Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope DLC 3: Rayman In The Phantom Show review08/29/2023
The third and final DLC for Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope features new locations and features, but most importantly the return of Rayman.
It’s always upsetting when a good game doesn’t sell well and considering the time and cost involved, a serious failure can lead to a studio being shut down or downsized after just one mistake. Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to be happening with Ubisoft Milan, who have made some of our favourite strategy games of the current generation, with the two Mario + Rabbids games.
Ubisoft has acknowledged the poor sales of sequel Sparks Of Hope and revealed that Nintendo’s advice was that it would’ve been better to leave the game until the Switch 2, rather than have two similar titles on the same format. Although that was really only an issue because the original was so easy to get cheap, and so it made the sequel look like too much of an ask at a busy time of year.
Sparks Of Hope reviewed well though, which seems to be the reason Ubisoft isn’t that upset about it, and the developer has been beavering away on DLC ever since… none of which we’ve played until now. The season pass contains three sizeable expansions, the first adding a new procedurally-generated battle mode and the second introducing a new world and characters. However, the third and final expansion adds a brand new playable character: Ubisoft mascot Rayman.
Considering Rayman’s last starring role was in Rayman Legends, a decade ago, there’s got to be a sizeable proportion of Sparks Of Hope’s audience who have no idea who the limbless weirdo is. The DLC tries to make a joke of this but, as in the main game, the script is by far the weakest part of the game and painfully unfunny.
That aside though, The Phantom Show is a fantastic bit of DLC, with a complex set-up where Rayman and Rabbid Mario and Peach have been invited to a rundown TV studio owned by the Phantom from the first game.
Presenting himself as a reformed character, the Phantom wants you to audition for a variety of shows, including a Western, a medieval epic, and a pirate escapade. Each includes generic enemies from the main game, including both Rabbids and Goombas, but also redesigned ones created just for the DLC, such as sharpshooting cowboys with sniper rifles.
You can read our review of the parent game to see how all this works in detail but while the first Mario + Rabbids game was a relatively straightforward turn-based strategy, in the style of XCOM, the sequel is more unique, in that it allows you direct control of a character during their turn. As a result, there’s no grid and the game comes across much more like an action hybrid.
All the DLC can be accessed immediately from the main menu, with no need to have completed, or even played, the main game. You can only play as the three characters mentioned but each has unique skill trees to unlock and access to all the sparks (which work essentially like perks) from the parent game, plus new ones just for the DLC.
One allows you to create a hologram double of a character, complete with their main special ability, while another calls in Rabbid Kong for a quick ground pound. It’s Rayman that’s the main point of interest though and he’s handled with a lot of affection (even though creator Michel Ancel has long since left Ubisoft).
Outside of battles he can run around and punch and grab distant objects with his levitating hands, while in-battle he can use special rings to trigger his signature helicopter glide with his hair.
He can’t use sparks but while he starts off with a standard gun, he also has two very useful auto-turrets, which he can pick up and throw. That’s in addition to two special suits which increase his defence and give access to a move that catches enemies in a tornado or lets you ride a giant scenery-destroying rocket.
The basics of gameplay are the same as ever but not only are Rayman and the new abilities interesting, but an awful lot of effort has gone into providing as much variety as possible with all the different sets and distractions, with some sections being purely 2D and little visual gags hiding everywhere. It’s a shame there’s no actual platforming, given the presence of both Rayman and sort-of Mario, but that’s just not how the game works.
Even the soundtrack goes above and beyond, with ex-Rare luminary Grant Kirkhope returning alongside Rayman Origins and Legends composer Christophe Héral. We don’t know if this is going to do anything for Rayman’s wider visibility but if you are a fan you really couldn’t ask for more. Although given he looks so incredibly French, complete with his 90s style drawstring hoodie, it’s a shame Rayman has an American accent.
There’s clearly just as much effort gone into this DLC as the main game, so we have no hesitation in giving it the same score. It’s a pity relatively few people will ever end up playing it but if you see the Gold Edition on sale, which contains the season pass, we strongly recommend it, as it’s not just one of the best strategy games of recent years but it has some of the best DLC as well.
Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope DLC 3: Rayman In The Phantom Show review summary
In Short: A wonderful way to draw a line under Sparks Of Hope, with a mountain of new content and an extended cameo for Rayman, that makes him just as interesting as the existing team.
Pros: Rayman is great, with a lot of unique abilities. Completely new levels and story that have been created with all the same attention to detail as the main game. Fantastic soundtrack.
Cons: The dialogue, and the Rabbids in general, are as obnoxious and unfunny as usual. Same mindless puzzles as the original.
Formats: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Ubisoft Milan and Ubisoft Paris, plus Ubisoft Pune, Ubisoft Chengdu, and Ubisoft Montpellier
Release Date: 30th August 2023
Age Rating: 7
*Season Pass, for all three DLC packs, is £24.99; Gold Edition is £74.99
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