We knew it was coming, but somehow Ubisoft still managed to surprise us. No, we’re not talking about Beyond Good and Evil 2 (although let’s just pause for a moment and luxuriate in that tremendous trailer again); we’re talking about Mario+Rabbids: Kingdom Battle.
We’ll admit, even our resident Nintendo evangelist was sceptical when those internal documents first surfaced online last month. But after seeing the game in action, that potential XCOM 2 DLC purchase on August 29th has now been pushed firmly to the back of our minds.
Gameplay aside, though, the fact that Nintendo’s putting the keys to Mario’s castle in the hands of a third-party – even hands as capable as Ubisoft’s – before it even gets to stake its own claim on the franchise with Super Mario Odyssey speaks volumes about the platform holder’s current mind-set, both with Switch and its wider business.
It’s a move that echoes Nintendo’s smartphone strategy, where the platform holder finally seems comfortable about letting its big-name brands take flight outside its own platforms and development teams. Under certain conditions, we might add, as Shigeru Miyamoto playfully pointed out during Ubisoft’s press conference that he told the team, "Whatever you do, don’t make a jump game or Mario platformer."
He did, however, give them his blessing "to try and make a Mario game that has never been made before," and an arm-cannon wielding tactician is possibly one of the only career paths the plumber has yet to explore, already being an accomplished doctor, artist, racing driver and Olympic athlete.
Of course, this isn’t the first time Mario’s been handled by a third party. Sega Sports R&D has been at the helm of the Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games series ever since 2007, and numerous Japanese developers such as Camelot, Next Level and even Konami, Square Enix and Bandai Namco have all made their mark on Mario’s various sports outings over the years.
To let a Western developer take custodianship of an all-new Mario game, though? That’s something else entirely, and it’s a partnership we can’t wait to see more from as Switch gains further momentum. Loosening the reins like this not only enhances the Mario brand and creates a more diverse line-up of titles for fans, but it also means that familiar red cap is making more regular appearances on Nintendo’s release schedule – something the Wii U could have benefitted from much earlier in its life cycle. While we wait for Metroid Prime 4 and that brand-new Pokémon game, an odyssey into the Rabbid Kingdom looks like just what Dr. Mario ordered.
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