Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope isn’t aiming to be a straight sequel to the original Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle – it’s embracing a cosmic expansion, with fully explorable planets and a more freeform movement, even in its tactical battles. In a way, it’s the Mario Galaxy to the original game’s Mario World (and not just because Rabbid Rosalina has joined the cast).
Speaking to IGN, creative director Davide Soliani and producer Xavier Manzanares discussed why and how Sparks of Hope is pushing to be so much bigger than its predecessor – not least because the team has tripled in size from the first game.
Soliani explains that, “Our first thought was, ‘hey, it’s a spiritual sequel of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle’ – but we are not designing [it] as a sequel. The team is back – Rabbids, Peach, Mario are back – but the Mushroom Kingdom alone was not enough, so the whole universe of Mario + Rabbids has been expanded on a cosmic level.”
The idea is to not just offer more Mario + Rabbids, but expand what this spin-off can be – and that’s clearest in how the game’s being designed. Rather than a mostly linear set of areas with battles sprinkled across them, you now travel around entirely separate planets, each of which is fully explorable with people to talk to and secrets to find.
“We [planned] a lot of planets,” says Manzanares, “where each of them is very different, it has its own story and characters.” The idea is to make each one feel different, offer their own diverse set of experiences. “The way it works is you arrive on a planet, you go explore, you can go anywhere you want on that planet,” continues the producer. “So we worked a lot on the agency that we give to the players, depending on what they want to do, between activities, talking to NPCs and characters, or doing puzzles, or doing fights.”
Mario + Rabbids Spark of Hope Trailer Screenshots — Ubisoft Forward
Of course, tactical battles remain the heart of the game, but even they’ve changed substantially. Battles on planets now see you transported to different arenas, and the first game’s XCOM-like grid is gone, now turning your battles into more freeform affairs, somewhat akin to Divinity: Original Sin.
“As I was saying before, even if this is a spiritual sequel, we never designed it as a sequel, but a new take on the tactical genre,” explains Soliani. “So really, in this game, we were aspiring to push the tactical boundaries even more, to provide a completely renewed combat system to our players. So we basically redesigned the old combat system with a focus on fluidity and the action offered by the possibility to move the heroes in real-time.”
The result is a game that Ubisoft hopes continues the bizarre, and much-loved lineage of Kingdom Battle, but opens up brand new ideas and ways to think about the game rather than repeat the same tricks – just as the mainline Mario series has done time and time again over the years. We’re looking forward to seeing that for ourselves when the game launches in 2022.