Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope | Recensione

From the first time I was able to personally experience Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope, it seemed clear to me that the new project by the Ubisoft Milano team aimed to be definitely something more than a simple sequel. I never expected, however, that under its surface it shared the same "Nintendo Difference" of the most famous productions of the Kyoto Colossus.

Oh yes, because a handful of hours together with the new Ubisoft Milano production weren't enough for me to understand it. Those were enough to understand how much the development team hadn't absolutely run out of ideas with the previous chapter, managing to create a new chapter in a series that has all the credentials to sit alongside the other titles dedicated to Mario, occupying with honor that throne of the mushroom kingdom which, until recently, was reserved for RPGs dedicated to the famous mustachioed plumber (yes, I am referring to the defunct Mario & Luigi series).

Spending the last few days doing nothing but dissecting every aspect of Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope, however, I noticed how much more was hidden under the surface of a damned product with attention to detail. Or Ubisoft Milano's ability to fully embrace Nintendo's creative vision and, after putting aside that awe that was perceived in the previous chapter, shape it to give it a precise identity.

Now don't get me wrong, it's not to be a fanboy or for any form of nationalism, Davide Soliani as far as I'm concerned could be New Zealander, Argentine or Swedish but as long as Nintendo's intellectual properties are entrusted to Creative Directors like him, we can rest assured that the vision of figure come Shigeru Miyamoto, o Eiji Aonuma, will not die with them.

The rise of Cursa

Before explaining the reasons why I threw myself into an initial hat so full of compliments towards Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope, I want to tell you about the narrative sector of the title, which, from the very first moments of the game, does its utmost to define the characteristics of what, in all respects, turns out to be another parallel reality for Mario and associates. After fixing the problem with the Megabug in the previous chapter, some Rabbids have decided to stay in the universe where the Mushroom Kingdom also resides.

I'm talking about the universe for the simple reason that Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope is an odyssey of cosmic dimensions, which aims to show the player how the Rabbids, who arrived in the mushroom kingdom through the Space-Time Washer-Machine seen in the previous chapter, have also populated the neighboring planets, settling in and becoming an integral part of the population of this distant galaxy.

A day like any other, while in the kingdom of mushrooms Mario and his associates are intent on finding the dungarees lost by Mario Rabbid, some tender creatures, halfway between rascals and Rabbids, begin to arrive in search of help, followed by an entity mystery named Cursa. In a few moments, the kingdom of mushrooms is engulfed by this new threat, forcing the group of heroes to flee aboard a spaceship in search of a way to thwart the imminent rise of Cursa.

Once rescued, the ragtag band of heroes discover that Cursa is obsessed with the Sparks (the Rabbids version of the Lumas) and is scouring the galaxy in an attempt to capture them all, subjugating other life forms to expand her army. Mario and company embark on a mission that will take them to visit distant planets, make unexpected alliances and meet new friends, trying to purify the darkness spread across the entire galaxy by Cursa and finally be able to face it face to face.

Where the incipit with which Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope begins is very basic in itself, where everything really works wonders is in its constant way of making longtime players reflect on how the story will progress, all without holding on with any kind of dialogue. Many of the kinematics, as well as multiple documents available on the various planets, manage to give constant clues capable of arousing questions, hour after hour, in the connoisseurs of the mythology of the mushroom kingdom regarding the background behind the mysterious rise of Cursa.

In the same way, again without saying a word, the developers have managed to bring out all those characteristic features of the various inhabitants of the mushroom kingdom, simply through the language of their polygonal bodies. Knowing the precedents in the various chapters of Mario Kart, it is not surprising to see Luigi take up a bow and see him take on a grim expression as he takes aim, as well as to discover that Peach's umbrella actually hides the equivalent of a rifle inside at the pump it didn't particularly surprise me… on the other hand that the blonde princess pretends to let herself be kidnapped by Bowser in every main chapter of the Mario series, it was understood with the latest Super Mario Odyssey. In the end we're talking about a group of characters who, for over 35 years, have been facing all kinds of threats, for better or for worse... we really want to believe that Luigi is still a certified coward and that sweet Peach doesn't know how to defend herself against a couple of Goombas?

Net of all these small details, which will be captured more by the truest fans, what I really appreciated about the entire narrative system of Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope is the desire to detach slightly from that constant plethora of quotes and references , of which the previous chapter was stuffed, allowing the creativity of the development team to emerge more and giving life to a story that, by the standards to which Nintendo has accustomed us, is constantly poised between tradition and experimentation (exactly like the various episodes of the Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario series), managing not only to be convincing, but also to introduce some new characters that I sincerely hope to see again in the future.

A journey of cosmic dimensions

The first, big news, present in Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope, as well as one of the aspects that I appreciated the most, is the possibility to freely explore the various planets in which the adventure will take place. Said like this, it might not seem like who knows what novelty; in the end, many games, even strategic ones, offer the possibility to freely explore the game areas. It is how this aspect was created by Ubisoft Milano that surprised me positively, since the final result mixes a variety of situations, a videogame tradition and a progression that is never excessively redundant.

