Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle has been played by 10 million people! Today is the fifth anniversary of the game, and the next Mario + Rabbids is coming soon. Mario, Rabbid Peach, and their friends are back for a cosmic adventure in Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope, coming to Nintendo Switch on October 20. The Heroes must take on the mysterious new villain, Cursa, who is inflicting chaos upon the planets while seeking to consume the energy of the Sparks, uncanny creatures formed by the fusion of Lumas and Rabbids.
The development teams behind Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle - Ubisoft Milan and Ubisoft Paris - are working on the new game with help from three other Ubisoft studios. We spoke to Creative Director Davide Soliani, Lead Producer Xavier Manzanares, and Associate Producer Cristina Nava to learn more about their journey from Kingdom Battle to Sparks of Hope.
The success of the first game must have been a big boost for the team. What did it mean to the team to have it be so well-received?
Xavier Manzanares: I guess to us, the success of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle meant that trying something new paid off. It was so unexpected and at the same time well-received, so we were super happy about that. It also meant that all our efforts in terms of gameplay, humor, narrative, and so on paid off. It means that we can pursue this adventure in the Mario + Rabbids universe, which is great. I think we should never fear failing for trying, and we should always try to believe in what we're doing. And that's what we're trying to do with Sparks of Hope, so we're super motivated right now as a team.
Davide Soliani: I would say that if there is a big difference today, it's that the team understands the importance of what they are doing, so they feel pride for all of that.
How did the process of working on Sparks of Hope begin?
Cristina Nava: Well, it all began with the exhilarating success of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, and with our desire to give our affectionate players something more, expanding the bizarre universe we have created with this new IP and enriching it, while continuing to innovate its mechanics.
XM: It all started in summer 2018, soon after finishing Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle: Donkey Kong Adventure, the massive DLC. We knew early on that we wanted to create something different, and not a direct sequel - we wanted to surprise the fans of the first game. So, we decided to change many things; we started with the combat system by removing the grid and the cursor. Then we looked at the exploration. We received a lot of feedback from players asking to visit and explore more of the worlds that we created, so we went for these open-ended planets.
We added and changed the Heroes' archetypes, the weapons, and their techniques. We worked a lot on this new story that is all about space, and space opera. We also added the RPG progression, and finally we revealed the Sparks - that was a big addition, not just because they're funny and cute but also because they add a lot of things to the gameplay and layers of strategy.
Sparks of Hope is being developed by Ubisoft Paris, Milan, Chengdu, Montpellier, and Pune. Can you tell us how this collaboration came about, and how these studios are working together?
CN: With Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope, we are going cosmic, and an expanded universe requires an expanded team! We have a galaxy of studios now, helping us craft this new combat adventure. Our experience in multisite collaboration - as is the case for many other Ubisoft games - allows us to overcome differences in space and time (zones) and to make everything click together: design, art, animation, sound, and music, all like a well-tuned orchestra!
XM: The game's scope changed a lot and evolved compared to Kingdom Battle. It's bigger, so we needed new collaboration for the project. Ubisoft Paris and Ubisoft Milan are still co-leading the artistic direction, creative vision, tech vision, and design.
Then we added Ubisoft Chengdu to work on the planets, the NPCs, and supporting the project here and there. They bring a lot of passion as well, so we're very happy to work with the Chengdu team. Then we have Ubisoft Montpellier, which worked on the cinematics and animation support, and Ubisoft Pune worked on the testing.
We've left the Mushroom Kingdom behind for this game. Where did you look for inspiration in creating new locations for Sparks of Hope?
DS: The creative processes of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle and Sparks of Hope have been totally different. In Kingdom Battle, we were all focusing on reimagining interesting locations from the point of view of the Rabbids. In Sparks of Hope, we chose locations that enable us to convey messages on the things that we care most about in life, about what we believe is important. And only after that, we try to imagine if our Rabbids could live in such location.
What were some of your first thoughts when you started thinking about new characters to bring to Sparks of Hope?
CN: How can we do better than Rabbid Peach? Seriously, our approach with characters, especially the Rabbid ones, is always to give them such a distinctive and peculiar personality that they stand out and bring something original and humorous to the narrative and to the gameplay. Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope will feature new characters such as Edge and Bowser - you can have a look at them in the trailers - which we hope will be both surprising and entertaining when players see them in game. All new Heroes and enemies, and even NPCs, have a unique backstory, both funny and surprisingly profound, which will compel players to know more about them and progress through the game and its story.
Something that stuck out about Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle was the attention to detail, from the little secrets in the environments (including the sketches being put on by the Rabbids) to the lyrics in the Opera battle. Can we expect to see more of that in Sparks of Hope?
XM: Yes! Actually, that's something we build around, so I guess it's part of Mario + Rabbids' DNA to always put references, gags, and elements of references that could also be linked to the story. So, it's not just placing things in the environment randomly, it's always thinking about what the players could look at. And now that we've even pushed more of the discovery aspect and the agency, it's even more interesting to see how the players will interact with the environment and discover stuff that could be linked to the story of the planet, or to a Hero, or even to a Spark. So yes - references, jokes, gags - we want the player to laugh, and we have tons of surprises when it comes to things like we did in the past.
The game has three notable composers: Grant Kirkhope, Yoko Shimomura, and Gareth Coker. How has it been working with them? And how do their styles complement each other?
XM: Grant Kirkhope was awesome on Kingdom Battle, and he had tons of ideas for Sparks of Hope, so he was on fire. But as with many things on Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope, we wanted to mix things up, so we added Yoko Shimomura and Gareth Coker into the mix, and we knew that would be an incredible cocktail.
They worked with our audio art director, Romain Brillaud, to bring their own unique styles together for our vision of the game. And the result is brilliant, and it brings a lot of nostalgia as well for those who know those composers.
Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is coming to Switch on October 20. To learn about Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope's new Heroes, mysterious villain Cursa, combat system, gameplay, setting, and more from Soliani, Manzanares, and Nava, check out the video below!