‘Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope’ review: other-worldly

A bundle of pure joy that provides brilliance for all ages

There’s something slightly surreal about seeing Mario blast an alien into grey smoke. As it turns out, Nintendo‘s iconic plumber is proficient with a plasma pistol, dual-wielding them with aplomb. In Ubisoft’s turn-based adventure Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope, it comes in far handier than being able to fix a sink.

Mario isn’t Mushroom Kingdom’s only gunslinger, either. At first, Sparks Of Hope starts off with six party members – Mario, Peach, Luigi and their Rabbid counterparts – with more introduced further into the game. Like Mario, each fighter brings their own unconventional weapon of war – Peach has attached a shotgun to her umbrella, while Luigi’s bow takes a page from XCOM‘s sniper class. In the best way possible, it’s slightly jarring to see Luigi disintegrate a hypnotised Goomba at long range, but thanks to each character’s very unique playstyles, it’s a joy to experiment with Final Fantasy-style party dynamics; working out which teammates work best with who.

Your party has taken up arms to save the universe from Cursa, a spectral entity that wants to devour the adorable Sparks and spread Darkmess across the stars. The game wastes no time in throwing you into the deep end – one minute you’re enjoying a gorgeous revisitation of ‘Peach’s Castle‘, helping Rabbid Mario find his overalls, the next you’re fighting for their lives atop a thrashing space manta ray.

Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope. Credit: Ubisoft, Nintendo.
Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope. Credit: Ubisoft, Nintendo.

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Combat in Sparks Of Hope follows a fairly traditional turn-based shooter formula. This means that when the game warps you into a tile-based combat encounter, you’ll spend your party’s turn maneuvering them into cover, blasting baddies, and completing the level’s objective – sometimes this translates to killing everything in sight, but other missions will task you with reaching a certain area in one piece or destroying an objective. It’s fairly simplistic, but some added spice adds flavour: each party member has their own unique ability (Mario can boost everyone’s damage, Peach can mitigate the party’s incoming damage) and an extra ability can be gained by equipping a Spark to someone.

Beyond all of that, there are also no-cost melee attacks that can wipe out rows of Goombas with one sliding tackle and a team jump ability that lets a fighter move beyond their movement range by jumping off their pal. In all, there’s plenty to keep you busy within Sparks Of Hope‘s tussles: at first it can be slightly repetitive due to the game’s first handful of beasts being very simple to best, but this is a wonderful gateway into the strategy genre for younger players; while experienced strategists will appreciate the way that Sparks Of Hope scales into being genuinely challenging at a higher difficulty.

Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope. Credit: Ubisoft, Nintendo.
Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope. Credit: Ubisoft, Nintendo.

Even playing on regular difficulty, a steady trickle of new enemy types is enough to keep anyone on their toes. Being hit with a fireball will set the unlucky recipient on fire – beyond being very painful, being set on fire will send a character running in Looney Tunes-style rings until it pitters out; leaving them very burned and often standing exposed from cover. On the opposite end of the spectrum, killing an icy Deep Freeze will cause an explosion of snow, freezing any unlucky party members in their tracks. Between the big scary monsters, there’s a lot of lighter chaff to cut through – several of these weaker enemies can be wiped out with one smart move, while Bob-ombs can be knocked over and thrown into their pals to do some damage and level their cover. By the time you’re a few planets deep into Sparks Of Hope, you’re spinning a lot of plates – and when the importance of your party’s positioning becomes a factor, it’s a thrill.

When you’re not dodging fireballs and punting Bob-ombs, you’ll be hopping between beautifully realised 3D worlds like intergalactic stepping stones. It’s the same formula as Super Mario Odyssey, or most of the plumber’s 3D platformer titles – you need to run around collecting a certain amount of purified Darkmess to progress to the next planet, but there’s a host of side quests and adventures on offer after a planet’s main quest has been completed. Ubisoft has a sublime grasp on Nintendo’s platforming charm, and blended with Rabbids’ more absurdist humour, Sparks Of Hope can turn even the most die-hard speed-runner into a completionist tourist, scouring each level in search of the next gag or side-quest.

Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope. Credit: Ubisoft, Nintendo.
Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope. Credit: Ubisoft, Nintendo.

Those gags are in no short supply – the tutorial has an amusing prod at the fourth wall with several confused Rabbids who have no idea why they’re telling you to press B, while the first level has a car-sized slice of pepperoni pizza slung across a palm tree – the result of a Rabbid Poseidon trying to cross-pollinate the two. It’s all wholesome, silly joy – although some of the side quests can feel repetitive when you’re doing many of the same tasks across different locales.

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To top it all off, Sparks Of Hope packs a ludicrously good soundtrack, which is thanks to Ubisoft pulling off an Earth-shaking collaboration between three legendary composers. Yoko Shinomura (Kingdom Hearts), Grant Kirkhope (Banjo-Kazooie) and Gareth Coker (Ori And The Will Of The Wisps) all chipped in to bring Sparks Of Hope to life, and their work is absolute magic – turn-based combat is transformed into feeling like a hectic run-and-gun when the score picks up the pace; while each world’s tracks are thoroughly beautiful. Combined with everything else – and there’s so much to praise – Sparks Of Hope lands as one of the Switch’s best offerings.

Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope launches on October 20 for Nintendo Switch

Verdict

Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope is a bundle of pure, unadulterated joy. It’s easy to see this game becoming formative for younger players who are getting their first dose of Mario or the strategy genre, but Ubisoft’s real triumph is in keeping this gem worthy of anyone’s time.

Pros

  • Once it picks up, combat encounters present a tactical and engaging challenge.
  • Phenomenal score
  • Plenty of laughs for all ages

Cons

  • Earlier fights can feel repetitive
  • The formula for side quests could have been shaken up between worlds a bit more
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