Mario Rabbids looks pretty good. We've played it a couple of times now and I think the humour lands well, especially where Rabbid Peach is involved, and there's some genuine depth to its tactical gameplay.
But if I'm honest with you, this has come as something of a surprise. Because when I first saw this thing, as images of the game leaked a few weeks ahead of this year's E3, I thought it looked naff. Rabbid Peach, who I've since fallen head over heels in love with, seemed crassly designed and Mario was firing an actual gun. I was fully prepared to not like this video game.
Which was the wrong call to make. There's so much more to this game than I think most people expected and that's got to be frustrating for the developers, right? To feel, for a time at least, that their work wasn't being given a fair shake.
I asked the team about their experience during a recent trip to Ubisoft.
"We were aiming to do a big surprise at E3," explained creative director, Davide Soliani. "And unluckily that was not the case. Of course, it was quite a bad backlash for the entire team. Discouraging. Quite hard on the team morale."
"When someone says to you at the start, it's Mario plus Rabbids, you instantly go: is that going to work?" said music director, Grant Kirkhope. "I had that reaction at the start. But it's not until you see it that you realise it completely works. It's such a great matchup. The Rabbids are a bit stupid and a bit daft and a bit crazy, and Mario is pretty sensible; it works so well. So having it get out there before people actually got a chance to figure it out was rough."
"When you leak, normally, it's never good stuff being leaked," said Soliani. "I didn't know what the company would think about that, both Ubisoft and Nintendo. Is it going to change something for our reveal at E3? Is it going to be okay?
"Of course I tried to, let's say, reassure everyone that we had a good game and our team is not composed of stupid guys, so they knew they were doing something quality-oriented. But of course, there is no way to avoid not feeling anything towards this kind of feedback. We're passionate guys and not just doing this as a job, but also for the pleasure of giving emotion to the player."
"As Don Soliani, the Godfather," added Kirkhope. "Davide can't show that he's worried about it to everybody else. You've got to be the strong person, right? He was just telling me that he was worried about it. You have to be that way when you're the head guy."
"Of course, I was worried," agreed Soliani.
These concerns seemed to evaporate during Ubisoft's E3 conference this year, when the game was officially revealed. Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Mario, arrived on stage to announce the title and show his admiration for Soliani's work. It was a huge moment for the Italian game designer and there's an shot of him, close to tears, standing and bowing in response.
"When Miyamoto went on stage and the audience reacted," remembered Soliani, "I felt, finally, the team has its reward."
"I knew that Miyamoto was going to be there," said Kirkhope. "But I still jumped out of my skin when he turned up. I don't think any of us were prepared for that initial on-stage thing. It was like a big explosion. It was hard to process it.
"We went for a sandwich after the presentation and we kind of sat there in silence for like, twenty minutes. It was so fantastic."
"I couldn't even eat, which was not normal for me," joked Soliani.
"It was very strange," agreed Kirkhope. "He left half of it! He usually eats his and mine, so that was quite surprising. In some respects in made the unveil all the bigger for us. It went so fantastically well, it kind of blew away all of that doubt from before."