Nuts & Bolts: How Donkey Kong Changed Mario + Rabbids

He's the leader of the bunch and he throws them all mercilessly.

Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is a tactics game in which players maneuver characters around a playing field and engage in turn-based combat with enemies. Limited weapon ranges and the ability to take cover mean that movement is a critical part of play. But characters don’t just move around — they can slide into foes, enter pipes and emerge elsewhere, and leap off each other’s shoulders to gain height and distance. In the game’s DLC, Donkey Kong Adventure, the addition of the titular ape changes the movement system profoundly.

The obvious choice when adding Donkey Kong to Mario + Rabbids would have been to give him a coconut gun like in Donkey Kong 64. It’s not like it would be out of place — this is a game where Mario has a Mega Man-style arm cannon. But instead, Donkey Kong throws banana boomerangs as his primary weapon. More interestingly, he uses his size and strength to pick up elements of the battlefield: blocks, enemies, even allies. Once he’s gathered up his quarry, he can then continue his movement and throw the little bundle to various effects.

When this ability is introduced, the most obvious use of it is to throw blocks at enemies. A simple cover block will do damage, and the hazardous explosive blocks will unleash their effects when thrown, launching foes away or coating them in honey that renders them immobile. But experimentation soon yields more options. Grabbing an enemy and throwing them at one of their comrades damages them both. Throw an enemy at the edge of the level and they’ll bounce out, taking additional damage.

But Donkey Kong really starts to shine, and the DLC really starts to feel distinct from the base Mario + Rabbids game, when you start picking up and throwing your allies. Grabbing a friendly character essentially gives them extra movement, and throwing them can give them access to higher parts of the map. Rabbid Cranky, the mutant mascot version of Cranky Kong, even has an ability that allows him to rain fire down when he’s airborne. Since you can take your turn in any order, splitting up movement and actions across your characters, later stages become an exercise in maximizing your team’s mobility and damage output using Donkey Kong as the centerpiece of your strategy.

Mario and Rabbids
Don’t worry, he’ll be fine.

One turn might involve Donkey Kong grabbing Cranky, moving up and throwing him towards enemies, unleashing his airborne attack. Then, you might move up Rabbid Peach, sliding into foes to damage them and providing Cranky with another opportunity to leap skyward and attack. After all that, you still have your regular attacks and abilities to use, which can further press your advantage.

Giving Donkey Kong the ability to grab, carry, and throw pretty much anything dramatically changes how Mario + Rabbids feels and plays. The DLC generally has a much greater focus on mobility, with DK able to effortlessly leap up walls other characters would need to jump atop, as well as traverse huge maps at a rapid pace by swinging from dandelion stems. It helps that the designers found an elegant solution to the potentially tricky mechanic of grabbing and carrying objects of differing sizes and shapes — they’re all compressed down into cute little balls, including the other characters.

I’m not a big tactics person, but revisiting the Donkey Kong Adventure DLC for Mario + Rabbids has reminded me how much fun these kinds of games can be when they give you a set of dynamic tools and set you loose to solve a combat puzzle using them. Here’s hoping (sorry) that the upcoming followup, Sparks of Hope, builds on these mechanics.