Dreams vs Reality – I Wrote My Hopes for Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope Just Before the Reveal; How Many of Them Were Dashed?

I am writing this article at 7:20 AM EDT on Saturday, June 12th. In other words, it is roughly 7.5 hours until the Ubisoft Forward conference for E3 2021. It’s a conference I normally wouldn’t be that excited for, but over the last couple of days the rumor weed has been working overtime in regards to a potential Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle sequel. Allegedly subtitled Sparks of Hope, at least two separate “insiders” have shared information about this game that I have seen corroborated by a third, separate person who I know to be somewhat reliable based on previous experience. So MarioRabbids 2 is very likely to be officially confirmed in less than eight hours, and I am a mix of excited and concerned. Excited because I love the first game and am more than happy to play a follow up; concerned because the more I think about it, the less I have a concrete vision of what a MarioRabbids sequel actually looks like.

Originally I was going to spend this weekend working on an article where I would pitch ideas for a Zelda + Rabbids game. I thought there would be a lot more potential in the same dev team crossing over with a different Nintendo franchise. The switch to Zelda would unlock a completely new cast of heroes and villains to mix with the Rabbids, open up the potential to a switch to more melee-focused combat, and bring a slew of cool, established weapons and magic powers to the table in terms of creating opportunities for new characters abilities. With the rumors pointing pretty firmly at the follow-up sticking to Mario, I feel like some potential still exists for new ideas but that this potential is more likely to be squandered in an effort not to change too much of what people liked about the first game.

Still, I do have some ideas about what this game could potentially do to feel fresh while not too strongly altering the core mechanics. I want to get my predictions down on paper before the Ubisoft Forward event, but of course I also want to react to the event and share my thoughts on what we really learn about the game. As such, today’s article takes place in two parts: one I wrote at 7:20 AM before the conference took place, and then a second section after the Ubisoft Forward to evaluate how strongly my hopes match up to the reality which is unveiled. Let’s begin with my hopes for a MarioRabbids sequel.

For those who may be unfamiliar with MarioRabbids but still wanted to read this article, I’ll start off each section with a brief explanation of how the first game worked and then describe the changes I would like to see. The overworld in MarioRabbids consisted of a hub located at Peach’s Castle and then four distinct worlds which could be reached by cannon. Mario and company moved around the overworld with the control stick and can interact with objects using the A button. Each world consisted of 9-10 encounters (combat scenarios) separated by some walking and puzzle solving. Puzzles generally involved hitting switches or using special abilities of your navigating character, Beep-O, in order to complete things like block puzzles. These specials are unlocked at the end of a world, so finishing a world would give you abilities to bring into the next world. A finished world also would fill with challenges and there were generally puzzles that couldn’t be completed without the special ability for that world, meaning you had to return after beating it to find all the world’s secrets. I have two main ideas for how I would want to expand on this approach not necessarily to make the game larger in scale (because I don’t think MarioRabbids 2 necessarily needs to be longer) but just to make it different from its predecessor.

My first idea is to include some honest to goodness Mario style platforming into the game. I don’t think this necessarily needs to be done in such a way that you can fall in spike pits and die, that sort of thing. More as an additional element to build puzzles around, and as a tool to make the environments more vertical and fun to explore. In addition to this, I think instead of tying puzzle-solving abilities like block shoving or tunnel drilling to completion of a world, they could be tied to adding characters to your party. In the DLC for MarioRabbids, DK can uniquely navigate the overworld by swinging on vines. So maybe in the sequel, recruiting DK unlocks the ability to traverse vine areas and now you have access to new parts of the world that you didn’t before adding him to your party. This adds another layer of excitement to recruiting new characters and helps to create opportunities for my next idea.

