Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is soon be charging on the Nintendo Switch this October. This crossover serves as a follow-up to the original Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle but a lot has changed since that first game.
Sparks of Hope will take players on a deep exploration of the galaxy and other a revamped combat system that mixes traditional turn-based RPG mechanics with real-time action allowing Mario and the gang to move around the field, no longer bound to the curser and grid of the first game.
The game’s Lead Producer Xavier Manzanares, who has acted as the Producer for The Rabbids Brand as well as the previous game and its DLC Mario + the Rabbids Kingdom Battle Donkey Kong Adventure, was kind enough to tell us more about what fans can expect in this new game.
Coming up with new ideas
When we asked him how the team came up with all the new concepts in the game, Xavier told us that when development started, he wanted the game to be a surprise like the first one. This was harder considering Sparks of Hope is a sequel but he and Creative Director Davide Soliani decided to heavily revamp the gameplay so that they could do something different.
Xavier: “I think we could write a book, like a mini project, on all the ideas we thought of. But I think it goes back to the DNA of Mario + Rabbids. When we announced and released the first game in 2017 it came out of nowhere. Nobody expected us to come up with a crossover between The Rabbids and Mario but this means we don’t have the element of surprise now since this new game is a follow-up.
Early on in 2018 when we truly started work on Sparks of Hope, I remember going to Milan and meeting with Davide and we start to talk about how different we wanted it to be. We started to think about the gameplay and battle system like we could use the cursor and grid or evolve the standard that was already in the first game, but we decided to test something new because the only way to validate or reason to go on with this project is if we did something different. So we decided to take this tangent as well for the gameplay by making more changes to the combat.”
The first Mario + Rabbids was well received by critics and fans alike despite the oddball premise but of course, there were areas fans felt they could improve on. We next asked Xavier if there was any fan feedback in particular that he and his team took into account when making the sequel.
He began by telling us that half of the game is based on feedback while the other half is based on the team’s own ideas of what could be good for the game. Apparently, it was fan feedback that gave them the idea to remove the cursor as well as add Bowser as they thought he would bring more humor to the game.
Xavier: The players wanted to have even more action and fluidity in battle. Obviously, when we remove the grid and cursor this had a positive impact but also in terms of humor, people wanted to see more so that’s why we also brought in Bowser because we felt it would be funny to see Bowser interact with the Rabbids based on his personality. It took a lot of work for Nintendo to bring him in.
They also commented on how fans wanted to see more of the game’s world beyond. The team decided to not only allow them to explore each level but that they would take the game to space and have them explore different planets.
Xavier: We also added in a lot more exploration. In the first game, we’d have a battle, followed by some movements, and then battle again. This time around there are planets and when you arrived on a planet you can go wherever you want there are both the main quest and side quests. This is something that came from a lot of discussions we have after Kingdom Battle where players said they wanted to explore more of the world. So this decision to open up the exploration was based upon the feedback from Kingdom Battle.
A Bigger Team
It’s not easy being a producer. Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is a far bigger game than its predecessor and had a development team that was three times larger. That’s a lot of people that Mr. Manzanares had to look out for, so we asked about the advantages and challenges of this larger team as well as working with Nintendo.
According to him, Nintendo gave them advice throughout the entire development process and they needed to get their approval for much of the design choices. Ultimately though he says that the team and their partners learned a lot.
Xavier: Yeah the team is way bigger, we also have more studios as well, it was something that we had to adapt for this project. As the producer, synchronizing this bigger team with Nintendo for every step of the project was, of course, a challenge. Multiple studios mean multiple timeframes as well and of course, we’ve had to live through COVID, so the producing steps were adapted to that. As you can guess for this project, Nintendo is also advising on everything and validating as well so we really had to adapt the system for a project that has so much validation to make.
Overall it was a big challenge but we learned a lot and we’re satisfied with the final product. Each studio that worked on this project played an important role, for instance, the Chengdu Studio was brought on for the project and they added a lot of stuff in terms of the world, the planets, and the personality that we have in the game. I’m really proud of them.
Next asked more about the combat itself. The character in Mario + Rabbids has an archetype like Tank or DPS whose skills can be expanded through a skill tree.
Xavier: For this game, we basically decided to give each of the heroes an archetype so they have their own techniques. There’s a skill tree-like in Kingdom Battle but it’s now readapted with the new archetypes. This is linked t what you do in combat, you move the hero around very freely within the zone of movement and each of them has a specific role. Each of the new characters Rabbid Rosalina, Bowser, or the new Rabbid Edge all fit as well with the other hero archetypes.
In addition to this, the game also features different weapons as well as a new addition in the form of the titular elemental sparks (a mixture of the Rabbids and the lumas from Mario) to further customize your characters.
You also have a weapon that is specific to each, and then you can also equip two Sparks. This allows for the characters to have an active bonus and a passive bonus.
For example, a Fire Spark adds fire attack to your blaster while also protecting you from fire, so if you start to use two Sparks and being to mix and match. This becomes a huge layer of progression. You can level up the heroes and Sparks which is new and adds more RPG elements to the game. In the Skill Tree, you also have a specific progression for the Sparks, so there’s even more content and freedom for players.
While these new elements are all pretty excited, it is further topped by the game’s musical pedigree. The team managed to get three of the most well-known composers in the gaming industry to work on Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope: Grant Kirkhope, the ex-Rare composer that produced the soundtracks for Goldeneye 007 and Banjo-Kazooie, Gareth Coker who composed for the Ori Games, and Yoko Shimomura who composed for the Kingdom Hearts series and the Mario & Luigi RPG series.
We asked Xavier why they deiced to bring these three on board and what it was like the work with them.
Xavier: With Grant Kirkhope we had many ideas for Sparks of Hope, but as with everything we do for Mario + Rabbids we wanted it to be a surprise. From this, we wondered what would it be like to have a child-like dream and mix and match elements within the artistic direction. So that’s how we came up with contacting new composers. Yoko Shimomura is someone whose music we loved and we wondered what would be the impact of her work alongside Grant Kirkhope and Gareth Coker as well.
So it’s very close to the DNA of what we’re doing with Mario + Rabbids in general and of course, they’re not exactly working in their usual style. We had a lot of discussion about the art direction of the project with the space theme and they came up with something incredible. I really can’t wait for everybody to hear these tracks.
Xavier was right when he said that the original Mario + Rabbids was a surprise and a good one at that. I’d never thought I’d see Mario cover over with an IP as zany as the Rabbids, yet here we are waiting in anticipation for its sequel which seems to be even more experimental.
Nintendo has been opening up and allowing more developers to work on their IPs since the advent of the Switch era. We’ve seen this with Wayforwards Advance Wars Remake and the Zelda crossover with Crypt of The Necerodancer Cadence of Hyrule.
While they weren’t the first, Ubisoft’s work on Mario + Rabbids did act as one of the forerunners for these kinds of unorthodox crossover partnerships and I look forward to where the sequel and any other potential projects take players in the near future.
Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope was recently announced to be coming out for the Nintendo Switch on October 21st, 2022. For more information on the game check out our Preview detailing its’ gameplay and new features.