In fact, every time Mario and his friends land on a new planet, this can only be partially explored, in order to favor a linear progression of the plot, as well as allowing the player to reach the level required to face the subsequent challenges without pushing him to “farming” excessively.

Once the first big plot node is unlocked, each planet will become freely explorable, allowing you to dabble to your liking with the various optional activities, with the secondary missions scattered around the map and, of course, with the main objectives to progress the story .

What makes Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope different from other similar productions, however, is in the fact that each mission is, in fact, a turn-based battle and that each of them has been created in a totally different way from each other as far as level design is concerned.

This small but important trick causes the freely explorable areas to take on completely different connotations after a few hours of play, appearing more like interactive World Maps within which the various levels that make up each individual game world are poured.

This result was obtained thanks to a meticulous level design work through which the developers managed to make every single "battle" (I'll explain shortly why I put it in quotes) different from the previous one, not so much in terms of objectives to be completed, how much more in terms of level design, positioning of enemies and the ascending curve of the level of challenge.

I deliberately wrote battle between quotes, because unlike the previous chapter, Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope offers a variety of situations within its "battles" to transform them into real game levels. The turn-based strategy mechanics, in fact, have been exploited in the most disparate ways and, when it will not be asked simply to eliminate all enemies or to reach a specific area of ​​the battlefield, the title will ask you to destroy some parts of the map, to use switches to activate mechanisms that transport objects, or enemies, to a specific point of the battlefield, to survive for a defined number of rounds in incessant hordes of opponents, to move stealthily so as not to trigger any type of clash and so on Street.

This constant search for variety, which can also be found in the excellent characterization of the many types of enemies present in Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope, has managed to never make me bored, not even in those moments in which I have deliberately dedicated myself to "cleaning" the various secondary activities present on the various planets.

Although it cannot be denied that the type of objectives proposed by the various Rabbids, present in the various game areas, does not vary excessively (basically it is often asked to win a battle with three enemies of a certain type or, very simply, to free an area from a pool of darkness that precludes access), there is no doubt that what makes the real difference, between variety and redundancy, are the challenges proposed by the title whenever a battle begins.

Furthermore, a couple of optional activities have been added to all this which, although similarly repeated on each planet, offer a pleasant entertainment capable of making the game dynamics even more varied.

Whether it is collecting red coins within a certain time limit or solving one of the numerous environmental puzzles located here and there, all the mini-games present in Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope manage to entertain in a simple and immediate way, thinning more and more that clear line of demarcation that existed between the first chapter of this series and the canonical three-dimensional adventures of the most famous plumber ever.

I won't deny you that the technical realization, as regards environments, level design and character animations, was made with so much care that on more than one occasion I found myself annoyed by the impossibility of the characters to jump or, even worse, I I found myself pressing keys at random moved only by the muscle memory gained in years of adventures in three dimensions dedicated to Mario.

Let me be clear, this is absolutely not a defect but, on the contrary, a commendation on how everything in Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope has been created with extreme attention to the creative vision that has always distinguished Nintendo.

Fight together with the stars

The beating heart of the entire experience offered by the Mario + Rabbids series is, needless to say, its gameplay inspired by the turn-based strategy games branded Mythos and Firaxis, but in this chapter the developers have deliberately decided not to create a watered-down version of X- Com, but to present a gameplay that has its own precise identity.

The "core" remains the same as in the previous chapter: once the objective to be pursued has been defined, the map is studied to observe the position of the opponents, their typology and therefore be able to study which is the best path to take, exploiting the most basic dynamics of a turn-based strategy game, i.e. advance, turn after turn, your party of characters always keeping in mind their positioning, and the coverage offered by the game maps, to avoid making them easy targets for your opponents.

Starting from these foundations, Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope expands in decidedly different directions compared to its predecessor, mixing some typical dynamics of the RPG universe and some elements aimed at improving the uncertainties of the previous chapter.

Movement through tiles has been completely removed in favor of increased mobility for all characters on the battlefield. Attention, this does not mean that the party of heroes will be able to move at will on the entire playing surface, but, much more simply, that the various characters will be able to move freely within an area which, however limited, will be less limited as regards the viable directions.

Besides this little novelty, it was completely revised the management of the actions available to the various characters. All the heroes, in fact, will be able to move freely in their action area until they carry out an attack, which will prevent them from moving further until the next turn.

This important detail has enormous strategic value, considering that, in addition to attacking, each character on the battlefield will have a defined number of slides (useful for attacking enemies within their range) and " team jumps” (essential to further extend the area in which each hero can move, literally jumping on another character to catapult himself to a more distant portion of the map). Both of these actions, in fact, can be exploited freely during the turn until it is decided to attack an opponent.

In addition to this range of actions, each hero present in Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope will have a unique ability at his disposal, the possibility of using one of the numerous objects available during the adventure (essential to take advantage during the most complex battles), and the opportunity to harness the power of one, or more, of the Sparks he will bring with him.