If characters have unique movement abilities, this creates the possibility of certain areas where maybe not all of your characters can venture. This creates the opportunity to split the party and have different groups of characters exploring and solving puzzles in separate parts of the world at the same time. I think this could be a fun mechanic to explore in order to incentivize players to use characters that they may not normally include in their party, thereby expanding the amount of time we are getting to enjoy each character in the game. Imagine for example coming up to an area where a bridge is out so the heroes cannot get across. But there are vines for DK to swing, and maybe Peach has her floating ability and so can hover across with her dress. DK and Peach cross the gap, deal with an enemy encounter together, and solve some puzzles on the other side to re-engage the bridge mechanism. This allows for Mario and Luigi to get across and use their unique abilities to open up the way to the next encounter, which would have otherwise been blocked to DK and Peach. This kind of puzzle solving has been effective in the Mario & Luigi games and in Paper Mario, so I think it would feel right at home in MarioRabbids.

Now let’s dive into the combat. Characters are split into teams (generally your team and an enemy team) who take turns moving and taking action on a grid battlefield. The battles are relatively small in scale, with each encounter taking place on a small part of a much larger overworld that the characters explore as you move from fight to fight. Combat is gun-based and so factors like range, cover, and elevation are key components to your strategy. Many arenas also have pipes you can use to quickly zip from one part of the field to another, either laterally or up and down. Each character has three actions on their turn: move, weapon attack, and special ability. During movement, characters can dash into opponents to deal damage or jump off of an ally to cover more ground. When making a weapon attack, characters can use their basic gun or utilize a subweapon like a drone, a bazooka, or even a big ole hammer. Each character has two special abilities, with one ability being based on game of origin (Mario characters can stand overwatch XCOM style while Rabbid characters create barriers) while the other is character-specific (Rabbid Peach can heal, Rabbid Mario draws out enemies, Luigi boosts movement, etc). After all ally characters have taken their actions, the enemy takes their turns and battle proceeds until one side meets their win condition. Win conditions generally involve defeating the enemies but the characters may instead need to make it to a certain location or protect a vulnerable NPC.

This basic structure works great and most of where I would want to see variety is at the individual character level rather than the core mechanic as a whole. That said, there are a couple of things that I think could be different while still feeling very much like the original MarioRabbids experience. For one thing, I think having four characters in your party for each battle instead of three would increase the scale of the fights without making them so much longer as to be unmanageable. Particularly if they expand the total number of characters in your party (I’m expecting 10 or 12 characters for the main campaign compared to the original game’s 8), this will give you a chance to use a larger number of the many new heroes in your party. I’d also like to see more variety between characters, such as doing away with “all Mario characters have overwatch” as well as making characters who have a lot of similar gear play a little more differently than each other. Yoshi and Rabbid Yoshi join so late in the first game and have such similar abilities that I rarely saw much reason to bother with them. Having a bigger cast would especially go well with my suggestion about splitting up teams during overworld exploration. That said, while I do think they’ll expand the cast, I’d be fine with them not expanding it if the characters that they do have are more unique and their skill lists more robust.

There is one core mechanic that I do want to see function differently: the critical hits. Mario + Rabbids does a pretty good job of keeping randomness from throwing off your strategic plans. Attacks are guaranteed to hit or not hit unless an enemy is behind partial cover, you know your damage range so you can tell how likely it is that your opponent will be defeated by a hit, and most special abilities have set effects so you don’t have to worry about it not doing everything you need it to do. However, critical hits bring in a serious layer of randomness that can be pretty annoying when you get a “bonus” that actually throws off your overall plan. You see, each weapon has a super effect that activates during a critical, and about half of these super effects cause enemies to move from their current position. It’s supposed to be a bonus that deals extra damage and creates a chance of dealing damage to other enemies or even knocking a foe off stage, but it’s frustrating when a burning enemy burns one of your allies, or when a pushed enemy ends up out of range of your attacks and therefore in a more defensive position than they were before your critical hit. Wargroove has a great mechanic where critical hits have specific conditions based on unit class, and I think this could work well in a character-based game like MarioRabbids. Maybe Mario gets a crit whenever he targets an enemy he has jumped on, while DK gets a crit when his bwananarang hits at least two targets. Making the crits either definitely happen or definitely not would mean that it would be possible to show the results of your super effect in the combat forecast. If my push effect is going to send an enemy into a disadvantageous position for me, I may choose in that moment to intentionally not get a critical hit in order to better serve my overall strategy. And when I do want a crit, I may have to take risks to get it. Do I really want to spare minions in a boss fight so that DK’s attack is always a critical? Do I want to put Mario in jumping range of a tough enemy so he can set up his critical attack against them? When removing randomness adds value and complexity to your tactical decisions, I am always in favor of it.

