Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is a tactical RPG that brings the denizens of the Mushroom Kingdom together once more with their Rabbid counterparts. Full of that trademark Nintendo magic and the zaniness Rabbids bring with every appearance, it’s an approachable, hilarious strategy game with likable characters, challenging battles, and a clear, welcome improvement over its predecessor Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, with even more surprises and hilarious Rabbid hijinks around every corner.
A kingdom enveloped in Darkmess
Mario, Princess Peach, Luigi, and some of their Rabbid counterparts are hanging out one day when they notice something weird and colorful falling from the sky: Sparks, or what appear to be Rabbid Lumas, the sillier version of the star-like creatures that debuted in Super Mario Galaxy. They’re harmless enough, but what appears to be chasing them isn’t: a huge purple manta ray-like creature, engulfing the Mushroom Kingdom in globby black “Darkmess” that oozes over everything.
It’s all part of a ploy by an evil villain named Cursa to spread the Darkmess all over the universe to collect the Sparks and their energy so she can do as she pleases. Mario and his team must rescue the Sparks and save the universe. The stakes are higher than ever before, but there’s still time for an abundance of laughs, selfies from Rabbid Peach, and a whole new face joining the crew: Edge.
Edge is an original character unique to Sparks of Hope. She isn’t based on a prior Mario character, and her goth and punk aesthetic set her apart from the rest of the pack. While Mario and the crew tend to use guns and other similar weapons, Edge wields a Flying Blade that’s aesthetically similar to a Keyblade or Cloud Strife’s Buster Sword. She’s a sassy, confident, and strong fighter with a huge personality that fans will immediately gravitate to.
A whole new world
Once the stage is set to save the Sparks from Cursa, it’s time to get out into the world and into the game. It’s split up into a selection of missions to complete and overworlds to explore in between battles. That means there are both main missions and side quests to complete that reward you with Planet Coins. You can use those to purchase items you may need or to open up new areas.
The overworld is rife with NPCs to chat with and puzzles to complete. You’ll scan the environment to look for hints or items required for puzzle solutions, and the puzzles ramp up from the early hours of the game to the end.
If you enjoy light puzzle-solving that occasionally puts the old gray matter to the test, you’ll like what’s on offer here. However, the game could really have done with a few more challenges in this vein to add more variety in between the lengthy turn-based battles. Still, you have a lot more freedom to look around and interact with the Rabbids and Mario crew, which is a welcome addition given the game’s main combat focus.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle introduced a restrictive grid-based system that limited characters movement to a certain amount of squares each turn. Sparks of Hope has opened up the playing field by expanding what’s possible during combat. Giving players more freedom was a great move, as fighters can move all over the battlefield, choose between a variety of actions, and cover more ground than ever before.
You aren’t forced to move a few spaces and then end your turn. You can walk around on the grid up to a certain point, perform an attack, jump to an area with an ally, or pull off some seriously cool-looking moves all during the same round. Attacking closes out your turn save for final actions, and when you’ve exhausted what your character can do, they’ll automatically take cover or brace themselves for an attack on the next turn.
Team members and Rabbids already have plenty of awesome attacks at their disposal, but Sparks make for fantastic additions to the game. Previously, Kingdom Battle ensured each character had a set of unique abilities to liven up combat. Sparks can be equipped on any character you choose, and there are over 30 to collect. Many come packing powerful elemental fire or electrical damage. Some offer attack buffs and passive abilities. You have plenty at your disposal to outfit your team with powerful attacks that can turn the tide of battle in an instant. Further, Sparks can be upgraded, and you can equip multiple Sparks on characters for a truly customizable loadout.
With Sparks in play and some truly cool attack animations, coupled with the newly-appointed freedoms Sparks of Hope affords characters, this sequel is a much freer-feeling adventure. Team Mario and the Rabbids can show off their moves in ways they previously weren’t quite able to, demonstrating a tremendous leap from the first game to this one. There’s also a leap in difficulty from Kingdom Battle to Sparks of Hope as well, which means you’ll have to stay on your toes even if you think victory is imminent.
Coupled with world exploration, silly Rabbid goofs, and a truly exciting narrative, Sparks of Hope manages to make combat feel organic and necessary and almost like you’re in a proper Mario game. It takes a lot to accomplish something like this, and I was impressed by what the game was able to pull off with that in mind.
Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope Review: The Final Verdict
Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is a colorful, exciting riff on tactical gameplay. It includes fun Mario and Rabbids characters, a punky new character with a cool weapon and cooler personality, Sparks to collect, and new and improved combat. It could do with a few more puzzles and things to do outside of battle, but as it stands, Sparks of Hope is an excellent follow-up and one of the best strategy games you’ll find in Nintendo’s library.