I Miss the Grid (Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope)
Contributed by DJMMT
A lot of people might not know this about me, but I used to play Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle competitively. And when I say competitively, I literally mean that I was flown by Ubisoft to Europe from Asia twice to compete in PVP tournaments, one of which I won first place in. I even got to play the game on stage at Gamescom in 2019. For me, Mario + Rabbids is a very personal and important franchise. So when they first announced Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope last year, I was thrilled.
If you aren’t aware, Ubisoft recently announced that Sparks of Hope will be releasing in October this year. I am super excited. I’m absolutely playing this game. I’m probably going to play it day one. It looks great. The new worlds, characters, weapons, and moves all look amazing. Nevertheless, just looking at the small amount of footage shown, I can already say that I miss the grid.
If you haven’t played Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, it’s an extremely well-made grid-based tactical turn-based RPG. Think Triangle Strategy but way more dynamic and considerably less complicated. For me, it’s a lot like playing chess. The chess like nature of the grid system is why I really like the game and generally like grid-based tactical RPGs. I actually hate Rabbids as a general IP. I find them very annoying. Or at least I did before playing Kingdom Battle. This game was so much fun to play that the experience made me learn to not hate the Rabbids. I was able to find them funny by the time I rolled the credits. Yet now they have decided to take the grid I love so much away in the sequel.
Turn-based combat has been under fire for years. Whether it’s the traditional Final Fantasy three-character party turn time, or grid-based tactical combat, it all seems to be on the way out. Kids today just can’t seem to appreciate thinking tactically and having to predict and analyze the repercussions of every move. Call me a boomer if you want, but everything is about being faster today, rather than thought provoking. It’s all button mashing and recreating the same combos with muscle memory instead of actual strategy. I love a good hack-n-slash game, but there will always be a place in my heart for a finely tuned turn-based combat system. That’s why I was excited when they announced Metal Slug Tactics and sad when Advance Wars™ 1+2: Re-Boot Camp was delayed.
Let me be clear in saying that I don’t think turn-based games will be completely non-existent any time soon. We still see plenty of them get released. Persona 5, Shin Megami Tensei V, and the aforementioned Triangle Strategy all released in recent years and were/are wildly popular. But what all three of these games have in common is that I didn’t buy any of them. The great thing about Kingdom Battle is that it’s a tactical turn-based RPG with a grid system for casual players. Too many turn-based games ask too much of the player. They’re big commitments that ask you to sink sometimes more than 100 hours into a single playthrough. Additionally, they’re often not about subjects I’m interested in. I don’t want to play a weeb game with monsters shaped like giant penises. Not saying there’s anything wrong with it if you want to play games like that, but I don’t. I also don’t want to play long-winded political dramas where one battle takes over an hour. That’s why I love the Voice of Cards series. The Isle Dragon Roars is considerably better than The Forsaken Maiden, but both are still very competent and accessible turn-based RPGs that offer a solid 30+ hours of play but don’t overstay their welcome. With my current time limitations for gaming, they’re perfect. Kingdom Battle is the same but offers grid-based tactical play.
If we’re being completely honest, it’s quite likely that the lack of AAA casual options are a large part of why the genre is dying. A gameplay model that many people are reluctant about is hard to sell when the only games available are major time commitments. Gamers need to be able to dip their toe in before being asked to swim in the deep end of the pool. The fact that Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars had a playable demo released the day it was announced via Nintendo Direct is absolutely the reason I ultimately ended up buying it. Had I not been given the opportunity to try it in advance, I probably never would have bought it. That’s an argument for why all games should have playable demos, but they’re especially necessary for games in genres that are already tough to sell a modern audience on.
Let’s be perfectly clear. Kingdom Battle isn’t even what I would call a hard grid system. It’s a soft grid at best that’s pretty forgiving in many cases. There are limits, as there should be in a grid system, but this certainly isn’t Fire Emblem. Yet even that was seen as too limiting for the modern audience. Which honestly sucks for fans of the genre, like myself.
I’m very confident that Sparks of Hope will be fun. I have no doubt in my mind that the team, whom I have met in person, have created an experience that will be just as fun as the first game. Quite possibly even better. But that does not change the fact that they chose to remove the grid for a free-roam system. The fact that this happened is yet another example of traditional turn-based tactical play slowly being killed off by the AAA development industry. It’s true for both Western and Japanese developers. It’s a style of game design that’s living on borrowed time at this point, and I’m sad to see it go. Here’s hoping Marvel Midnight Suns turns out to be good.