Review: Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle: Donkey Kong Adventure
Published by Catarina White November 9, 2018
Continue the zany, crazy fun of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle in this charming Donkey Kong expansion.
About this game: Turn-based strategy game, developed and published by Ubisoft
Version reviewed: Nintendo Switch
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle was the crossover event of the year from Ubisoft and Nintendo that no one was even aware they wanted, until the first time Rabbid Peach shot a honey gun at a mutated Piranha Plant. It was an incredibly creative and fresh title that started Nintendo Switch's third-party game library off on exactly the right foot. Who could have predicted that a Rabbid Peach hybrid could be so funny and endearing?
The announcement of post-launch DLC and a full expansion was cause for celebration for many passionate advocates of the title, and the full announcement detailing a Donkey Kong expansion of significant length was even more exciting. I found this expansion to have very high production value; visually, it doesn't miss a beat from the original, providing the fun and crazy 3D comic book-like visuals that work so well with the Rabbids and Nintendo IP. Additionally, the new story mode you receive is impressively long, with a completion time of roughly 10 hours; in fact, depending on how many puzzles you choose to solve on your way through the story and your personal need to obtain a "perfect" completion rating, the new campaign is almost half as long as the full campaign of the original game.
Your new adventure begins with the abominable Rabbid Kong running amok once again, as some random Rabbids with rather fetching Sherlock-inspired Deerstalkers encourage him to mess with the magical Time Washing Machine. This leads to a rather unfortunate electrical shock, enraging Rabbid Kong into delivering a punch to the machine that causes it to begin uncontrollably sucking in everything in close proximity. Rabbid Kong disappears inside and is promptly followed by Beep-O and our favourite Rabbid Peach, an innocent bystander simply charging her phone. She's deposited on a beach with Beep-O and immediately accosted by unfriendly locals, but is luckily rescued just in time by Donkey Kong himself. Cranky Kong also appears, quickly deciding that Beep-O is best used as a unicycle. The group bands together and begins their journey to recover the broken and missing Time Washing Machine parts, so that Rabbid Peach can return home to the Mushroom Kingdom.
The quality of the animation and emphasis on facial expressions in this expansion cannot be understated. Cutscenes appear carefully crafted and thoughtfully planned, and every interaction between characters is fun, never feeling like too much. The dramatic exchanges and faces pulled by Rabbid Peach are a highlight of my gaming year and resulted in genuine snorts of laughter. The only slight letdown is the lack of focus on Donkey Kong in character development and interactions; the game doubles down on Cranky Kong, and while he's entertaining, more attention on Donkey Kong would have been much appreciated.
The gameplay and format in the expansion is consistent with the core game, which is great because there really wasn't much to improve on. The original game consisted of a combination of exploration and tactical turn-based battles, and that formula has been repeated with the turn-based battles significantly outweighing the exploration element that was present in the core game. It was once again a single-player campaign, and if I could add only one thing it would likely be the ability to play a co-op story campaign. It certainly wasn't something I was expecting by any means, but it would be an entirely novel kind of fun to progress through the campaign with a friend, either online or locally. The expansion is split into four chapters set in visually diverse environments, as striking and unique as the worlds we were gifted with in the core game, with Spooky Trails being my favourite. I personally am a huge fan of the magnifying glasses zeroing in on the ridiculous antics of the native Rabbids, with original and fantastically deadpan commentary from Beep-O.
The difficulty level of the campaign is quite low, especially for those with experience of the core game, and Ubisoft's inspired interface for Donkey Kong Adventure prevents story-mode playthrough until a certain portion of the core game has been completed. This is a good move, because the expansion throws you immediately into battles that require knowledge of strengths, weaknesses, primary and secondary weapons, and abilities to emerge victorious. That being said, my preference would have been for an even higher level of difficulty in the expansion battles, since the developers chose to completely forgo a tutorial and prevent new players from jumping in.
For all the funny and imaginative visuals this game delivers, it delivers equally on a deeply engaging turn-based tactical experience. The only playable characters in the expansion are Rabbid Peach, Donkey Kong, and Cranky Kong, but they each receive an entirely new set of weapons, abilities, and skill tree options. Donkey Kong introduces the ability to pick up items, team-mates, or enemies on the battlefield and throw them a considerable distance, inflicting extra damage on enemies or positioning an ally for a previously out-of-reach shot. This introduces limitless new tactics to think up, though at times feels overpowered and can decrease the difficulty of the battle. The expansion also introduces jump pads only DK can use, which often seems to have the same effect again. These new inclusions are creative, but an option to turn them off might have extended the experience for expert-level players looking for a more challenging scenario.
Each of your team members can once again wield a primary and secondary weapon and receive skill tickets from successful battles, which will allow you to upgrade certain skills and abilities as well customize the character to your gameplay style. The available weapons are beautifully designed, and whoever named these weapons has a commanding use of both the English language and hilariously terrible puns. Different weapons grant different benefits against specific enemies - for example, some weapons deal more damage to Bucklers or to Summoners - and can inflict different special effects like ink, push, or honey damage. The ticket-based skill tree system is the same as in the core game, and offers you a plethora of options to upgrade your character to best match your play style. I personally always max out the slide damage skill as I love to begin my turn by inflicting slide damage and then finishing off my enemies with a good honey shot to the kisser.
Overall, Ubisoft has done a great job with this expansion, giving fans a very robust experience. The game loses none of the charm it possessed in the core game; in fact, I personally feel the interactions between Rabbid Kong and Rabbid Peach are even more entertaining than many of those from the core game. The inclusion of Donkey Kong and his themed environments has been accomplished spectacularly by fantastic use of the visuals and soundtrack, and Donkey Kong's new abilities allow for novel tactics and new spins on the old battle progressions. Ubisoft has found great success in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, and again in its expansion, and I can't wait for a potential sequel.
Addition of fun new characters and battle tactics
Hilarious character interactions
Exceptionally good soundtrack composition
Low level of battle difficulty
Little development or focus on Donkey Kong
No new game mode additions like local co-op