I thought I was burnt out on RPGs.
Turns out, I just needed Mario and the Rabbids to reignite my spark. After spending hours testing out various team compositions and ability paths, I’ve found no greater joy than heading out onto the field and one-shotting an entire cluster of Goombas.
I consider myself a bit of a turn-based RPG connoisseur: I’ve beat every Pokémon game, conquered classics like Shining Force and Chrono Trigger, and even lost myself to Divinity: Original Sin II. But over the past couple of years, my attention span has dwindled, and waiting for the enemy to take a turn has increasingly felt like a waste of time. But after spending over a dozen hours in Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope, the joy of strategic battle management has returned. It’s a fantastic and whimsical RPG, but a smattering of poor puzzle design keeps it from being a true masterpiece.
A New Hope
The spiritual successor to 2017’s sleeper hit Kingdom Battle improves on what makes the original one of the best RPGs on the Nintendo Switch. This time around, Cursa, a tentacle-wielding witch, aims to take over the galaxy. It’s up to the Mushroom Kingdom superstars (and their Rabbid counterparts) to stop her.
You’ll explore six lush overworlds, cleansing them of the darkness that has infected the land. Rabbid poets, space captains, singers, and townsfolk populate the open landscapes that ooze with character. Whether you want to learn about the backstory from paintings, discover memories in chests, or just stumble upon hidden items, exploring each section is well worth your time.
I caught myself on multiple occasions trying to complete side missions just because the battles were so imaginative and fun. For example, on Pristine Peak, I had to clear an air conditioner of pesky sludge in a battle that I willingly attempted multiple times.
But not everything in these environments is perfect. There are a series of puzzles littered across the galaxy that require solving a riddle from Professor Backpack, a rabbid with more equipment than sense. His riddles are tough to solve without trial and error. I eventually finished a couple, but I dreaded every time he showed up.
Rabbid for Combat
Optional enemies and side missions will help level up your character and earn Skill Prisms, which unlock ability upgrades. They can also earn you Sparks, which can change the entire course of a battle when used right. These items grant certain effects in battle, like reflecting or damage or turning you invisible. They add a massive amount of depth to combat, making it feel worthwhile to find them all.
Combat is surprisingly deep. Players take control of three characters (or four against certain bosses) to defeat a series of Rabbid-themed enemies. Each character comes equipped with a unique playstyle, ability, and weapon. While Mario is an all-rounder who can shoot enemies from the air, his brother Luigi is a long-ranged sniper who deals more damage from afar. Mixing and matching is crucial to success, and not all fights work with every team composition.
And like House of Pain said, it’s best to jump around. In battle, allies can team jump on each other, allowing even slower characters the ability to traverse longer distances. Combat is all about movement, with tubes, wind tunnels, and more mechanic I won’t spoil allowing you to cover even more distance. If you are a sitting duck out of cover for even one turn, your character is unlikely to make it.
Balancing your jumps, cover, abilities, sparks, items, and dashes makes each combat feel pulse-pounding and enthralling. I became quite fond of using Princess Peach’s shield ability on bruiser Rabbid Mario, alongside a Spark that pulled enemies closer, to create a nova of damage that could survive multiple hits.
As your progress, the battles get more elaborate and addicting. Jump pads start to appear in battles, allowing you to hop around even more to find the best positions. Cover becomes more scarce or destructible, making finding the right area to strike crucial.
Each fight feels expertly crafted and challenging. In some RPGs, you can just half-ass combat to farm experience and be overpowered by the end game. That strategy won’t really work in Sparks of Hope, so if that’s your game plan it might be best to try another game.
Sparks of Hope is one of the best RPGs on the Nintendo Switch. Looking at its goofy mascot exterior, you’d never expect an incredibly deep and nuanced battle system that rivals the likes of XCOM and Divinity. Though tedious puzzles and a slim margin for error weigh it down, there’s no denying that Ubisoft and Nintendo have created something magical for a second time here.
Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope comes to Nintendo Switch on October 20.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.