The first MarioRabbids had a cast of 8 characters in the main game with an additional 2 new characters in the DLC. The cast predominantly consisted of Mario characters and their Rabbid counterparts: Mario and Rabbid Mario, Luigi and Rabbid Luigi, Peach and Rabbid Peach, and Yoshi and Rabbid Yoshi. The DLC introduced Donkey Kong and Rabbid Cranky to the game, giving us our first bit of variety in terms of characters not just being matched pairs of Mario characters and their Rabbid copies. I’d like to see more of that in the second game, with some additional Mario characters whose Rabbid half is a villain or significant NPC instead, as well as some Rabbids on your team whose Mario inspiration is otherwise indisposed. I’d like to see some new Mario representation in the game, with Rosalina and Pauline seeming like pretty clear choices to bring in. I also would enjoy if Wario and Waluigi were more involved, as we only saw their Rabbid counterparts in a miniboss battle in the first game. While I would be fine with all these new options being in place of the original cast, I seriously doubt they don’t utilize any of the heroes from the first game. My guess is that the full original cast returns with maybe one additional character from each series.

I think one of the most important pieces to keeping Mario + Rabbids fresh is going to be varying the characters and their abilities. If we primarily have the same cast from the first game and their skill charts are almost the same, that’s gonna feel more like DLC than like a proper sequel. And as I mentioned earlier, some characters already felt too same-y and could use some touches in this game to help them stand out from one another. Rabbid Yoshi in particular feels very unhelpful because his main weapon overlaps with Yoshi and his “special dash” ability is the same as Rabbid Peach where they just have more dashes than other characters. Particularly if this game is going to have the same cast as the first, I think every character’s jump AND dash need to have unique properties instead of just one or the other, and there shouldn’t be overlap between characters when it comes to those unique movement abilities. Since Yoshi has a ground pound, for example, maybe Rabbid Yoshi’s team jump could be the flutter jump instead, allowing a much wider jump range to better help him reach sniper nests. Then make him a sniper instead of having a repeating weapon like Yoshi. Dashes and jumps help to cement party members into their roles, so making sure that each character has a unique one to make their role feel special would go a long way.

When it comes to enemy characters, I’d like to see some variety introduced by bringing in some Mario enemies to join up with the Rabbid ones. Most Rabbid foes were based around a particular mechanic: dash attacks, jumps, heavy melee weapons, a shield, etc. Mario enemies could add some interesting variety to that because of the much larger variance in their species and body shapes. Team jumping with a Koopa for example could cause that Koopa to launch forward as a weapon, changing their position and potentially dealing some damage to Mario and company before the moving enemy even makes their proper attack. But hey, maybe Mario can take advantage of the Koopa’s shell too and turn the tide. A bob-omb hit with a gun could be ignited so that they will explode on next impact, making them unsafe to jump on or dash through during a movement phase. But maybe DK’s throwing ability doesn’t proc the explosion, instead allowing him to throw the bomb as a grenade into the enemy lines. Having enemy types who interact with the unique abilities of specific characters could be another way in which you are prompted to experiment with different party members. Yoshi’s ground pound may suddenly feel a lot more useful if it flips over a buzzy beetle and makes the otherwise impenetrable shell a non-issue.

Having now thought more about what I would want from a Mario + Rabbids sequel, I’m actually a lot more excited about the possibilities because there truly is a lot of potential I hadn’t considered before. MarioRabbids was an excellent game on its own, and by taking lessons from other Mario RPGs and borrowing their strongest ideas, the game could really be bumped up to the next level. If I had to pick only a couple of my suggestions to make it into the full game, I think if the enemy types are changed up to interact more uniquely with the special abilities of the characters and the overworld puzzles are expanded by giving party members their own navigation abilities, the natural strengths of MarioRabbids will continue to shine through and the game will feel unique and interesting even without changing too much about the core pieces of the game or its cast.

At this point, I ceased writing about my hopes and began to wait for the Ubisoft Forward. What follows are my reactions to what I saw on Twitter as soon as I finished writing.

