Preview: How talking Rabbids have a big impact on 'Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope’

'Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope' features a bigger cast of characters with many of them available from the outset. — Nintendo of America/Tribune News Service

One of the most unexpected changes in Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is that the Ubisoft characters actually speak. Hearing them utter complete sentences was like hearing a dog recite Shakespeare. It’s something you don’t expect.

Rabbids have usually just jibbered jabbered nonsense with random screams thrown in. They emoted their intentions with slapstick, but that could only take Rabbids so far. It also limited what kind of stories Ubisoft could tell with them.

“We wanted to desire to make Rabbids as a fantasy evolve,” said narrative director Davide Soliani. “We wanted to evolve the characters and expand the characters’ palette of emotions.”

In the previous game, Beppo did most of the talking, but for this space saga, Ubisoft Milan and Ubisoft Paris expanded the voice cast because they wanted to tell a more nuanced story. Players will meet various types of nonplayable characters, not just white Rabbids lolling about. They’ll meet wardens and protectors of planets as Mario and the Rabbids purify the Darkmess in order to fuel their journey and save the Sparks — a combination of Luma and Rabbids — from Cursa.

Sparks of Hope is essentially a road trip adventure and players will meet new characters with different motivations. One of them happens to be Edge, who is a wholly original character designed by the team. The playable hero joins the team early on and is meant to be a counterpart to the Nintendo heroes.

Soliani said her creation was another step in evolving the Rabbids into something more. Narrative designer Andrea Babich said the team wanted to create another female character different from the diva Rabbid Peach. He describes Edge as being more game-y while Soliani said she’s Clint Eastwood with a sword. Practically speaking, she’s a versatile character who can handle multiple enemies.

When it comes to her narrative role in the campaign, Babich said her journey with the crew will be an important one and she’ll help add more depth to the rest of the Rabbids who can now talk. The voices will help more of the characters’ personalities shine through. For example, Rabbid Mario is more of a stereotype of an Italian who’s full of machismo. That persona goes hand in hand with his brawler class. In Kingdom Battle, Rabbid Luigi acted more like a kid, Soliani said. He wasn’t even in overalls. In Sparks of Hope, he’s more of a teenager and looks more like his mustachoied counterpart.

Because of the voices, the humor will also have to change. It’s less crass and more intelligent as Babich said the Rabbids have jokes and the funny lines. “We expand their motivations,” he said.

That interestingly shows up in the gameplay as different team combinations will create funny and unexpected interactions, according to Soilani. Players can mix and match different characters from the jump because they’ll have a number of characters to choose from at the start.

He said the decision to give players so many characters at the beginning of the game arose from Kingdom Battle. With so many characters arriving late in the game, “it was a pity not having enough time to develop their own characters.”

Players can start exploring all the different team types and listen to the newly voiced Rabbids when Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope arrives Oct 20. – The Mercury News/Tribune News Service

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