This large pool of skills, including the ability to attack opponents, cannot be exploited freely every turn, but must take into account two simple limitations. The first is that each character will only be able to use two skills per turn (thus preventing him from turning into a "war machine"), while the second provides that each skill, with the exception of the simple attack, has a variable cooldown that prevents excessive use, going to emphasize the strategic aspect of the combat system.

One of the aspects that has been modified the most in Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope is the management of weapons, which in this chapter are considered as an immutable characteristic of each character. None of the heroes will be able to change weapons and the only changes that can be made are cosmetic. This is because the increase in attack power, as well as that of the percentage statistics, is completely managed by the skill tree of each character and by the gradual leveling up of the various heroes.

If you're wondering if elemental damage has been removed, as well as the whole game system based on weaknesses and resistances, the answer is no. Simply, in Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope, this aspect is entirely managed through the Sparks, small and tender creatures that can be considered as real additional members of your party. Each of them can be upgraded and freely associated with any party member, allowing you to create synergies both with the unique abilities of each hero and with the other Sparks, creating chain reactions capable of expanding the types of approach to a clash in an almost infinite way.

If all these introductions might make turn-based strategy purists turn up their noses, fear not, because in Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope, everything has been balanced with extreme care, managing to never lose sight of the strategic aspect in the more traditional clashes but managing to make the play system sufficiently varied. All of this, obviously, always paying attention to the accessibility of the title, in order to make it perfectly usable by any type of player. At normal difficulty, the challenge grows evenly allowing you to gradually master the various game mechanics which, as you progress in the main adventure, become available.

I wanted, moved by simple curiosity, to also try a couple of fights both at high difficulty and by setting all the options to have a minimum challenge level. On both occasions I found an impeccable balance, able to offer a punitive but never incorrect challenge, or which allowed me to follow the main events of the story in complete tranquility, without however making the clashes excessively simple.

Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope, a pocket-sized work of art

Let me quickly liquidate the performance analysis of Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope, given that the new Ubisoft Milano production has nothing to envy to the best exclusives available on Nintendo Switch. 60 FPS almost always constant, resolution anchored to 720p on the move (which become 1080p in docked mode) and an almost perfect optimization, mean that there is very little to point out towards the title.

As for the attention to detail, however, I could write you a book if I decided to start analyzing every aspect that impressed me positively. The animations of the characters are incredibly accurate, with constant and natural changes of expression and posture depending on the situations that the various characters find themselves living during the game phases.

Analogous speech for the level design that between the plans of the planets and the various battlefields, the multitude of details present in each of the settings and the flood of small quotes, or delusional situations involving the Rabbids and which frame the events by Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope, manages to constantly capture the player's attention without ever overwhelming him with an excessive amount of input.

But it also has flaws…

If you are wondering why I decided to relegate the defects of Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope in a small box positioned almost at the end of this analysis, the reason is very simple: the more I looked for them, the less I found and all those I have found seemed to me comparable to the classic "needle in a haystack", forcibly searched with a lantern so as not to admit that the work carried out bordered on impeccable. Let me be clear, in order to avoid misunderstandings of any kind, Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope is not a game that everyone will like precisely by virtue of its genre, but this factor cannot be considered an objective defect.

Technically speaking, however, the Ubisoft Milano title is really optimized and superfinely cared for, to the point that the biggest defects I could find can be summarized in: a handful of interpenetrations scattered here and there, some drops in framerate in docked mode , an indicator of the damage that will be inflicted on the various enemies that is not always understandable, a couple of pop-ups during the loading of the areas and some uncertainty in the camera.

Finally, coming to the audio sector present in Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope what can I tell you ... if already the presence of Grant Kirkhope is synonymous with guarantee (for those of you who don't know it... go straight to studying), having joined us two sacred monsters such as Yoko Shimomura and Gareth Coker made it possible to create a truly impressive soundtrack.

The aspects of the work of this trio of exceptional composers that surprised me the most were the very scarce presence of constant sound references to the Super Mario universe, which are limited to some very short light-hearted arrangements during specific moments of the adventure , and having created a soundtrack that was not limited only to containing a set of compositions capable of properly emphasizing the various moments of the adventure, but which fits perfectly with the gameplay, becoming an integral part of the experience.

To give you a very stupid example, during a stealth phase the soundtrack is composed of a carpet of synthesized strings, capable of generating a dreamlike and surreal atmosphere. The detail that struck me, and that I didn't notice initially because it was too concentrated in the game phase, was a scale of notes, perfectly in tune with the string carpet, which played in time with the steps of the protagonists, increasing or decreasing in speed, based on the movements I made the group of heroes perform.

To put the bow on the package packaged by Ubisoft Milano, there are an excellent localization in Spanish, an unpublished well-acted dubbing and the possibility of completely ignoring the Ubisoft Connect service (so frowned upon by some players) which will limit itself to offering a handful of objects, easily available within Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope, to those who will complete some specific objectives within the game.

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