Our universe sure has a sense of humor, eh? Literally RIGHT AFTER I FINISHED WRITING THE FIRST SECTION I go to Twitter to see what’s going on today and the first tweet at the very top of my feed is Nintendo’s reveal of Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope. While the website doesn’t have much detail so I will still need to wait until the Ubisoft trailer to see if any of my other predictions came true, there are a couple of things that jump out right away. So let’s dive into what’s available and see how I’ve done so far.

First off, let’s talk characters. I predicted 10-12 heroes and the website confirms that there will be 9 playable characters in the game, so only one more than the base game of the first title and less than the overall number of characters available after DLC. Again, that doesn’t bother me too much as long as there’s some variety here and we definitely have that going on based on what we can see already. The text confirms five returning characters – Mario, Luigi, Peach, Rabbid Peach, and Rabbid Luigi. That means there are four other characters who are not necessarily repeats from the first game. We can see at least one, possibly two, in the cover art. Rabbid Rosalina is clearly displayed right next to Peach. There is also a Rabbid standing with Mario and Rabbid Peach whose identity is at this point unconfirmed. I think it’s a guy, and he’s got black hair with green highlights and a black leather jacket over a purple shirt. He also has what appears to be a sword; it visually resembles a heavy sword like Cloud’s Buster Sword in Final Fantasy and given the focus on long range combat in these games could even be a gunblade. Now I want to say that this is probably a brand new Rabbid. HOWEVER. The text on the website clearly states that Rabbid Luigi is one of the returning characters, and this “new” guy is prominently displayed on the cover with Mario and Rabbid Peach. Who were the three characters who started our journey in the first game? Mario, Rabbid Peach, and Rabbid Luigi. I would not put it past them to have redesigned Rabbid Luigi to be this weird, edgy anime boi, and if that does turn out to be the case then golly am I looking forward to seeing how the hell that happened. However, if this is not Rabbid Luigi and turns out to be some other character, who could it be? My other theory is Rabbid Bowser. Bowser is displayed behind this character on the boxart and while Bowser’s hair is red and there’s no red in sight on this Rabbid, the green and black do still fit Bowser’s color scheme a bit and having Rabbid Bowser as an edgelord is a bit more fitting with the original character’s personality. I am definitely curious to see what in the world is going on with this guy, and if it really is Rabbid Luigi we’ll need to have a moment of silence for his adorable design in the first game. Also, with Bowser on the cover I have to wonder – are we getting Bowser as a playable character? In the first game Bowser was kind of an unwitting villain, with his son really dragging him into trouble more so than Bowser actually having his own evil plan. It’s probably more likely that he is simply the mastermind this time around, but it’d be neat if we have a different villain and actually get the big softy on our side. Playable Bowser is generally a good sign for Mario RPGs, so I certainly wouldn’t complain!

Speaking of the character designs, we can already see some changes to the weapons in the box art, so let’s explore that a bit. Mario is now dual-wielding his basic guns, so great! What a nice, simple way to change up how the main character plays. If that means he deals more damage by dealing two hits then that will be a nice touch. I also think it’d be fun if Mario having two guns means that one of his special abilities is getting two attacks on his turn, maybe not against the same target but being able to chip away at two different targets. Rabbid Peach’s gun is more of a rifle now, so maybe she’ll have a bit of a longer range compared to the first game? It may also be that her gun is just more basic than other characters, who seem to have a lot more variety in their weapons this time around (again, especially if our new sword-wielder really is Rabbid Luigi). Luigi’s vacuum sniper rifle has been replaced with a bow and arrow, so he’s probably still our sniper in this game but with a different flavor to his attacks. Maybe he can arc shots behind cover? That’d certainly be a neat touch. Peach has a parasol with a cannon coming out of it which is just, SO good. Please lean harder into Peach being a badass, Nintendo. Peach already had a heavy basic weapon in the first game so her mechanical role is probably still similar with her being able to hit closely grouped enemies with her basic attack. Finally, we can see that Rabbid Rosalina has a doll as her weapon, with the pull string seeming to activate the firing mechanism inside the doll’s mouth. Again, A+ design decisions here, I love it, keep it up, you’re doing great Ubisoft. I appreciate the variety in what I hope are the basic weapons of the characters because it should go a long way towards helping each one to feel unique in a way that the first game accomplished to a more limited extent.

