It’s Time We All Admitted Mario + Rabbids Is The Best XCOM Game

I love XCOM as much as the next guy. The original reinvented turn-based tactics to such an extent that it practically invented a new genre. I’ll admit I’ve never played UFO Defense, on account of being in the womb at the time, but Firaxis Games’ Enemy Unknown is a stone cold classic. It’s just a shame that it’s not as good as Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle.

Before you execute me for heresy, I understand that XCOM is great. I understand that it revolutionised the genre. I said as much in the first paragraph. It’s got complexity and depth that Mario can only dream of, and some people even enjoy the fact that it’s as hard as nails. Have you ever actually saved Earth? Really? Didn’t think so. One thing XCOM doesn’t have, however, is Rabbids.

I’ve got no particular affection for the Rabbids themselves. I’ve only played a handful of Rayman games, and none of them even had Rabbids in them. I didn’t know that Rabbids and Rayman were even connected until a couple of days ago to be honest, I just assumed they were some Minion-esque creature that Nintendo had licensed for its Mario XCOM game. But the Rabbids, specifically in the one game I’ve played, represent something more than that. They represent fun.

For all of XCOM’s greatness, it isn’t actually all that fun. It’s enjoyable to play (when you’re not getting your arse thoroughly kicked), but it’s intense and gruelling. That feeling you get when you beat a wave of aliens? It’s more relief than joy, isn’t it? That’s not the case in Kingdom Battle, because your enemies are weird mutant rabbits. Some of them are giant weird mutant rabbits. Your teammates are weird mutant rabbits, too, sometimes. The frivolity goes further than the mutant characters, though.

In XCOM you have guns. Pistols, rifles, shotguns, LMGs, you know the drill. You’re a soldier, you have soldier guns. You can have a little fun with rocket launchers and alien plasma technology, but that’s as far as it goes. There are guns in Kingdom Battle, too (yes, they gave Mario a gun), but they’ve got that Rabbid randomness thrown in. Rabbid Peach has a homing missile, for instance, and Yoshi throws rubber duck grenades that wear Splinter Cell costumes. Why? Because it’s fun.

Rabbid Luigi is a vampire and Rabbid Mario is a human (rabbit?) magnet. Read this description of Donkey Kong’s Magnet Groove ability and tell me you don’t want to play this game: “Enemies within range will be drawn to Donkey Kong's irresistible jungle beats when he busts out the bongos and takes them for a ride to beat town!” There’s a Rabbid version of Cranky Kong too, so I can only assume that Rabbid Funky is coming in the sequel.

As much as I’ve ragged on its (lack of) complexity, the thing about Kingdom Battle that grabbed me most when I first played it was the surprising depth. It’s not on XCOM levels of tactical precision, but the characters’ different abilities and variety of stages give you a host of options when approaching each puzzle. But mostly, I just love running about as Vampire-rabbit Luigi, to be honest.

2022 is a good year for turn-based tactics games. We had Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters in May, and Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is coming in October. While the former has too much punctuation and the latter too little, they both have the potential to appear on my Game of the Year list by the time the year is out. Firaxis is busy working away on Marvel's Midnight Suns, also coming in October, but after that? It needs to make a bloody good XCOM game if it wants the series to claw back its crown.

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