Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Does Mario + Rabbids do XCOM better than XCOM?

Screenshot: Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle/Ubisoft
Keyboard GeniusesKeyboard Geniuses is our occasional glance at a few intriguing, witty, or otherwise notable posts from the community’s discussion threads. Comments have been excerpted and edited here for grammar, length, and/or clarity.

Mario Time

This week, I dropped a review of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, the new totally weird but totally pretty good strategy game from Ubisoft. Among the many strange things about it is how it draws inspiration from the turn-based, cover-heavy gunfights of XCOM. Down in the comments, Duwease reckoned that by streamlining that formula, it may have actually improved it:

Honestly, as an XCOM fan, I feel like this improves everything I like about XCOM and drops the fluff. XCOM eventually became slowly creeping across the map to protect yourself from surprises, performing the optimal tactics you decided on beforehand, and hoping the random number generator didn’t bone you. The MvR team removed the RNG frustrations, turned creeping into joyfully bouncing around the screen, and turned procedurally generated, serviceable maps into carefully crafted challenges. And they did away with the strategy layer, which amounted to not a whole lot after you learned to build the crap out of satellites, anyway. Each level typically has you formulating a specific strategy, for varied goals, that makes each one part tactics and part puzzle. I really dig that. I can see how removing the roguelike aspects removes some of the feeling of danger that randomness and permadeath provide, but the game itself feels more exciting.


Elsewhere, The Golden Eel tackled my criticism of the game’s bumpy difficulty curve:

I think the difficulty of this game was really overstated by reviewers. There were a couple of roadblocks where you realize that you might have to use actual strategy (the midboss of the first world took me a few tries) but those accounted for maybe four or five battles. I think I ended up finishing all but like four levels with a perfect my first time beating them. Maybe it comes down to choice of team?

The game does a great job not making it feel “easy,” though, which is more important, I think. Although I rarely struggled I always felt engaged with the battles, as though I was one wrong move from losing a character (and thus resetting the battle, as I would choose to do).

One of the things I wrote a lot about in my review was how the game treated Mario. It definitely approached him and his world with more of a sense of meta-humor than we’re used to, breaking the fourth wall to make jokes and cherry-picking iconic Mario Bros. imagery to toss around its world. Wolfman Jew had some thoughts on that as well:

The reduction is something I’m kind of waffling about, though I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve played of the game. On one hand, it helps the game feel incredibly distinct—from Mario, from Rabbids, and just from other games in general. The tightness of how it meshes influences gives it a specificity you rarely see in other crossover games, which is nice. It, along with the XCOM-ripoff combat, genuinely makes it its own thing. I can play, say, Hyrule Warriors, and I’ll get exactly that: a Warriors game with a thick Zelda overlay and rock remixes. This isn’t just, or even primarily, a nostalgia grab, and that’s really fun.

But on the other hand, it does lose some of the pleasures I do find central to a Mario game. Gerardi mentioned the difficulty curve, and that’s a pretty sizable (and fairly negative) jump from the best Nintendo games, but it also lacks some of the almost “tactile” sensibility of the Mario games (it also loses some of the specificity of the Rabbids games, but that’s entirely good for me). Those make poking at the contours of the world and even basic movement really satisfying, and that’s not really something you can do when your characters are all walking in a straight line. I get why they have the walking sections in between battles, and it is for the game’s benefit, but when I went through the first challenge bonus room, I had trouble collecting the coins because the perspective made it hard for me to see if I was running over all of them. It is cool to see a Mario game feels so far afield of other Mario games and I do really like it, but its pleasures are mostly its own, and I think that’s for both its benefit and detriment.


Drips And Drabs

Screenshot: Destiny 2/Activision

Naturally, Destiny 2 is the talk of the town over in this week’s What Are You Playing This Weekend? thread. A lot of people are jumping straight in, but Kyle OReilly has some reservations:

I was kind of interested in Destiny 2 for a while hearing all the reviews but then remembered that it’s another game that uses compulsion tactics to keep you coming back for more and more. I have been able to kick the habits of World Of Warcraft and Hearthstone in my life, and I don’t need another game to scratch that itch.

I feel like there’s not a lot of self-reflection in gaming (between either fans or developers) about the consequences of making compulsively playable games like this. Most gamers bristle at any study that portrays games in a negative light mostly because most of us remember the ’90s/early ’00s when some people still believed violent video games could be linked to things like school shootings. I feel like there is some kind of issue or reckoning we might have to have someday with the fact that our medium of choice puts a lot of effort into just being the sole absorber of your free time.


And on a lighter note, Unexpected Dave has been using WAYPTW as a chance to update us all on his wacky FMV-game adventures. This week’s subject was especially fun:

I managed to get Windows 3.1 up and running in DOSBox last weekend, so I did a couple of runs through the silly FMV game Paparazzi: Tales of Tinseltown. The object of the game is to track down celebrities in compromising positions and take photos of them. Even for a 1995 FMV game, it has aged poorly. The celebrity parodies are pretty mean-spirited (especially since many of the celebrities are now dead). That said, I still love this stupid game to death. There’s a simple morality system, which allows you to be anything from a sleazy blackmailer to a daring truth-teller who exposes frauds and hypocrites. And the aesthetic is EXTREMELY 90s:


Today’s September 8, which means it’s time, yet again, for the community’s Mario Kart 8 On The 8th event. I’ve put together a separate post with all the details and links to the Gameological Discord group, but here’s DL’s quick announcement with all the essentials:


That’ll do it for this week, Gameologicons. Thank you for reading and commenting. We’ll see you next week!


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About the author

Matt Gerardi

A.V. Club games editor and pin-wearing member of the society since 2012.