Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope isn’t a safe sequel

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Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope is looking like a more interesting sequel than you may expect.

Coming out on October 20, the follow-up to Kingdom Battle adds some new characters — including Mario rival Bowser as a reluctant ally — along with new mechanics, including a less grid-based battle system.

Sparks of Hope is also adding two new composers, Yoko Shimomura (who has experience with past Mario role-playing games like Super Mario RPG and the Mario & Luigi series) and Gareth Coker (who composed the hauntingly beautiful scores for the Ori games). They’re joining Grant Kirkhope, who worked on the music for the first game.

I had a chance to talk with Cristina Nava, senior associate producer for the game, and asked her about these new elements in Sparks of Hope. Below is an edited transcript of our chat.

GamesBeat: When did the team decide to do a sequel? Was this always planned?

Cristina Nava: The first game was an experiment. It was something where we didn’t know how it would be received by the audience, by the public, by the players. When we understood that the game was working and that people were enjoying it, sometimes very much, first of all we developed the DLC, the Donkey Kong Adventure and so on. While we were doing that, we started thinking, okay, now we’ve launched the DLC, it’s 2018, it’s summertime. The game is continuing to be successful. Can we stop there? Well, no, actually, because we’re living the dream of developing such a game in partnership with Nintendo. It was a dream come true for any Nintendo fan.

We thought we had more to tell the players, more to give to the players. So we thought, what can we do? Can we do more of the same, do a Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle 2 with different settings and new heroes? We wouldn’t have to touch the mechanics, which seemed to work. Or should we innovate once again and give players something more, something they didn’t expect? And so we started to think about how we could make — especially with the combat, since it’s a combat game — something innovative once again. That’s how we started to think about, OK, let’s look outside the turn-based tactical game niche and go to real time. Real-time action, real-time movement. This was the foundation of how it all started, together with a bigger story in a bigger universe.

Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope
Mario and the rabbids are back with a few new friends.

GamesBeat: One thing that struck me about the trailer is that the first game, aesthetically, took so much from the Mario universe. It looked straight out of a Mario game. Here, things are more visually distinct. Can you talk more about that approach?

Nava: Thank you for mentioning that, for spotting that, because that’s another aspect where we didn’t want to repeat ourselves. Everybody among us, we really loved the aesthetics of the first game, but we wanted to innovate there too. Together with our art director and the creative director, we thought about a different aesthetic, to give something different there again. The motivation was just artistic. We wanted to give something new again. We had nothing against the previous aesthetic. It’s just that we wanted something new. We’re developers, but we remain real players as well. As players we like to be surprised and to be given a new experience, with all the senses. From a visual point of view we want something new every time.

GamesBeat: The other striking thing is how each character has a unique weapon now. They don’t just all have the arm cannons. Can you talk about that approach and how you paired each character up with their weapons, like how Luigi has a bow and arrow now?

Nava: Each hero belongs to a specific archetype, even if it’s maybe not apparent. We don’t declare it. But you mentioned Luigi. Luigi is a long range fighter. He has, as you said, a bow. He’s a sharpshooter. Each hero has their distinctive signature weapon. He deals more damage the farther he is from the enemy. As he gets closer the damage will be less. He pairs the characteristics of the weapon with his signature technique. Every hero has their own signature technique. His is called the Steely Stare, meaning that … .

GamesBeat: Like in Mario Kart, that’s great.

Nava: Yeah, yeah! And Mario has the Hero Sight while Luigi has the Steely Stare. With that, if you choose to trigger that technique, even outside his turn, whenever an enemy moves in his line of sight, within the range and the area of effect of the ability, Luigi reacts. He can shoot at the target, even outside of his turn. It’s not only during the hero’s turn, but also during the enemy’s turn. It’s one of my favorite moments. I tend to use it a lot, because I like it when my plans come together. When I expect the ability to be triggered and I see that an enemy could go into the area Luigi is looking at, seeing everything coming together, enemies flying in the air, heroes reacting and shooting, it’s really satisfying to me. You can create plenty of combinations by carefully planning what happens on the battlefield.

Sparks of Hopes has three powerhouse composers: Grant Kirkhope, Yoko Shimomura, and Grant Coker.

GamesBeat: I was interested to see that Yoko Shimomura is contributing to the soundtrack. She has so much history with Mario and role-playing games, going back to the original Super Mario RPG. Is that why she was approached to come and contribute to this game’s music?

Nava: Yoko is a legendary musician. We’ve always been great fans of hers. It’s true that she has some history going back. The fact that we tried to have her on board and we succeeded was because we really like her style, and we wanted many different vibes from a musical point of view in the game. We have Grant coming back, Grant Kirkhope. He did an amazing job and became a friend of ours on Kingdom Battle. He’s really the personification of the musical style of the union, the merging of the Mario and Rabbids universes. And of course since we went cosmic, we wanted to have different musical moods in the game. One of the first names that came to mind was, okay, we have to try it. We want another legend. We had Grant, and we wanted another legendary name. So we tried, and we got her.

She’s collaborating on the game together with the third musician, because we have three musicians this time. We went cosmic not only with the story and the worlds, but also with the music. We also have Gareth Coker. It’s a matter of liking their musical styles so much.

GamesBeat: We’ve seen Rabbid Rosalina, who looks like a fun character. She has this sort of jaded personality. Is human Rosalina going to make any kind of appearance in the game?

Nava: Rabbid Rosalina is there because there is a homage, also, to some Super Mario Galaxy themes and elements. Rabbid Rosalina is a big fan of Rosalina. [Rabbid Rosalina] appears not too late in the game, because we wanted players to be able to add her to their hero roster as soon as possible. Regarding Rosalina herself, I wouldn’t want to spoil the story for you, so I can neither deny nor admit that she’s there. You won’t know until a few months from now if there are other Galaxy elements in the game. But for now, Rabbid Rosalina is there.

GamesBeat: Adding Bowser as a party member, that’s pretty exciting. He had a role in the first game, but he didn’t have a lot of screen time. Now he’s going to be a playable party member. That’s a pretty exciting change.

Nava: Absolutely. In the first game, in Kingdom Battle, we had more of a cameo from Bowser. He was on vacation. It was his son making a mess with the heroes in the different environments. Here, we wanted really badly to have Bowser. It was the perfect time, because we have an archenemy, Cursa, and Cursa wants to drain all the energy of the galaxy. With its powers, it’s able to mind control even Bowser’s minions. So you might have seen in the trailer, the Bob-ombs and the Goombas with the illuminated eyes, because they’re mind controlled by Cursa. That leaves Bowser alone. He’s not the King of the Koopas anymore. He needs to win his minions back, and so he needs, however reluctantly, to ally with the heroes and to become one of the playable heroes.

He has explosive powers, the Bowzooka. He shoots magma rocks at the enemies. He unleashes on the battlefield, with his technique, Rabbid-ized Mecha Koopas, which go toward a target and of course attack them. Bowser is plenty of fun to play.

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