By now, most of us have seen the video. Davide Soliani, creative director on Mario+Rabbids Kingdom Battle, sits in the audience at E3 with tears in his eyes as Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto praises his game on-stage.
"Since this project first started, I've been very excited to see what kind of humor the Rabbids could bring to the Mario world. And so, when I met Davide-san, who is the creative director of this game," Miyamoto said via a translator as the audience erupts in applause and Soliani stands in acknowledgement.
"When I met Davide-san, I had just one condition for this project. I said, 'Whatever you do, don't try to make a jump game or a Mario platformer. Try to make a Mario game that has never been made before.'"
It was an emotional moment for Soliani, who claims to have spent 10 hours camped outside a Milan hotel in the rain in 2002 for a chance to meet Miyamoto. The legendary Nintendo designer was a childhood hero of his, and a big inspiration for his career.
Twelve years later, he got the chance to meet Miyamoto again and pitch an idea for a tactical role-playing game combining the Mario universe with the Raving Rabbids. Miyamoto was pleasantly surprised by the prototype, Soliani said. It was something that felt all-new, but still familiar.
"Early on, we were probably being a bit too conscious of wanting to have a balance between the Mario universe and the Rabbids, but Nintendo told us not to worry so much about that. As long as things worked, the balance would find itself."
"Nintendo really wanted us to push the limits as to what players would be able to experience in a Mario game and, through the Rabbids, we were able to create scenarios that would not typically happen in the Mushroom Kingdom," he told Gamasutra.
"They were also so receptive to us highlighting the comedic elements of the characters and the gameplay."
Mixing the different styles and tones of the two distinctive game worlds was a challenge. "Early on we were probably being a bit too conscious of wanting to have a balance between the Mario universe and the Rabbids, but Nintendo told us not to worry so much about that and that as long as things worked, the balance would find itself."
Focusing on the contrast between the two franchises helped the team come up with new game mechanics, new visuals, and a new storyline. Kingdom Battle is a turn-based tactical role-playing game (TRPG), a genre known for its difficulty.
Featuring mechanics like ironman mode and permadeath, TRPGs typically appeals to a more hardcore crowd. But as fans of the genre, Soliani said his team knew from the beginning they wanted to make a game that provided enough depth for core fans while also being easily accessible to a wider audience.
They set out to create play sessions that were fun and challenging, but not as lengthy as some other games. The bite-sized nature of the game's levels fit nicely with the portability and flexibility of Nintendo's new platform.
Although Kingdom Battle obviously shares DNA with TRPGs like Fire Emblem and XCOM, it was also heavily influenced by Super Mario Kart. Nintendo's popular racing franchise features multiple characters with unique personalities who compete with each other. The team took that concept, combined with Mario Kart's fast-paced action and fun visuals, and crafted it into a turn-based strategy game.
"The combat system and the bonuses in Mario Kart were a huge influence on us."
The goal was not just to streamline and speed up the standard TRPG formula--it was also to create a more spectator-friendly experience.
"With the Nintendo Switch, we’ve tried to build in a really dynamic and fun 'couch co-op' mode that reminded dev team members of when we'd play Mario Kart 64 with friends and family and have a blast both racing and watching," Soliani said.
The playful nature of the Mario Kart franchise affected Kingdom Battle's combat as well. "The combat system and the bonuses in Mario Kart were a huge influence on us," Solani added.
"We wanted to spice up our combat system with some unique behavior, which we called 'super effect.' Our weapons are not just dealing damage, but are adding some crazy behavior that can be used as an additional layer of strategy in our combat, but also to trigger some unexpected event, to surprise the players."
Super effects allow you to splatter enemies with ink, temporarily blinding them. You can assault them with sticky honey, rendering them immobile. You can even sic a cartoonish vampire on them to suck some of their vitality. Every over-the-top super effect is guaranteed to elicit a grin of satisfaction from players, and a roar of laughter from spectators.
It's no wonder that the game is garnering such a positive response. The designers found a way to fuse two things that never in a million years seemed like they could be a good combination.
It seems almost criminal to mix the deep satisfaction of outwitting an opponent in a lengthy TRPG battle with the malicious glee of nailing a foe with a blue turtle shell you've just hurled in Mario Kart.