Even though Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope is a sequel to a well-loved crossover, it’s still hard to fathom that it’s a real game. Blending the distinct worlds of Nintendo’s iconic Super Mario franchise and Ubisoft’s raving, oddball Rabbids series, the original Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle took many liberties with its sources. Yet it was still a game that was a passionate tribute to both.
The sequel, thankfully, seems to be leaning further into the strangeness of this odd union while also tapping further into what makes Mario and the Rabbids both so endearing. Just ahead of its planned October 20 release, I got to play several hours of this follow-up to one of the Nintendo Switch’s best tactical RPGs and found a charming and transfixing crossover that adds a bit more vibrancy to its solid predecessor.
On paper, a Mario crossover with Ubisoft’s Rabbids as guests in a tactical role-playing game seems strange, but it’s not too far off from some genres Nintendo has infused with Mario in the past. The Mario + Rabbids series shares a lot of DNA with the likes of Super Mario RPG and the Paper Mario series but within the framework of tactical turn-based strategy systems from more mature games like XCOM or Final Fantasy Tactics.
The Mario + Rabbids series at its heart is a family-friendly take on a tactical role-playing game. One of the great successes of the original is that it presented complex gameplay systems and mechanics in an approachable way, which still felt true to the whimsical and over-the-top platforming action of Mario games.
The sequel picks up right after the events of Kingdom Battle, with Mario and friends—including the Rabbids, who effectively cosplay as the Mushroom Kingdom’s most iconic heroes—enjoying some much-needed rest. Unfortunately, that peace is short-lived, as a new galactic evil known as Cursa has invaded Mario’s world in search of Sparks, a fusion of Rabbids and the star-shaped Lumas first introduced in Super Mario Galaxy. With this new threat, the heroes unite again to explore the galaxy’s many planets to take down Cursa and her minions.
Sparks of Hope builds on the foundations of what Kingdom Battle established, allowing it to stretch out and develop its own approach to turn-based tactical combat. With more of a focus on exploring strange new worlds and engaging in combat that offers a greater degree of freedom and flexibility, it all comes together in ways that showcase the game’s exuberant and charming adventure across the galaxy.
With your squad, led by Mario and joined by other Nintendo characters and Rabbids, you maneuver the team across a battlefield to plan out your attack on the opposing forces. By taking advantage of terrain, enemy placement, and the myriad skills your team has—such as Mario’s energy blasters, Rabbid Peach’s rocket launcher, or Luigi’s long-range bow-and-arrow strikes—you can come up with a complex set of plans to take down your foes.
Sparks of Hope Associate Producer Quentin Correggi told Ars he believes that pairing these opposite franchises brings out some unique qualities to both, creating something that feels original.
“Working on [Mario + Rabbids] really enables us to do something never done before with Mario and other Nintendo characters,” Correggi said. “The whole [Mario + Rabbids] franchise is not just about getting these characters together, but about their two worlds colliding, too. That union of the whimsical Nintendo world and the very chaotic world of the Rabbids enables us to do much [with the heroes]. You see that in each setting in this game, too, which shows the variety and what players love about this crossover we’ve put together.”