Mario + Rabbids could be this Christmas' Luigi's Mansion | Opinion
In a slightly quieter year for first-party games, Ubisoft might have the big Switch game of Christmas (after Pokémon)
E3 1999 was a bit of an awkward one for Nintendo.
As the media obsessed over the new Sega Dreamcast (which was playable) and got excited about the upcoming PlayStation 2 (which wasn't), Nintendo had to try and compete with just a selection of games for the ageing N64 (the company did announce the existence of 'Project Dolphin' -- the codename for GameCube -- but revealed nothing about it except that it would use discs).
There were two big games that dominated Nintendo's booth. The first was Donkey Kong 64, and the other Star Wars Episode 1: Pod Racer.
Nintendo was big on Star Wars back in the late 1990s (there was even a Storm Trooper on the N64 box), but still, from the perspective of today, it's hard to envision an E3 where a non-Nintendo game received such attention.
But here we are in 2022, and it's happened again (sort-of). During this 'not- E3' month, Nintendo has given its fans very little in terms of first-party games. There was an extended look at Xenoblade Chronicles 3 (which launches next month), and Pokémon Violet and Scarlett (which isn't technically a Nintendo game, but sort-of is) received a fresh trailer at the start of the month. But the big Nintendo presentation, which aired earlier this week, was exclusively about games from third-party companies.
"Mario + Rabbids has brought in well over 7.5 million players"
This doesn't necessarily mark a change in direction for Nintendo. The company tends to focus its June showcases on games that players will be getting during the same year, and with Zelda pushed into 2023, there wasn't a great deal for Nintendo to show outside of more footage from Splatoon 3 (plus some of its more niche titles).
A 'Partner Showcase' might not excite the fans in the same way a full Nintendo Direct would, but there were several significant games in this week's presentation (even if many had already been announced). Monster Hunter, Minecraft and Sonic all featured, and those are three of the biggest third-party brands on Nintendo's platform. There was a new Square Enix farming RPG called Harvestella, the next Monkey Island is coming to Switch before the other consoles and Portal received the 'available now' treatment. And it ended with Persona, which was bound to be a crowd-pleaser amongst the more hardcore Switch players.
But for me, the standout game is Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope from Ubisoft. It not only received a slot during Nintendo's video, but Ubisoft released an extended look at the game the very next day, and it looks very impressive.
Mario + Rabbids was unusual back in August 2017 when the first game launched, and it remains that way now. Two tonally very different franchises, mashed together in a turn-based strategy game in which Mario wields a gun. I am not entirely sure how it got past the pitch stage, but I'm glad it did. It was an excellent game, albeit somewhat overshadowed by The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey, which arrived within the same year.
It may have been overshadowed, but it still found an audience. Over time, and helped along by a series of promotions, Mario + Rabbids has brought in well over 7.5 million players. It's not quite Zelda or Animal Crossing or even Luigi's Mansion, but it has a much bigger audience than Metroid, Fire Emblem, or the Persona series.
This year, the game has been promoted into the Christmas release window. And it's looking impressive. The title's increased focus on free movement seems designed to broaden the appeal. And with the delay to Zelda, there's a chance for it to stand out amongst the Christmas crowd, particularly as the only Mario game.
A lot of that will depend on Ubisoft. It's tempting to think Mario + Rabbids has the potential to break out in a similar way that Luigi's Mansion 3 managed in 2019, but turn-based strategy games are not exactly the most mainstream and accessible of genres.
Yet Mario + Rabbids has a strong reputation and an even stronger following. And if Ubisoft backs the game in a significant way, I believe it has the potential to be a significant hit for Switch this Christmas. And one from a third-party publisher no less.