[Review] Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope – The Last Spark Hunter
Posted on July 8, 2023 by Nicholas Serpa in Reviews, Switch
Release Date: June 21, 2023 (new DLC)
2022’s Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope was an excellent evolution of its predecessor’s fast-paced, freeform strategy gameplay, and I’ve been eager to check out its DLC to have an excuse to play more of it. The Last Spark Hunter is significantly larger in scope than the run-based Tower of Dooom DLC from earlier this year, this time offering up a whole new planet to explore, a new antagonist, and even some new mechanics to shake up gameplay. But for players who have likely already sank dozens of hours into the base game, is the overall quality high enough to justify revisiting the world of Sparks of Hope?
The Last Spark Hunter takes place on the planet of Melodic Gardens, an alien world dense with strange fauna that are musical in nature. Well, at least they used to be; in addition to everything being overrun by Darkmess puddles, an unsettling new Rabbid antagonist named Kanya has somehow affected the natural balance of the world and sucked all the music out of it. Naturally, it’s up to Mario and company to take her down – but first, they’ll need to explore the planet to free a species of cuddly creatures called Melospheres – to unlock the path to her stronghold. While the story overall wasn’t very interesting to me – it boils down to “bad guy is evil, because they’re evil” – the sparse writing remains clever and funny when it does appear.
Split into a few different regions, the main feature of the Melodic Gardens is a sprawling peninsula of small islands that can only be accessed by boat. This new means of traversal makes the environment feel larger than it is, and is quite relaxing to use – while sailing, you can use Beep-O’s various scanning features to look for hidden coins and destructible objects. After docking, players will find wandering foes and side-challenges that return from the base game, including a new Blue Coin challenge and new puzzles from Professor Backpack and Madame Bwahstrella. I really enjoyed my time exploring the overworld in The Last Spark Hunter; while the overall layout of the planet isn’t as large or varied as some of the locations in the base game, there are a decent amount of tucked away collectibles to make exploring worthwhile. That said, I would have liked to see some new types of side-content to play to shake things up a bit more, as it’s only the sailing that feels truly new.
Of course, combat has always been the main attraction of the Mario + Rabbids series, and it’s here that the DLC truly shines. Although the expansion’s story is set before the conclusion of the base game’s campaign, it’s been tuned for players who have already beat it. There are a few reasons for this, but a big change is that it sets each character in your party to level 30, and immediately provides you with each Spark available in the base game. This gives players a lot of room to customize character loadouts and perhaps even play with Sparks that they may not have collected the first time around. While I appreciate the flexibility, I ultimately found myself generally sticking with my go-to party – Princess Peach, Rabbid Peach and Rabbid Mario – and a rotating selection of elemental Sparks, very rarely needing to switch things up. There are a few new Sparks added, but most of them – like Elecroquake and Cryodash – feel like they should have been present in the base game. The most interesting one is Mayhem, which can be used to hypnotize a foe for a turn, but in practice I didn’t find it particularly useful for my playstyle.
Fortunately, battles this time around are just as deep and complex as before, and will punish impatient players who don’t optimize their strategy. A new type of foe – Golems – are particularly tricky, needing to be dash-attacked immediately after their defeat; fail to do so, and they’ll respawn at full health. Taking them out requires extra planning than a typical foe; I had to constantly make sure I had multiple characters nearby, so I didn’t risk missing an opportunity to finish them off. But things are made even more complex by another new type of foe called Fieldbreakers, which do exactly what their name implies; in addition to targeting your party directly, they can also launch blobs of Darkmess all over the battlefield that will damage any characters who touch it. Of course, they have a knack for spreading their toxic traps exactly where players may have intended to move, sometimes making it impossible to dash enemies without taking damage or making buttons and jump pads inaccessible for a turn. It really shook up combat more than I had expected, and I had a great time trying to find ways around the new threats.
While some of the combat maps feel similar in design and premise to ones in the base game, a few standout battles felt fresh to tackle. One of my favorites, towards the end of the game, tasked me with safely collecting and transporting Melospheres to a goal in the center of the map, with the main challenge being that they can’t take more than a few hits of damage without failing the mission. The final boss – which I won’t spoil – is a multi-stage affair, involving a changing map and multiple objectives. And on top of all that, for the masochists, there’s a particularly tough (but optional) Survival battle that you’ll almost certainly be under-leveled for the first time you encounter it.
With fresh-feeling combat, a compelling new planet to explore and an open slate for strategic party-building, The Last Spark Hunter is a solid iteration on everything that made Sparks of Hope so wonderful. Overall, it took me about twelve hours to complete, with me making a point to go out of my way to explore and tackle side-objectives, and I enjoyed basically all of it, even if I would have liked to have been surprised a bit more. Hopefully the forthcoming Rayman expansion will take Sparks of Hope even further and shake everything up even more.
Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope copy provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.