Review by Willy McCarter
Edited by Katie Tarrant
Developer: Ubisoft Paris & Milan Studios
Composer: Grant Kirkhope
Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch
Nostalgic sounds, crazy level design, an over-the-top battle system, comedic humour, lovable characters, beautiful visuals, silly weapons, an exhilarating soundtrack and non-stop use of the “BWAAHHH’ catchphrase. Yep, you’ve guessed it. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle has finally reached its release. Developers Ubisoft Paris & Milan Studios stood up to take two much-loved game franchises, Super Mario Bros. and Rabbids, and bring them together in a dynamic duo.
Being a lifelong supporter of the Super Mario franchise, this little high-jumping, koopa-smashing Italian plumber is a famous family-loved superhero who has brought us many adventures in the past. After getting my hands on this release, I can safely say that Ubisoft have absolutely outdone themselves in marrying two successful franchises and taking them in a whole new gameplay direction!
So without further ado…
My first thing to note about this game soundtrack is that it was composed by none other than the amazing Grant Kirkhope. Kirkhope is regarded by many to be the sound of their gaming childhoods, with titles such as Banjo-Kazooie, GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark under his belt. While playing through the first few worlds, it became clear that the musical score had the same jolly and upbeat Kirkhope sound.
One of the first features I noticed about the level design in M+RKB was when walking through different areas, some environmental features such as flowers, trees and clouds resembling orchestral instruments would move in sync and mimic the performance of the soundtrack with bold brass stabs and fluttering strings. As well as being visually appealing, it brought a whole new layer to the nature of the game experience.
With regards to the soundtrack, I noticed that within the main worlds, when walking through to different platforms and areas, the music would take a subtle change in either adding or subtracting new instruments, fades to different moods and exaggerating movements with orchestral strings. Another musical virtue that immediately caught my ear was when I had reached Peach’s Castle. I was met with a beautiful orchestral rendition of the ‘N64 Castle Theme’ from Mario 64. Other nostalgic moments like this were when you would finish a battle and come out with a high score, there would be a sudden lead into an epic orchestral roll for the classic ‘Level Complete’ from the original Super Mario Bros.
Overall, the music soundtrack was executed very intelligently. At no point did I notice any immediate repetition of the same melody. Instead, the game would feature a re-score of the same leitmotif but with varying orchestral approaches. From a theoretical perspective, it is possible that Kirkhope was taking on the vertical rescoring technique of adapting the musical score, not just for the gameplay itself but for other aspects of players interacting with different spaces and environments. I felt the intent of this was to underline the endless possibilities and paths the player can take while exploring through this game. As for the battle modes, there were also subtle shifts in the musical mood to dictate who was winning over the player’s team and the enemies. From all of this, it was clear that the musical score delivered fantastically in creating a sense of endless exploration.
Throughout the game, I felt the sound design was most present whilst exploring the levels. It acts mostly as a narrator for your actions, dictating information when discovering new objects, levels and pickups, through a series of beeps and boops. Similarly with the playable characters, there is a ‘Sim-lish’ like approach in using various clips of VO to give the emotes of each character and to communicate health status and reactions to different game parts. Although not entirely in the same category of sound design, I felt that this VO technique had taken on similar sound design principles in terms of its functionality. It also gave life and personality to the characters which in return gave that extra level of audio storytelling in the game.
However, the sound design has more of a presence when it came to entering into a turn-based battle with enemies. To get the most from turn-based games, I personally feel that sound design for UI/UX sounds are the most valuable key in guiding the player into planning and making their next move. Due to the clever nature of this particular title though, the UI/UX and turn systems were a major help. The layout of this battle system is each player on your team is allowed to move and hit separately within range. On top of this, each character has their own special weapon and the ability to use each other as a jumping point to different parts of the battle field.
Planning your attack and strategy were depicted by a series of clicks and selection key sounds. For some, this may come across as a very basic approach to sound design, however given the intent of the battle system, the player is required to carry out a few accept and decline decisions to execute their move. When in this situation and forward thinking is vital to the player, I felt that the sounds were best kept to a minimum as it acted more of a guide to plan your moves and not disrupt the thought process. On the other hand, when it came to carrying out the attack, the sound design brought a great general balance of ‘Saturday morning cartoon madness’ along with iconic Super Mario sound design that again acted as a reward to the player and communicates the outcome of their planning in the silliest way possible.
In conclusion, I can safely say my overall opinion on this game is amazing madness! The sound of Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is jam packed full of beautiful flourishing melodies alongside some over-the-top crazy cartoon sounds that definitely have that ‘weekend with friends’ element all over it. Ubisoft Paris & Milan have done a magnificent job in delivering a unique on twist this franchise crossover. Not to mention Grant Kirkhope providing that sense of adventure and wonder that grips us all in games like these. For anyone who has a huge nostalgic love for platformers from the early 2000’s and loves to blast the living daylights out of each other, then this is definitely a game to be had.
To sum it all in Rabbid philosophy…..
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The Sound Architect