Ubisoft’s Mario-infused mash-up drew a lot of surface comparisons to XCOM when it debuted, but the increased mobility and wild team combos helped the lighthearted turn-based title carve out its own niche in the strategy genre. The new expansion introduces more of what made the base game so great, but having to start from scratch on D.K.’s abridged adventure prevents it from reaching the same heights.
Donkey Kong Adventure begins with Rabbid Peach and your Roomba-esque robot Beep-0 getting sucked backed into the dimension-hopping washing machine and promptly spat out on a completely new island inhabited by Nintendo’s beloved simian. The story is as flimsy as the original, and the adventure is completely sequestered; players can only access the new content via the main menu after beating the first world, and any progress you made with Rabbid Peach doesn’t carry over. Neither do any of the weapons or other characters that you’ve unlocked. Instead of adding on to Mario + Rabbids, Donkey Kong Adventure simply rehashes the experience in a few hours across 19 new battles.
To get back to Mario and company, Rabbid Peach and Beep-0 must once again topple Rabbid Kong, who was also sucked into the new dimension and wasted no time setting up his own regime of demented rabbid minions. Luckily, they’ve got some extra help: Donkey Kong and Rabbid Cranky are willing to lend helping hands, providing some fun new weapons and abilities to play with.
Combat remains the star of Donkey Kong Adventure, and the titular ape offers up the most interesting twists on the core formula. Donkey Kong uses strategically placed vines to swing clear across the battlefield, and he can also pick up cover blocks, enemies, and teammates to hurl as he sees fit. Even better, D.K. can grab buried rabbids by their ears and pull them out of the ground before they emerge the next turn, giving you a head start on dealing with the next wave of enemies. D.K.’s banana boomerang is another great addition, and it can be upgraded to hit up to five enemies in a single throw.
Rabbid Cranky is less revolutionary, but holds his own in battle thanks to his area-of-effect Grump Jump and his Long Story ability, which puts nearby enemies to sleep. Rabbid Peach remains the same, but her multi-dash attack and healing ability nicely complement her allies. Altogether the team feels great to play with, even if you are forced into using them instead of choosing them freely.
Donkey Kong Adventure features all-new environments, but the enemies follow the same archetypes as the base game, as do the battle objectives. The abridged adventure also leads to less experimentation, since you are using the same three characters the entire time. After a few upgrades, I was stomping on rabbids left and right, and found little reason to change up my overarching strategy.
That said, I still find Mario + Rabbids’ combat enthralling. Figuring out how to eke out every hit you can from main attacks, movement attacks, and team combos in a single turn remains a fun puzzle, and D.K. is a fantastic addition to the series. The difficulty level also ramps up nicely from one battle to the next, and although the final boss battle is underwhelming, a score of post-campaign challenges promise to push your combat skills to the limits.
Off the battlefield, Ubisoft once again tries to flesh out the world through simple puzzles and exploration, and once again the experience falls flat. Pushing around blocks and flipping switches is even less interesting this time because the vast majority of the rewards only unlock 3D characters models or songs. As great as Grant Kirkhope’s soundtrack is, the series still needs better incentives to venture off the beaten path. These elements are easy to ignore if you just make a beeline to the next battle, but I don’t want to; I enjoy the strange mash-up universe Ubisoft has crafted, and would love a better excuse to spend more time in it.
Donkey Kong Adventure adequately recaptures the same lighthearted irreverence and manic battles of the base game, but as much as I still enjoy the combat, simply offering more of the same feels a little late at this point. The inability to bring any of the new characters and weapons back into the main game relegates Donkey Kong Adventure to being a fun but forgettable detour. I still enjoyed my return trip to Mario + Rabbids’ wacky world, but hopefully the next visit is more meaningful.