Explain the Mushroom Kingdom to any adult who didn’t grow up with it: There’s a hero Mario and his brother Luigi who get bigger by eating red-capped mushrooms and ride a dinosaur while saving red-capped mushroom people who are different than the mushrooms that make Mario & Luigi big and they all fight this angry talking dragon who has two different sets of kids – we assume by different wives, although we never see the wives – and they fight because the dragon guy keeps kidnapping a princess named Peach which doesn’t make any sense because best as anyone can tell, the Mushroom Kingdom doesn’t even have Earth-like fruit so where did they get the name Peach?
So the maniacal, screeching Rabbids fit right into this world. Anything could.
Everything about this game is nonsense, and not even like in a children’s storybook about six-eyed monsters. Mario + Rabbids isn’t led by Mario or Rabbids, rather an intellectual Roomba with ears determined to track down a VR-inhibited Rabbid. Just blithering, absolute, and total spitballing-it nonsense. And this all happens in the Mushroom Kingdom, which as established, is already blubbering jibbering nonsense.
Irreverent or not, it’s relentlessly playable and joyously kooky. Truthfully, this is arguably the least creative use of Mario and crew since they picked up sports; Mario + Rabbids takes the baton of a decidedly adult X-Com series (with its hard science fiction and bloody Earth-bound conflict) but drapes the whole thing in the hues of Jolly Ranchers. That’s it. Everyone shoots the most pacifist of guns since Splatoon shot paint (as if this whole thing is laser tag) and trickles in the strategy of turn-based gameplay almost silently. You explore until you can’t. Mario + Rabbids is easy until it’s not.
This is the same as X-Com, down to even the background essentials, yet Nintendo takes it and shows what a grand aesthetic and careful, guiding hand in art direction can do. Brilliant orchestration is among the best of all Mario’s, the grandiose Galaxy included. It’s masterful composition. The animation too, at times reaching beyond Hollywood-tier, especially in a King Kong spoof as a muscular Rabbid scurries about in desperation for bananas.
On the loading screen, a traditionally animated Rabbid bounces around a small sphere. Possibilities exist here, a means to take both Rabbids and Mario Bros. somewhere new than this polygonal space. To see Mario bound in such traditional Disney-like elegance or the Rabbids’ mayhem in the tradition of Hanna Barbera’s classic Tom & Jerry skits; maybe in the sequel.
Plain as Mario + Rabbids seems, this spin-off/mash-up/co-production – whatever studios call them anymore – is desirable for its world-building ingenuity. They give Mario a gun and make it reasonable. They took the palpable fear of X-Com and made it jolly. Christmas isn’t as desirable as this stupid-thing-that-should-never-exist-but-somehow-does.