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How ‘Mario Kart’ inspired ‘Mario + Rabbids,’ right down to Luigi’s death stare

There was no way Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle wasn’t going to be a weird video game. The surprising Ubisoft-developed Switch exclusive takes two action platform franchises — Nintendo’s flagship Mario world and the Minion-esque Rabbids — and blends them together in a modified strategy-RPG. It’s nothing like either has seen before.

Our game is predictable, but there is the same small chance of unpredictability that you have in Mario Kart

There are other eccentricities. Mario, Luigi, Peach, Yoshi, and their Rabbid clones all carry colorful guns, and get into shootouts with Rabbids, some of which have taken on the traits of classic Mario enemies. They fight on bright, colorful battlefields, covered with colorful blocks and collectible coins. It is a wargame at its most gamey.

According to Ubisoft Milan Creative Director Davide Soliani, that’s all very much by design. To create a new video game distinct from the two series it’s built from, he and his team created a new genre — what he calls a “tactical adventure” — to provide that canvas for a game that’s unlike any previous Mario spin-off.

We spoke to Soliani, whom you might know better as “crying Ubisoft man,” during a Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle event in New York last week. After playing a couple of hours of the game, including a local co-op mode we hadn’t seen at E3, we asked him about how his team developed the game’s unique style.

Author’s Note: This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Digital Trends: Before the interview, you used a term I’d never heard before to describe the game, “Tactical Adventure.” What is a Tactical Adventure game?

Davide Soliani: Yes. we started with the intention to propose something completely new to Nintendo. Something that they were not already doing, [because] otherwise what’s the purpose of proposing something that a Nintendo is already doing very well. At the same time, we are huge tactics [game] fans, and wanted to try and “renew” the genre. Not revolutionize it, but renew it.

We wanted to stay true to the mother universe. This is exactly where we said we should mix the combat phases with “Adventure” phases where you can get lost in the beautiful world, to find Secret areas — a Circle of coins, a secret chest — and solve puzzles, while finding new allies and facing new enemies.

DT: So it’s called a “tactical adventure” game because it’s fusing the strategy elements and exploration?

DS: Absolutely. Plus, you have a storyline that develops the more you play with our roster of eight heroes, and other enemies.

We wanted to try and “renew” the [tactics] genre. Not revolutionize it, but renew it.

Why does Mario need a gun?

We wanted to do a ‘combat game’ since the very beginning, and the game we used as a reference was Mario Kart. We said, ‘Oh, it could have the same kind of a fast-paced action in a turn-based game.’

We knew that this could have been problematic for Nintendo. We spent a lot of time brainstorming; doing tons of sketches to create weapons that were not realistic at all. They were colorful and fun, but, at the same time, the player could understand the function just by looking at them. And those were the exact tools we needed to create a combat game. So, when we finally went to Nintendo, in Kyoto, proposing the combat action, Miyamoto-San approved them. It was a big reward for us.

You said your inspiration for the game was Mario Kart?

Mario Kart is very famous for the bonuses [or power-ups] you can take along the race. They really add a new layer of gameplay to a normal race. At the same time, in our game, apart from the values, techniques, and various types of skills that the player acquires throughout the skill tree, we have weapons that are not just there to deal damage. You have “super effects.”

So, [for example], you can see one enemy being bounced in the air because of one of those effects. And then, when he’s falling down, it activates an ability like Luigi’s “Steely Stare,” for instance, that [allows him to] shoot, even when it’s not his turn. He hits the enemy again, and applies a new super effect, such as the burn effect, so when it hits the ground, it starts to run and scream with its bottom on fire. And that fire effect can propagate to other units.

These kinds of elements add a new layer. Our game is predictable, because it needs to be solid and reliable in terms of combat, but there is the same small chance of unpredictability that you have in Mario Kart, but in a combat game.

We tried to always surprise both kinds of players, the Rabbids fans, and the Nintendo fans.

With the essence of Mario Kart in mind, what would you say is the perfect Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle moment?

When you chain multiple combos in the same battleground by just using all of your abilities and seeing something unpredictable happen. You bounce an enemy, then set his butt on fire, then bounce him again, then you have another cannon that is shooting… They are all simple actions, but it goes out of your control for a while. That’s the kind of surprising moment that we wanted to add on top of a tactical game.

Technical question: How did you decide to use three characters at a time in combat?

We had it that way from the very beginning. It’s a triangle, no? Three characters are almost a triangle. Internally, we called this a “Triforce.” Each character also has three actions, [a movement, an attack, and an ability], which is, once again, a triangle, so, once again, a Triforce. The combination of 3 x 3 x 3, gave us a lot of possibilities to come up with synergy between them. That was our starting point.

Playing the Mario + Rabbids, the game feels like an amusement park. In Super Mario 64, you run around the world and you feel like you’re in a place. In the Mario + Rabbids’ world, you’re guided around to see it. And then, in combat, it’s almost like a game board. Again, you’re not in a place, you’re on a board; with super effect cover blocks and the ability to get thrown “out of bounds.”

Can you talk about why you decided to create this surrealist version of the world?

We started with the intention to “invade” the Mushroom Kingdom, and because of that we wanted to make the player comfortable, able to recognize some elements of the Mushroom Kingdom. But, at the same time, because it has been twisted by the Rabbids, surprising them.

You will notice we use a lot of vivid, bright colors, but we also focused on making the world disproportionate. All the main background elements are really bigger than you, and compared to each other. This gives a sort of “toy effect” that makes the game appealing to all players, not just those who are used to tactical, turn-based games. We wanted to pull out this genre from the general conception that this is a niche [type of] game.

The game is Mario “plus” Rabbids. There’s a lot of Mario stuff. There’s a lot of Rabbids stuff. How did you manage to find your style between the two?

At first, we wanted to work on the contrast between the two worlds, Mario and Rabbids. We really embraced those differences to come out with new game mechanics — new ideas, new humor, new visuals, new music. And then we started to mix those together in order to create parodies of those iconic elements from the Nintendo universe and the Rabbids universe.

That’s why, in the E3 demo, you have a Piranha plant, and you have a white rabbit, then suddenly, you have a “Pirabbid Plant,” which is something completely new. We tried to always surprise both kinds of players, the Rabbids fans and the Nintendo fans.

We [also] wanted to expand the universe of the Rabbids; renew them as a brand, and give them a new beginning.

Would you describe the game as a parody in general?

I would say yes, even though this game has different kinds of humor; not just the slapstick kind of humor. Parody is the use (and misuse) of very iconic elements, and through parody you can create fun.

Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle comes to Nintendo Switch August 29. To learn more about the game, check out our news roundup.

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