It’s almost impossible to like the Raving Rabbids; Ubisoft’s official name for them in France is “Lapins crétins,” which is a direct translation of “Idiot Rabbits.” They created them, and even they think they’re f***ing useless. So when it was first announced that the Rabbids would appear in a crossover title with Nintendo’s beloved, iconic mascot Mario, like most people I had to clasp my hands over my mouth to prevent the vomit from leaking out of it.
Up until this point, Ubisoft had struggled to deliver any competent Rabbids games, so shoving them onto the back of Mario like a malignant tumor was a particularly divisive move from all involved. But now, after spending nearly a week with Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, it is with great surprise (and a small amount of regret) that I can assert that I no longer hate the Rabbids. In fact, I think they’re kinda… okay.
The Rabbids were created in the same cynical marketing cauldron as the Minions, developed in the belief that loud noises, anarchy and “edginess” equals comedy. They’re essentially 4chan for screaming kids rather than lonely twenty-somethings, shouting “BWAAAH” into the void rather than writing an anonymous shit-post. It’s bottom-of-the-barrel humor, and up until this point the lack of substance present throughout the series has caused them to rightfully be the targets of derision.
So what’s different about Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, then? The long answer to that question is that the Rabbids have now been afforded actual characters, transforming from the amorphous, obnoxious blob they once were into defined, if not exactly deep, heroes / villains. The short answer is altogether more simple: Rabbid Peach.
Rabbid Peach is a great character, and a highlight of the game. Essentially just a Rabbid cosplaying as Princess Peach, Rabbid Peach shares very little in common with her namesake, replacing Peach’s wide-eyed dopiness with extreme sassiness. She’s effectively the Mariah Carey of the Mushroom Kingdom, sashaying around the world in her blonde wig, unfazed by the events taking place around her while striving for the perfect selfie.
In a game that features a roster of gaming’s most famous faces Rabbid Peach completely steals the show, whether it be her derisively inspecting Princess Peach’s pink dress, or taking Instagram snapshots with a defeated boss as he tumbles to his doom in the background. She is what the Rabbids have been lacking all this time: an actual personality with traits outside of saying “BWAAAH” at regular intervals.
Much like the Minions, the Rabbids have been defined by their inability to be defined. There had been no “stand-out” Rabbids up until Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, with them being entirely interchangeable and individually forgettable. No one has ever had one particular Rabbid that they prefer because there has only ever been one Rabbid, cloned en masse, bellowing indiscriminately into the ether. But now, because of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, there are a handful of recognizable Rabbids, and they are — sharp intake of breath — actually fun this time around.
Since the first gameplay footage emerged from Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, I was quietly hopeful about it. Its Diet XCOM strategy looked like a welcome spin on the genre, and it’s difficult to not be excited for a Mario game, even if it is blighted by small screaming mammals. However, I had also resigned in the knowledge that no matter how good the game was, it was probably going to be let down by the Rabbids’ shrill tones charging against my skull like a furry battering ram. I’m thrilled that I was wrong.
The Rabbids being given more personality outside of annoying the shit out of me has transformed Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle into one of the most surprising games of the year, and it could well go on to be my favorite Switch game outside of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, if it keeps up its current pace. I previously could have never imagined a world where I’d willingly play a Rabbids game without having to cut off my own ears halfway through, but now I’m living in one where I’m eagerly awaiting them to do a crossover with my other favorite Nintendo franchises. 2017 has been a wild ride.