The original Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle was a breath of fresh air for both Ubisoft and Nintendo. It was unlike anything else on the market from either company. Its easy to learn tactical RPG gameplay was very much like X-COM, but far less tricky and tough to learn. The goal was to use your environment to not only attack enemies, but also hide from them and use the ability to destroy environments to take away cover from enemies or choose to take out your own cover for a sure-fire knockout of an enemy.
Sparks of Hope greatly expands on the scope of the adventure, the scale of the threat in the game, and allows the player to get more enveloped in the world by having a fully-explorable hub area to enjoy a bit like a mini 3D Mario adventure. This makes the world itself come alive more and when combined with the improvements in both on-field gameplay and expanded options for accessibility, makes for the most-accessible tactical RPG on the market.
Ease of Use Right Out of the Gate
Most tactical games on the market have made great strides to be playable by as many people as possible, but Ubisoft has stepped their game up with this notoriously difficult genre by not only including difficulty options – but also bright cues on-screen for things alongside an invincibility toggle. This can be turned on or off in the main menu-level of settings, but if a player just wants to play the game to completion and ensure it can be done, this single toggle can be a world-changer for that player.
The original game was tough, but fair most of the time – but did throw the player to the wolves in larger-scale battles. There, players would have to fend off a lot of enemies alongside a boss and it was easy to get overwhelmed by the numbers game against you. Now, players have a lot more choice and can start things off easily with invincibility or even test their mettle with a harder difficulty setting and adjust their difficulty preferences in fairly close to real-time. This makes for a far more playable experience across the board as the scope of the adventure has increased with the stakes being raised to evil trying to take over the galaxy instead of just the mushroom kingdom.
Sparks of Hope has large, bold text and like a lot of Nintendo’s first-party games, changes the text color for important words in dialogue so they are easier to remember. The usage of fairly bold text to start helps – but it would be nice to have colorblind options in the game for text and the title as a whole. It’s a very colorful game and someone dealing with colorblindness may have issues navigating it.
Similarly, players with low vision or those who need larger text to navigate a game with ease may have a harder time with it because there is no option to adjust text size or offer up a bold contrast to make text easier to read. The odd thing is that the game does have varying text sizes as all caps are used to designate things like characters or important parts of menus – but there isn’t an option to adjust sizes or pick different fonts to use throughout the game. The larger all caps font used is a breeze to see even with bad vision, and it would be nice to have that as a selectable typeface to use throughout the whole game.
Deaf/Hard-of Hearing Accessibility
Fortunately, when it comes to the auditory side of things, Sparks of Hope does a better job. It features fully-voiced dialogue with accurate text on-screen to show what every character is saying. Moreover, the text doesn’t overlap the dialogue – so everything is in-sync and the line reads aren’t done in such a way that characters talk over each other. With the fast-talking Rabbids here, that must have been quite the challenge, but it worked out nicely in the end as the game’s dialogue is easy to understand for any player. Players can also adjust the volume level of the user interface – so if one prefers to have a louder sound effect to hear an option clearer or a quieter one to better focus on dialogue, they can.
There is room for improvement when it comes to the music. While the soundtrack itself is fantastic and has both a blend of Mario tunes and new compositions that are more in-line with the Rabbids world, there is nothing on-screen to indicate the kind of music playing or its tempo. It would be nice to go into a boss battle if you can’t hear the game and know that ominous music is playing or the Rabbids are responding in a panicked tone. While there are times when the facial expressions can get that part across – there are also times when that isn’t the case and some drama is lost as a result.
Sparks of Hope has a similar level of fine-motor accessibility as the original game. Both make moving characters around the environment a breeze to do with minimal button presses. It’s easy to send an ally somewhere to attack and bold colors being used make it easy to tell where you can and can’t attack from. This game adds in fully 3D environments to move around in alongside light platforming and puzzle-solving – but it’s fairly easy to do.
Clear button commands on the battlefield show what button is needed where and large, bold shapes make the puzzles fairly easy to solve. The puzzles themselves usually just involve grabbing shape-matching item and putting it somewhere. They pad things out a bit, and it might be a nice time-saver to just have an option where the puzzles solve themselves, but they only take a few seconds to solve, so it probably isn’t going to be much of an issue for anyone. Using the left stick to move and face buttons alongside triggers to move and attack works well and the control scheme feels organic by default. It would be nice to customize it, but everything is easy to remember on its own – and it’s labeled in-game anyway so it’s easy to learn commands. The settings menu allows players to choose whether they would like to hold or do a single button press for things like moving forward with cutscenes to speed up the action as well.
Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is an excellent beginner-friendly tactical RPG. It takes a lot of the most-intimidating parts about the genre and sands off the rough edges to create an experience that pretty much anyone can enjoy. The ability to have invincibility toggled on or off is a game-changer for the genre and is something that every developer who makes a tactical RPG should consider putting in. From an accessibility point of view, Sparks of Hope is a mixed-bag. Every part of it is largely accessible, but with a caveat thrown in that hurts it a bit in every regard. Visual accessibility can be improved with colorblind settings and text size adjustment, while auditory issues could be aided by descriptions of the music and tone shifts. Still, this is a game that I can see being enjoyed by more players than even the original due to the improvements made with regards to difficulty and it’s a perfect gateway game for those looking to get into tactical RPGs.