Every turn is a tactical puzzle
Lacks real challenge
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A wildclaw is bearing down on Rabbid Peach, and it will take some step-perfect choreography to save her life from this steroid-stuffed tiger. It is my fault, I shot the evil cousin of Tony The Tiger in the first place, but now that Rabbid Peach has fired her weapon, she’s no longer able to move.
The problem is that, even though it’s my turn, every time I damage the wildclaw, it takes a few steps forward, closing the gap on Peach. If it reaches her, it will bring both its fists down on her little rabbid body, smushing her into a fine paste. So if Mario and Luigi fire their guns at the wildclaw, they’ll just help it reach her all the sooner.
As my team’s only healer, I can’t risk losing Rabbid Peach – especially as I’ve got many more enemies to get through besides the aggressive wildclaw.
The good news is that I’ve three eager fighters – Mario, Luigi, and Rabbid Peach – and a hundred ways to combine their abilities. I just need to puzzle out one that saves the selfie-obsessed princess.
Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope continues the XCOM-like turn-based combat of its predecessor, Kingdom Battle. As before, you're leading a squad of full-blooded Nintendo heroes like Mario, Luigi, and Peach, as well as Rabbid versions of the same.
Acting almost like Mr Hyde to their Dr Jekylls, the Rabbid version of Mario, Luigi, and Peach are all boiled-down expressions of their core traits. Rabbid Peach is an intensely vain rabbit in a crown and pink dress, forever interrupting dramatic moments for a quick selfie or shouting out “#HealingJourney” whenever she restores health in combat. Rabbid Luigi is deeply envious of Rabbid Mario, forever looking for ways to undermine his brother, stealing his overalls, or trying to push in front when the team is striking a heroic pose.
You’ll also face familiar enemies, such as goombas and bob-ombs, but fabulous fusions of Nintendo and Rabbid are a great reminder that this game is a crossover of worlds. Squashers, for instance, are hench bunnies carrying whomp blocks on their backs, and they do precisely what their name threatens; they’re able to leap across the battlefield to pancake you with the iconic heavy stone blocks.
As with Kingdom Battle before it, Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope stands out from other turn-based games because it's so generous with what you can achieve in a single turn. Each of your heroes has two action points to spend on attacking, activating an ability, or using an item. But, on top of that, you also have movement abilities, such as team jumping and dash attacks, that don’t use your action points.
What this all means in practice is if you plan your turn well, you can pull off long strings of attacks and moves that see your squad wipe out the enemy before they’ve even been able to get a shot off.
Take this wildclaw, for instance. Rabbid Peach is crouching behind a low wall between the beast and Mario and Luigi, the brothers are backing her up a little further away. All three of my heroes can shoot at the tiger, but after one more attack, the enemy will be on Rabbid Peach, and it will still have half its health bar. I need to get more attacks in and do more damage before the wildclaw can reach her.
First off, I have to increase by squad’s damage. Happily, this is where the sparks in Sparks of Hope come in handy. They’re a kind of equippable companion, a cross between a rabbid and a star, and each has a unique ability. I have Mario partnered up with Starburst, a spark that lets you buff your team’s damage. It uses up one of Mario’s action points, but the damage gain for the team is worth it.
With Mario’s final action, I activate his Hero’s Sight ability. It works like Overwatch in XCOM, letting him automatically fire on any enemy that moves through Mario’s line of sight.
The good thing about the wildclaw is that it’s a pretty dopey animal. Rather than run towards the nearest enemy when it’s hurt, it runs in the direction of where the damage came from. Now, with all of my squad on one side of the wildclaw that’s not immediately helpful, but I switch control to Luigi, have him run up to Rabbid Peach and use the teamjump movement ability. Luigi is launched into the air, and I can glide him over the top of the wildclaw and down the other side.
At this point, Luigi still hasn’t used a single action point, so I activate his Steely Stare ability, which works much like Mario’s Hero Sight. And with his last action point, I have Luigi shoot the wildclaw, springing into action a string of interlocked events.
Taking damage from Luigi’s gun, the wildclaw turns away from Rabbid Peach and moves toward the green plumber. As soon as the tiger moves both Mario’s Hero’s Sight and Luigi’s Steely Stare abilities are activated, so they automatically fire on the creature, shredding its health bar.
Somehow, the wildclaw is hanging onto life. But, although Mario fired his guns with the Hero’s Sight ability, that didn’t count as shooting, so he can still move. I have him run up to Rabbid Peach, who launches him into the air with a teamjump, have Mario glide over to the tiger and drop down next to the roided cat and, even though he’s used both of his actions this turn, he can dash attack still, putting down the wildclaw for good.
Every turn in Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is like solving a puzzle, trying to work out which character should use what ability first to create the most damaging chain of events that will wipe out as many of the enemy team in one go. As you level up the heroes and buff their abilities, adding extra charges to Hero’s Sight or powering up Steely Stare so it can shoot through cover, you increase the options and complexity of your tactics.
On its surface, Sparks of Hope is a colorful, playful turn-based tactical game, but don’t be fooled, it offers a huge amount of choice and depth in every turn.
Julian's been writing about video games for more than a decade. In that time, he's always been drawn to the strange intersections between gaming and the real world, like when he interviewed a NASA scientist who had become a Space Pope in EVE Online, or when he traveled to Ukraine to interview game developers involved in the 2014 revolution, or that time he tore his trousers while playing Just Dance with a developer.