Last thing I want to point out about the cover art re: my predictions is the presence of Goombas and bob-ombs alongside some Rabbid characters dressed in hoods. Are we seeing confirmation here of traditional Mario enemies in the battles alongside the Rabbid opponents? I sure would like that to be the case!

Here we have some screenshots from the game, none of which show combat but all three of which show something I was theorizing about above: Rabbid Luigi! We can see him in his proper costume but now with some overalls thrown in, so edgelord is NOT Rabbid Luigi and therefore I am going to lean harder into my prediction that the swordsman is Rabbid Bowser. We also see Beep-O as the returning player avatar, guiding the characters through the overworld similar to the first game. It’s hard to pinpoint any mechanical changes in exploration since we’re not seeing the game in motion. Right now there’s nothing to suggest that platforming has been added, though, as the first couple of screens clearly show areas where the elevated space is reached via ramp. As best as I can tell, all of these screens are probably from the same early game area. The first two definitely are – you can see a rounded building with what looks like a crystal ball on the left side of both shots, making it clear that we’re looking at the same area from different angles. My guess is that third shot is inside of one of the building we can see in the first two screens, possibly the crystal ball building or – based on how wrecked it is – the tower with the weird tendrils coming out of it.

Finally, let’s see what is revealed to us in the text on the website. We got a 2022 release date and an “unconfirmed” number of players – they may or may not be bringing in the multiplayer features from the first game. You can “build your team of three heroes” so still three characters in battle; that’s a hope/prediction that I am not surprised to have gotten incorrect. And we already touched on having nine total playable characters, five of whom are confirmed by the text and we can reasonably assume Rabbid Rosalina and the Rabbid swordsman (who I suspect to be Bowser) are the sixth and seventh. If Bowser is the eighth rather than the villain, then we only have one more playable character to figure out, and I’m almost willing to predict at that point that it would be Rosalina herself. This would give us Mario as the lead character, four Mario characters joining him, and then the Rabbid counterparts of those four helpers. Hell, based on the first game, I’m willing to go out on a limb and call that a true blue Prediction(TM). The full cast will be:

  • Mario
  • Luigi
  • Rabbid Luigi
  • Peach
  • Rabbid Peach
  • Rosalina
  • Rabbid Rosalina
  • Bowser
  • Rabbid Bowser

Other details about the text: it mentions “sparks,” which feature in the title and we can see on the cover as the Luma/Rabbid fusions. They are stated to grant you powers in battle after collecting them as part of your journey, so it looks like based on the cover we at least have a fire power and a ghost power to look forward to collecting. The text also goes out of its way to describe that we’ll be facing all-new bosses, so it sounds like we shouldn’t expect any big repeats from the first game (the only one I’d really care about seeing again is Rabbid Kong anyway, and the DLC knocks that out). I’m gonna use that as more evidence for my Bowser-is-playable theory because he was technically a boss in the original game. The brief story description also describes the villain of this game as a “malevolent entity” which pushes me still further in the direction of thinking that Bowser joins the team.

That’s all we’ve got so far, but it’s more than I had this morning and it already tells us a few things about whether or not my hopes for the game were realized. So far I like what I see and the potential it has to set Sparks of Hope apart meaningfully from Kingdom Battle. I’ve decided now to just go ahead and post this article online, but I will be adding text to it after the Ubisoft Forward once more details are confirmed. I can’t wait to see the game in action!

At this point I watched some Castlevania until the Ubisoft Forward and then suffered through almost an hour of really boring trailers before Sparks of Hope was finally shown off. As I type, it is 4:15 PM EDT and I am preparing to watch the gameplay trailer for a second time.

