but volatile worlds at hand, navigating Sparks of Hope and defeating Cursa appears to be a very vibrant adventure with plenty of charming and amusing ways to come out on top.
Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is a promising sequel that could easily outshine its predecessor
On the whole, Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope feels as though it's had Super Mario Galaxy and Rayman Raving Rabbids injected into it. As you save the Sparks, keep Rabbids under control, and restore the galaxy back to normal, the narrative echoes one that most of us will have played out before, albeit with a tactical twist.
With Galaxy being an absolute ball, I welcome Sparks of Hope with open arms; I’ll undoubtedly do better at turn-based battles than I did at some later Galaxy levels, that’s for sure.
While my time with Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle was underwhelming, I have much higher hopes for the next installment. Everything - environments, characters, combat, narrative - feels a lot more developed, and it also feels so lovingly crafted by the team at Ubisoft. Fans that can’t stop raving about Kingdom Battle should probably prepare for Sparks of Hope to be their new obsession. Lets-a-go!