It hasn’t been officially confirmed yet, but it may as well be. Nintendo and Ubisoft are in bed in a big way, and the result will be Mario + Rabbids Battle Kingdom. Long rumored by independent journalists in the Nintendo leaks scene, Kotaku ran a piece after verifying with its own sources. Apparently some design artwork has been shared, showing off the basic gist and playable characters.
Mario + Rabbids Battle Kingdom is a turn-based RPG with two player co-op featuring Mario, Luigi, Peach, Yoshi, and a group of Rabbids dressed as those four characters. From previous leaks and discussions, the running theme seems to be this game being an attempt to revitalize the Rabbids brand after a dwindling string of underperforming games. Is adding Mario and Nintendo to the mix the ticket to Rabbids resurgence or is a worse idea than yet another Rayman Legends port?
Right now, the Switch is the wild west. Nintendo’s new hybrid handheld/console is a surprise success, and just about every bit of software is performing well by association. The launch year is the perfect time to try something new, especially on the back of juggernaut IP like Super Mario. But what we’re dealing with is a combination of damaged goods in Rabbids and shaky territory in Mario RPGs. The combined sum may be more about morbid curiosity and software needs, than genuine, organic interest.
Rabbids was kind of a "thing" for a while there, but never as big as Ubisoft wanted it to be. Rayman: Raving Rabbids was a launch day curiosity for the Wii and did well enough on that front, but it won’t go down in history as a good game. Nor will any of its sequels. The Rabbids were a corporate forced meme, not unlike something like Sharknado. They were bizarre and quirky, but aggressively so. It made these goofy, plunger-loving rabbit goofs boring. Sales tapered off quickly, a TV show tried and failed to get off the ground, and the Rabbids have been quiet for a while.
Meanwhile, the Mario RPG world has been unstable. The Mario and Luigi series, once critically acclaimed, has stumbled a bit with its 3DS entries. Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam came and went with little fanfare, more interested in its gimmicks than its RPG chops. Paper Mario has had a severe identity crisis, with Sticker Star and Color Splash mostly confusing the intended fanbase. It has been argued by many that Nintendo seemed afraid to present a real RPG for the mass market for a long time, although recent successes like Fire Emblem and experiments like Xenoblade and #FE Tokyo Mirage Sessions suggest something more nuanced.
But in this case, Mario + Rabbids Battle Kingdom suggests an attempt at something new. It’s a rare partnership, especially since unlike Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games, it’s an international project and not a collection of mini-games. There are signs of effort even in the concept. If this truly is primarily a turn-based RPG, this could be the first AAA scratch the Switch has for that particular itch. It seems like an attempt to create an opportunity where this is none, then take full advantage if it works out.
Who knows what will happen? Mario + Rabbids Battle Kingdom could be a success based on novelty alone. If the eShop-only I am Setsuna is still the only big RPG on the platform by the time this launches, that could be grounds enough for the genre’s fanbase to pick it up en-masse. Nobody really cares about the Rabbids, but the Mario rub is an automatic guarantee of at least decent sales. If that game is good on top of that, there could be a renewed relationship between Ubisoft and Nintendo beyond Just Dance and Rayman ports.