Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is Surreal with a capital S
I don’t think anyone could argue that Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle isn’t a weird game. It’s certainly one of the weirder games to come out of Nintendo. Considering their most recent release was a fighting game where everyone was stretchy armed mutant cyborgs, which shortly followed the post-apocalyptic squid painting simulator, that’s saying something. M+RKB isn’t just weird. Its capital-S Surreal, as in, it’s a piece of media that could be describes as having the same values of the Surrealist art movement.
What is Surrealism?
Well this is not a website geared toward art so we won’t do a full rundown on the cultural implications of the movement, but you probably know of one Surrealist. It’s the one almost everyone knows, Salvador Dali. If that still isn’t ringing a bell, picture melting clocks or elephants on stilts. Yep, that’s the guy.
Dali’s art, and by extension most surrealist art, is characterized by the juxtaposition of images that normally would not be seen in relation to each other. It was art that thrived on contradictions. It’s made to contemplate the nature of the world around us by painting that world in ways we don’t expect. By combining aspects of reality in unreal ways, they hopes to find something more real than reality, a “super-reality” or, when shortened, the Surreal.
This is a vast oversimplification and I’m sure that art buffs are already angrily typing in the comments, so let’s move on to discuss Kingdom Battle before the entirety of the art community ends up outside my apartment with torches and pitchforks.
Back to Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
You might have noticed some common elements between Kingdom Battle and surrealist art. In fact, the major plot device of the game, the SupaMerge, exists solely to combine two things that normally wouldn’t be combined. The standard “Ziggy” enemy combines a Rabbid with a paintbrush, for example.
This is the excuse for the landscapes we traverse throughout the game. In them we see Mario pipes intertwined with giant garden hoses. We see mountains with fans cut out of them, blowing into pairs of oversized boxer shorts. We see towers made of building blocks, snow made of ice cream, ball made of… people… It’s not hard to see that these landscapes and the landscapes that Dali painted had something in common, despite their cartoony nature.
The next obvious questions are, what super-reality is being formed here, and what reality is being questioned? You could argue that the game questions exactly what it means to be “Mario.” M+RKB is far different from any Mario game we have seen in the past. Mario uses guns, technology plays a massive role in the game’s story, heck you can’t even jump on the map menu. Nothing about this seems “Mario-like.” Anyone who had become comfortable with Mario being synonymous with “a plumber jumping on turtles” is going to feel somewhat out of place in M+RKB.
In fact, it’s not even clear that the events of M+RKB are actually happening. Early on we see that Beep-0, our little robotic rabbit Roomba companion, is actually just a construct of the virtual space created by the SupaMerge headset. The headset itself was created by a Mario fan. When the Rabbids use it and get transported to the Mushroom Kingdom, it’s unclear whether or not this is the real Mushroom Kingdom or just a creation of the SupaMerge. The interaction with the Rabbid’s time traveling washing machine and the plethora of Mario memorabilia available when everything goes haywire leaves the veracity of the events very questionable.
It could then be argued that the Mushroom Kingdom in M+RKB is a creation that only exists due to fan dedication. Perhaps it can be argued that Mario only exists for the same reason. Then the reason why M+RKB feels like a Mario game despite breaking the Mario mold, is because the fans themselves are treating it like a Mario game?
This isn’t even the first time that Nintendo has explored their universe in this way. Many people know by now that Mario 2 was a dream. This was done to retcon the inclusion of enemies from Doki Doki Panic into the Mario universe. However, these enemies that never existed in the Mushroom Kingdom yet invaded the Mushroom Kingdom nonetheless. Now, enemies like Shy Guys, Pokey’s Bomb-Ombs, and Birdo are household Mario names. They became synonymous with Mario, because the fans made them iconic like Mario. This is an example of Mario’s dreams becoming reality through the force of fan devotion.
In a way, isn’t that what is happening in M+RKB? In another way, isn’t the merging of dreams and reality one of the central tenants of Surrealism? Don’t all of Dali’s paintings look like they could come right out of someone’s subconscious?
Nobody is saying that Ubisoft or Nintendo specifically meant for the game to be examined in this way. However, when you look at M+RKB through the lens of Surrealism, you can come up with a pretty interesting idea. What that idea may be is up to you, but consider the following. If the central theme of M+RKB is the transition of fans dreams into becoming the reality of Mario, then seeing its creator cry tears of joy at E3 this year, just to see it’s very existence on the big stage, takes on a whole other meaning.