Goodness I’m bad at predictions, eh? Let’s start with characters. The figure that I theorized might be Rabbid Bowser has a feminine voice, which has me questioning the likelihood of that character being Rabbid Bowser. That said, if this is one of the women from the world of Mario I’m not really sure who it is supposed to be. Her costume color scheme is black and green with hints of violet, she uses a sword, and the inside of her mouth looks red-orange, almost fiery. If I didn’t know better and thought that Nintendo would be allowed to bring in side characters, I would maybe guess Cackletta from Superstar Saga. Then again, if they’re trying to make Rabbid Bowsette canon then I am here for it. Did they make a unique Rabbid character for this game? Hard to say, but in addition to that Rabbid Mario is clearly shown in one of the shots, so he’s going to be making a return as well. That brings our confirmed playable characters to:

  • Mario
  • Rabbid Mario
  • Luigi
  • Rabbid Luigi
  • Peach
  • Rabbid Peach
  • Rabbid Rosalina

I still have an inkling that the swordswoman is playable, and if she’s the odd character out then perhaps Rosalina is still the final character. Alternatively, maybe Bowser is playable instead of Rosalina and we’re getting some characters who don’t have counterparts, which could be neat.

Pink, purple, green, and black color scheme, known to spew fire occasionally – there’s no way this is the reference but it’s the best idea I’ve got outside of Bowser getting crossed with a lady Rabbid.

The overworld gameplay does look to be expanded in some meaningful ways from the original game, with the environments being more open compared to the very linear passages in Kingdom Battle and also including what appear to be NPC characters you can meaningfully interact with (something that happened very rarely in the first game). There are still coins to collect in the overworld, but what’s really unique is how enemy encounters work. At least in what we have seen so far, rather than being very rigid planned encounters there are instead enemies who are wandering the overworld that will start running towards you when they notice you. Upon touching such an enemy, a battle screen opens up where your characters can begin their combat turn. At least for the first battle that they show, the encounter looks smaller in scale than the typical fight in the first game, but this makes sense as there are presumably a lot more of them. If you’re familiar with Fire Emblem, think about the difference in scale of encounters in Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia versus something like Awakening or Fates.

Each character in the party has a spark with them that follows them as they move around the battlefield. It looks like early on you’ll have the generic golden spark, the fiery one, and the one that’s kind of wreathed in blue flame that I think is probably an ice spark given the context (we can see in one cinematic that spark accompanied by a fire spark and an electrical spark, so ice makes sense to round out that elemental trinity). Movement in Sparks of Hope no longer seems to be grid based, instead showing a range of possible motion for the character and allowing you to roam freely within that area. If you’ve played Valkyria Chronicles or Divinity: Original Sin, it’s comparable to that sort of movement. You can climb over low objects that would give partial cover while moving like this. Touching an enemy will dash attack them and touching an ally will initiate a team jump. We also see Rabbid Peach doing a team jump where she works with Beep-O to hover over a pit and land safely on the other side (not sure at this point if this ability will be unique to her or if any character can cooperate with Beep-O in this way).

One prediction I at least got sort-of right – there are some enemies on the field who are not just Rabbids! We can see bob-ombs all over the place in the first area and as I mentioned in my speculation, picking up a lit bob-omb and throwing them can be used as a method of attacking enemies. For some of our characters, we get to see how their new weapons work. Rabbid Luigi now has a boomerang similar to DK’s bwananarang from the DLC for Kingdom Battle, allowing him to strike multiple targets with a single attack. Rabbid Peach’s “rifle” actually appears to fire rockets, though it’s hard to say for certain if this is the default firing method or some kind of secondary weapon or ability. She fires the rockets upward at an angle, but we don’t get to see them come down and land to get an idea of their area of effect. I also called it that Mario could use his two guns to shoot two different targets on his turn, and it seems they roll damage separately as one hit is a critical while the other does normal damage. Speaking of that critical, we only see it for a brief moment but there appears to be no super effect associated with it. Is this because Mario is using a basic weapon, or are super effects gone? I am inclined for now to lean towards the former.

This pretty well covers the meat of what was shown gameplay-wise. Overall I’m pretty happy about what we saw and it seems like Sparks of Hope is going to do plenty to keep it from feeling like additional DLC for Kingdom Battle. If you’re excited about the game or want to share your theories about the identity of the green swordswoman Rabbid, please feel free to let me know in the comments!

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