Nintendo has collaborated with many producers and developers throughout its long history. Star Fox has passed through the hands of Namco and Platinum, F-Zero has received the magic touch of Sega, MercurySteam signed (does nothing) the excellent Metroid Dread, and Zelda and Fire Emblem have passed through the Omega Force studios, under Koei Tecmo’s umbrella, on more than one occasion. If we go into detail, there is a bit of everything: from products that are more custom-made than collaborative, like Metroid: Samus Returns, to loans from exhausted franchises (according to the big N) and the profitability of those that are in better health . However, both in Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of HopeAs with its predecessor, I see a purer collaboration, something similar to what happened with Amusement Vision, Sega and the fantastic F-Zero GX, or with Samus’ latest adventure; a job pampered and cared for by both partieswhich grows by absorbing the best of each of them.
Like the big Mario sequels—I think of Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels, Super Mario Bros 3, or Super Mario Galaxy 2 (and I’ll stop here, but we all know I could go on)— Sparks of Hope takes advantage of the base of its predecessor to expand its formula, to expand the mechanical boundaries and experiment with new approaches from minute one. Right from the start, after the brief introduction of the turn, the title takes advantage of not having to introduce characters to go straight to the nougat.
An interdimensional blanket has captured several members of the group and, after managing to stop the threat, the protagonists understand that something is wrong: a new type of character, a mixture of rabbid and flash (baptized as spark), makes an appearance to warn to the protagonists; Estela is in serious trouble. And oh my friends! If Estela has problems, a server will always rush to her aid.
The adventure begins
Thus begins a journey that, on this occasion, develops a somewhat more elaborate plot, but no less crazy for that. The adventure component increases, and it feels even closer to the spirit of Mario & Luigi or Paper Mario. The reason? The worlds to visit, which are now closer to a reduced version of what we can find in Super Mario Odyssey; environments that flee from linearity and that they scatter their combats around the map in the form of secondary missions that we can carry out, or not, depending on our desire to complete or our desire to obtain new sparks. The advance, now, is more flexible. We only have to be aware of the prerequisites, or the level necessary to advance to the boss or the dungeon on duty. Despite this, I have spent more time than I expected when starting each small world, and exploring each of them is something like walking through a miniaturized playground.
You want to stay in Fondo Faro, in Pristine Peaks and in the rest of the worlds that the adventure offers us. They are welcoming, well-structured places, full of details, and bathed in the spectacular soundtrack that signs Grant Kirkhope. There is always something new to do, a new challenge, neither too easy nor too difficult, that invites you to continue a little longer, fucking up the pace and turning the experience into something suitable for both long sessions and light games: from combats of all kinds, to simple puzzles, going through mini-games, secret areas, the classic red coins and even the green ones. But one does not cross the universe with the intention of taking a walk. One crosses the universe to end a great threat, and in this case the threat is called Cursa, an interdimensional entity that is filling every corner of the galaxy with disgust. So it’s time to distribute slaps, which is, after all, what we have come for.
Mario + Rabids: Sparks of Hope substantially expands what was offered by its predecessor and does so primarily through los sparks. This new race, a mix of rabbid and flash, works as temporary modifiers, that is: as interchangeable and upgradeable skills that allow us to customize each of the team members, generating a number of synergies that I dare not even calculate; there are sparks that give the main attack elemental damage, and others that link the element to the knockdown movement, there are those that grant damage reflection, invisibility, dispersion of enemies, boosting attacks, protection and a long etcetera. Beyond their design, which seems delicious to me —special mention for Electroid, the outdated electric spark that seems to go to the top of little stars— they are the main reason for the expansion of the new combat system (hence their presence in the title), but not the only one.
The freedom of movement that comes with removing the grids feels great. The turns gain in agility, at the same time that they naturalize the movement and force us to be, if possible, more attentive to the three-dimensionality of the stage and the lines of sight. This is the first rule that changes, although the thing does not stop there. As its predecessor already did, the title constantly introduces new conditions, delivering a fight that flees from monotony. From the possibility of carrying more sparks, to new dangers or battle restrictions, scenarios that work like puzzles, new enemies, or new abilities to unlock with each character. A well-oiled synergy system made available to the player to create their own synergies between characters, abilities, and sparks.
But if on a mechanical level fighting is pleasant, visually it is not far behind. Kirkhope’s epic music gives way to colorful, colorful and imaginative settings, through which not only more detailed characters parade, but also more complete. To the plus of facial and corporal expressiveness of each one of them it is necessary to add the addition of small voice cuts and lines of dialogue. In this way, personalities are more defined, increasing one more point the irony of the Rabbids, whatever feels great to you —Rabbid Peach and her “long live personal development” will never fail to amuse me—. Of course, the graphic upgrade has a cost and, especially in the worlds, we will witness the occasional moment of suffering for the machine, although nothing particularly annoying.
I don’t want to forget about the video footage, nor of those of the abilities, nor of those corresponding to the plot. The first accompany us every time we execute a special ability, always with grace, but without giving up the spectacular (it took me longer than usual to skip them, especially Luigi’s, for which I have a weakness); the latter weave together the plot, frequently going to the slapstick typical of the rabbit franchise, and combining it correctly with a comic epic that revolves around the figure of Edge (the dry and cool character who joins the group, the green Power Ranger on duty). Both its distribution and duration are well measured. They fit perfectly into the overall gear, finishing off round up the adventurous component with the sowing of several mysteries, and the continuous appearance of charismatic characters. They are the icing on the cake. A cake that not only seemed like a solid sequel, but one of those capable of improving a good starting formula.
And I think that here, that of collaboration has played a fundamental role. Without detracting from Ubisoft, the game feels more like a Nintendo title than a work of the European company. Despite this, the hand of the French (rather Italians, that this comes from Ubisoft Milan) manages to draw situations and interpretations of the Mario universe that surely, without their filter, we would never have seen. Just like without Amusement Vision we wouldn’t have had an F-Zero GX, and without MercurySteam there wouldn’t have been a Metroid Dread like the one we received, without Ubisoft it wouldn’t exist Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hopeand has established itself, in its own right, as one of the titles that I have enjoyed the most this year.