Ubisoft has returned to the universe of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle to take another stab at simplified strategy — this time with Donkey Kong in the leading role.
Donkey Kong Adventure, a new expansion for Kingdom Battle, feels like a lengthy return trip to last year’s best strategy game. But like trying to recreate a beloved vacation, this visit lacks the mystery and surprise that helped paper over the original game’s flaws. It is, for better and worse, a whole lot more of the same.
Donkey Kong Adventure has the same charming, simplified strategy of Kingdom Battle, albeit in a smaller, more limited campaign. Your crew this time around consists of only three playable characters: Donkey Kong, Rabbid Cranky and — returning from Kingdom Battle — Rabbid Peach. Donkey and Cranky come with new skills and weapons to wield, while Rabbid Peach maintains all her old abilities.
From the moment the expansion starts, it reminds you how charming Kingdom Battle’s tone was. Goofy visuals, sight gags and Grant Kirkhope’s score teleport you away from the Mushroom Kingdom and into Donkey Kong country. Kirkhope scored the criminally underappreciated Donkey Kong 64, and it’s a pleasure to hear his return to the brand.
The setting is new, but the expansion still feels like the core game. Donkey Kong’s crew takes turns with bands of enemies, getting good angles to deliver lethal shots. As DK, you can now pick up enemies, your allies and even pieces of cover, throwing them off a cliff to clear the field or weaponizing them as projectiles. Elemental crates are especially fun, allowing DK to chuck a flaming cylinder at unsuspecting foes.
Though DK feels powerful in combat, his personality doesn’t get room to shine outside fights. The expansion belongs to Donkey Kong in name, but in cutscene hijinks, he falls squarely behind Rabbid Cranky, Rabbid Peach and Beep-0, the tiny Rabbid roomba. It’s frustrating to see the gorilla stand in the background of goofs, to watch him smile a bit toward the camera or pick up Rabbid Cranky to point him in the right direction as rabbids scream for comic effect — for the umpteenth time. Kingdom Battle did an excellent job proving to us how badass Princess Peach is, how goofy Luigi can be with a sniper rifle in hand. It would have been nice to see any kind of meaningful character expression from our favorite tie-wearing ape.
Without much story to tell, Donkey Kong Adventure’s missions must carry the load. It only takes a few battles to feel some Mario + Rabbids fatigue, even if you finished the base game back in early September of last year. The combat is interesting and strategic — just as in the original game — but it’s missing that sense of discovery from the first playthrough. Part of this problem stem from the expansion’s thin metagame. Aside from a few new skills and incremental weapon upgrades — very similar to Kingdom Battle — the add-on doesn’t offer much in the way of progression. Even the puzzles between matches rarely offer anything that can be used to improve your characters. Instead, the chests hold concept art and Kirkhope tunes — not exactly the reward I’m looking for after a challenging puzzle.
Ultimately, Donkey Kong Adventure hit me with the same, conflicted feelings I had for Kingdom Battle. It’s extremely charming from the start, but the more you play, the more familiar the various enemies and locations — and the more predictable the adventure — become. I thought I wanted more Kingdom Battle, but what I really want is something that captures the magic of experiencing its opening hours for the first time.