Ubisoft talks Mario + Rabbids, working with Nintendo and renewing the strategy genre

Marie Dealessandri
Ubisoft talks Mario + Rabbids, working with Nintendo and renewing the strategy genre

Last January brought us a piece of information no one expected and, let’s be honest, a lot of people didn’t actually believe. When the rumblings of a Mario and Rabbids crossover spread across the internet like wildfire, the general response ranged from disbelief and excitement to curiosity and, in some case, outright anger.

The usual smattering of crazy rumours and insane controversies ensued and, while a last minute pre-E3 leak rather spoiled the inevitable final surprise, its official unveiling will no doubt go down as one of the greatest moments in E3 history. 

Not only did Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto and Ubisoft’s Yves Guillemot stand side by side on stage – a momentous occasion in anyone’s books – but they also gave us the photo opportunity of a lifetime, brandishing specially-created arm cannons taken directly from the game. However, it was arguably Mario + Rabbids’ creative director, a tearful Davide Soliani (pictured, top), who really stole the show, tugging the heartstrings of millions of viewers who tuned in to watch Ubisoft’s E3 livestream with his overwhelming response to Miyamoto’s kind appraisal of his work. 

That initial leak, however, had a huge effect on both him and the team, Soliani tells MCV.

“The leak did not impact the reveal, as we were taking our time to make sure the game was good and satisfying,” he says. “For sure, the leak affected the morale of the team. After three years of silence and the commitment of the whole team, seeing the leak all over the internet was quite discouraging, but we kept our focus and we worked hard. 

“Finally, at E3, with the first real reveal of the game, we had a very good reaction from the audience. It was a big reward for the team. When I returned from E3, I returned to a completely different mood. The team was so proud of the general reaction and their individual contributions. They could not wait to keep working. The positive energy that players can create is something that can really drive teams to do their best.”

Ubisoft Milan’s work on Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle looks to be paying off too, as previews for the game so far have all been extremely positive. However, when we ask Soliani about how he’s been handling players’ expectations, the reaction is immediate: “With a lot of stress.”

He continues: “However, I do hope that players will see how much passion we put into Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, and I do hope that, along with the players’ feedback, we will be able to create a bright future together.” 

WHEN KYOTO MEETS MILAN

That bright future Soliani wants to create is based on an equally bright partnership between two legendary publishers. “Nintendo and Ubisoft have a great relationship that started more than 20 years ago, with titles such as ZombiU, Just Dance and Red Steel,” he recalls. 

“We always had the intention to create something together with Nintendo, but we never had the opportunity until about three and a half years ago, when we decided it was about time to propose something directly to Nintendo. For this reason, we started to brainstorm with the intention of offering something new and unique that could surprise both the players and Nintendo.”

And of all the surprising paths Mario + Rabbids could have possibly followed, Ubisoft eventually settled on the turn-based strategy route – a move that would see Mario, Luigi, Peach and Yoshi teaming up with Rayman’s wacky Rabbids to save the Mushroom Kingdom.

Our intention is to demonstrate to as many players as possible that turn-based games are incredible fun and not niche at all.

Davide Soliani, Ubisoft Milan

“Honestly, we wanted to propose something unique and something that Nintendo was not already doing on their own,” Soliani insists. 

Still, Nintendo kept a close eye on how Ubisoft used its flagship characters: “At the beginning, we kept going to their headquarters in Kyoto to present the various prototypes of the game – each time more complete and advanced – until we received the final ‘GO’ from them, in order to really produce the game. At that point, we established daily exchanges of emails and weekly conference calls, with face-to-face meetings every six months or so to further discuss the new versions of the game together.” 

CONTROLLED CHAOS

Soliani doesn’t lack ambition for his game, either, which he hopes will contribute to the evolution of the strategy genre as a whole. However, rather than take inspiration from other well-known turn-based strategy games, Soliani tells us he looked to other Nintendo IPs.

“We are tactical fans here at the studio, and we discussed the opportunity to renew the genre of the turn-based games, and to move them away from the perception of niche games,” says Soliani.

“We worked hard to make the game look and feel almost like an action game, which is why we used Mario Kart as one of our first reference points. We wanted to translate the dynamism of Mario Kart into our combat system. One of the reasons why the weapons in our game are not just there to damage the enemies is because of that. We have ‘Super Effects’ that truly add an unpredictable layer to an otherwise solid and predictable combat system – a sort of controlled chaos.”

That hasn’t stopped the wider gaming population from drawing other comparisons, however, with many labelling the game as ‘Mario meets Rabbids meet XCOM’. This doesn’t bother Soliani though.

“It’s not an issue at all. I am a big fan of XCOM since the very first installment, which was made by Julian Gollop and his brother,” he enthuses. “I am also a big fan of Jake Solomon and his new XCOM. I wish them all the best, as I want to keep playing XCOM as a player. 

“During E3, I also saw Jake Solomon commenting over a video of Mario + Rabbids and it was awesome to see that he was happy with what he had seen. It was also encouraging for our team. I cannot wait to send him a copy of our game and some collectible figures.”

Indeed, alongside the release of the game on August 29th, there’s a collection of figurines (pictured above) created by Ubicollectables hitting shelves. “They’re 3in and 6in versions of Rabbid Mario, Rabbid Luigi, Rabbid Peach and Rabbid Yoshi,” Soliani explains. “I hope everyone loves them as much as I do.” There’s also a collector’s edition of the game that includes Rabbid Mario, as well as a set of collector cards and the game’s soundtrack.

Sadly, though, Soliani can’t tell us what the next step is for Mario + Rabbids, simply stating his team has “all the intention to support the game as much as possible, but, for now, I cannot comment on any official post-release plan.”

Mario + Rabbids represents an incredible opportunity for both Nintendo and Ubisoft, particularly when it comes to building the Switch player base. “We are concentrating on developing a very strong title, which is both accessible and deep,” says Soliani. “Our intention is also to demonstrate to as many players as possible that turn-based games are incredible fun and not niche at all.”

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