Mario + Rapids: Sparks of Hope review – IGN

When a game comes up with a good idea, some developers just play it safe for the sequel, making some improvements but pretty much sticking with what worked the first time around. This is completely logical. But Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope isn’t that kind of sequel. Although Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle surprised us all with its clever XCOM-style tactics in Nintendo gear, this follow-up keeps its best ideas but reinvents itself to the point where it immediately feels very different. It’s bigger and better in almost every way, with a freer, more customizable look to combat and an overall world that’s been almost completely rethought that’s less linear and totally puzzle-packed. The story is all over the place and the Switch can’t always handle everything smoothly, but it’s a great game that can be played either as a fun outing or as a deep tactical challenge, while maintaining a sense of humor.

Resurrected in the Mushroom Kingdom after Rapid’s invasion, things instantly get even weirder when a giant manta ray arrives from space to cause trouble. The story is actually one of the few mistakes in Sparks of Hope: the original trans-dimensional blend of Mario and goofball Rabbids characters is downright silly, but it makes sense in its own way. This time, though, the completely unrelated enemy is spreading what is actually a corrupt Ganon douche with eyeballs from Breath of the Wild all over, and most but not all of her minions are also Rabbids for some reason? Also have a spacecraft to travel between literal worlds? It actually makes Kingdom Battle look solid by comparison, something I never thought I’d say about that game. I wasn’t expecting profound lore or anything, but it’s kind of a mess. He constantly has some good jokes, so at least I was laughing while I was scratching my head.

This weirdness is offset by the fact that all nine characters on your team absolutely exude personality – no more than Rabbid Peach. With her Gen Z social media diva personality and brisk walk in the outside world, she stands out among the crew even though they all have their own amusing quirks. Luigi has his traditional awkward tracks, Rabbid Rosalina is completely lethargic, and Bowser is as massive a bulldozer as you’d expect. It’s just a joy to watch, and I’m still noticing new and amusing minute details in their animation. It can go a long way at times, like how the animation plays every time you activate a character’s signature ability, but mercifully you can turn that off when you get tired of it.

It’s just a joy to watch, and I still notice the tiniest new and amusing details.


Battles immediately look different. I’m sure there’s still a grid underneath the maps somewhere, but Sparks of Hope does a great job of hiding it and making the action in tactical battles look and feel smooth while Mario and friends are running around. I’m still limited to a radius based on each character’s movement stats, but there are plenty of ways to chain actions together to expand it – most notably the team jump, where one character can bounce off the other to cross the normally smaller maps. One turn. This action now adds a clever touch of real-time action to this turn-based game: the heroes will hover for a few seconds, during which you have to direct them. Wasting valuable time here can be the difference between landing safely or falling off a cliff and getting damaged, so be careful about where you plan to land. There’s also a very helpful line that shows you the range of motion of your other characters, which is invaluable for knowing where they put their jumps as you switch between your teammates.

The big new idea, though, is Sparks. As you play, you can unlock dozens of these cute little guys with names like Pyrogeddon and Toxiquake; When equipped it grants abilities from direct charged primary shots, dashes, and area-of-effect weapons (also come with passive resistance to those items) to more exciting abilities such as attracting or repelling enemies, reviving fallen teammates, and concealment. The ability to mix and match two sparks on each hero opens up all kinds of opportunities, like providing Rabbid Luigi’s bouncing frisbee with a freeze effect to immobilize a long chain of enemies, or giving Bowser a reflex ability that bounces enemy attacks back at them after he absorbs a handful of blows.

The ability to mix and match two sparks on each hero unlocks all kinds of opportunities.


A lot of the sparks are similar to the special effects of Kingdom Battle weapons, but with one important difference: those sparks are usually only 30% more likely when you hit the enemy, which means you can’t really plan to hunt down a target. Fire or stuck in place. Here, if you spend one of the two movement points of a character to activate a Spark ability, such as an electric shot, it’s guaranteed to hit a target if it hits it. There is still a fair amount of dice rolling, as enemies in half cover only have a 50% chance of being hit (and of course there’s always the possibility of a critical hit,) but I feel much more in control of the outcome of a move than I originally did.

Exhausting every bit of potential from each of your three characters in each role requires training and an understanding of the rules of Sparks of Hope. There are dash attacks, team jumps, spark powers, and good old-fashioned weapon attacks, and every character works a little differently — especially after a few upgrades. Luigi, for example, is the only hero who can do two team jumps in a single turn, and can unlock the ability to earn an extra surge attack with each one. Meanwhile, Rapid Peach can heal her teammates when she touches down. None of these character-specific abilities are needed outside of a few missions as your team is chosen for you, so you have tremendous freedom to experiment and discover who you prefer. You don’t have to take Mario into combat all this time if you don’t want to, but his uncharacteristically dual pistols are great for spreading mischief to multiple targets, and his ability to bounce off enemies’ heads is a treat. A nod to his gomba das roots. And don’t worry: It was voiced by Charles Martinet, not Chris Pratt.

Each character works a little differently – especially after a few upgrades.


Normal difficulty is usually very forgiving – in many cases I can hand my console over to my seven-year-old son and he’ll come out on top, although there are some fights I’ve had to try more than once. But there are plenty of difficulty options (including the ability to stop damage completely) and I found that turning the main challenge brought the challenge to a satisfying place where I had to be careful about my movements or risk getting hit. Of course, there aren’t many consequences of losing a fight because you can simply try again, and you don’t even score in your performance like in Kingdom Battle, so it doesn’t matter if one or two of your team falls. But you are constantly healthy, so you have to worry about starting your next fight if you get hit too much.

You can heal your team at the start of the battle by paying and collecting coins you win in combat from all over the world, but it’s also useful for buying consumables like mushrooms, movement range extenders, and ability resets (among other things). Some of these things can look like cheats – I beat some fights in the first round thanks to Luigi’s movement boost to let him get into the goal area even before the enemy gets a chance to move – but they usually provide a much-needed shot in your arm when they have to You have to turn the tide of the battle.

Enemy versatility is a strong point: while there are a fair amount of modified and reused archetypes (such as big savage men with different animals strapped to their arms), they have pretty much the same powers you do, from fireballs to stealing health and time Others, so you often have to adapt your strategy to counter them. The boss doesn’t fight against the spark the spark like in Kingdom Battle and the music accompanying it never reaches the same carnival heights, but it’s always a fun time. This is driven in large part by interesting map designs that make good use of things like warp tubes, jumping platforms, and destructible cover to keep you and the enemy alike mobile and ensure battles don’t get bogged down in long-range shootouts. Most finish in under 10 minutes, which keeps the pace moving well.

The fact that there is only a loading screen to enter and exit the menu is a bridge too far.


But what bothers me are all the loading screens. A little downtime is expected when navigating between worlds or entering a new area, or when starting a battle and returning to the other world, but the fact that there is only a loading screen to enter and exit the menu is a bridge too. You have to go in and out of menus a lot because almost every fight will put you up against enemies that have different weaknesses and resistance, so in order to exploit their weaknesses, you’ll want to mix your team up with their sparks. It’s only a few seconds at a time, sure, but it does add up – especially if you go back into battle and realize you’ve forgotten something and need to go back to fix it. Other than that, Sparks of Hope does well enough, although some of the bright and colorful worlds cause the poor Switch to buzz a bit in places.

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