IGN Review of Rayman Raving Rabbids
Has Nintendo forsaken the hardcore gamer? Certainly not. As the company's leaders are too proud to point out, there will always be games like Zelda, Metroid and Mario for the established audience, and the 2006-2007 lineup is digital proof. At the same time, the Big N isn't exactly hiding the fact that it is also very focused on creating software that is immediately accessible - something that everybody and not just the super geeks can enjoy. Wii Sports, which ships with the system and couldn't be simpler or less daunting, accurately represents this new design philosophy. Wii is not Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 - it has been created to nurture an entirely different breed of games. Nintendo has mapped the territory and is putting its best foot forward, but not all third parties are embracing the new approach. A glance at the system's launch lineup reveals a number of ports with tacked-on Wii controls. These publishers haven't yet got it, but one backer - Ubisoft - has.
Purists, traditionalists, conventional snobs - none of these people will be happy to read it, but Ubisoft's Rayman Raving Rabbids completely ditches the franchise's trademark platformer background. Let's be clear to avoid any confusion: there is no platforming to be found in this Wii-exclusive title, which arrives from the undeniably talented Beyond Good & Evil team, led by Rayman creator Michel Ancel. In place of those run-and-jump levels are mini-games designed around the Wii remote. There is a central storyline that sews the minis together, but make no mistake: this project is Ubisoft's deeper, prettier WarioWare. It may not follow the classic Rayman template, but Rabbids is nevertheless a welcomed addition to Wii's launch lineup for it is a fun and oftentimes hilarious game and an ideal choice for the old-school and new-school alike.
The limbless mascot is enjoying a picnic with some Globoxes on a bright and sunny afternoon when the festivities are interrupted by underground-dwelling bunnies. In a well-animated cinematic that is indicative of the funny storyline sequences to follow, the bunnies dig through the ground and then stare blankly at Rayman until he is snatched up - kidnapped, actually - by Serguei, a gigantic beast of a rabbit who seems to act as the muscle for the race. As it turns out, although these bunnies appear to be especially stupid, they have been planning to take over the world for years.
The story eventually lands Rayman in prison, where he is forced to compete in a series of games for the entertainment of the bunnies. Only by winning these challenges will he also win over the unanimously not-so-bright beings and gain access to toilet plungers, which he can use to escape his cell. If none of this makes any sense to you, you're not really alone. The game chucks realism in favor of comedy and is a success exactly because of it. Although we could honestly take or leave Rayman himself, Ubisoft has with the bunnies created characters with more personality and charisma than 10 of the most popular videogame mascots combined. The developer seems to have realized this, too, which is why the rabbits - not Rayman - usually take center stage in the various mini-games that follow. The result is a variety of situations that will make you laugh simply because they are so silly or so wicked, which puts Rabbids in a very exclusive class of games that are just as funny as they are fun.
The bunnies infest the mini-games and you are constantly invited to torture them in new and inventive ways. You might have to use the Wii remote to bash them over their heads in a game similar to whack-a-mole. You might have to shake the Wii remote and nunchuk attachment up and down in order to make Rayman sprint so that he can deliver a bomb to an unsuspecting rabbit before it explodes. You might have to use the controllers to smack out of tune rabbit choir singers in the face. Or you might have to use the controllers to aim and fire in on-rails first-person shooter sequences. Incidentally, you don't shoot bullets, but plungers, and the projectiles fly and stick onto the faces of the bunnies as they run through the levels.
The number of minis in Rabbids - 70 - is comparable to a Mario Party title, which is impressive. The difference is that the minis in Ubisoft's title are oftentimes deeper and generally more entertaining than the norm. The developer has really thought about how to use Nintendo's new controllers and it shows. During the on-rails sequences, which in our humble opinion are so good that they could be packaged into their own game and we'd buy it, you shake the nunchuk to reload your plunger gun and aim with pixel-perfect accuracy with the pointer. It flows beautifully. The elitist gamers in us hate the very concept of on-rails play, but it's done so well here that it becomes a moot point. It's just fun. And the best part is that two or more people can gun simultaneously, which makes it a great party option. The developer seems to have caught on to that because there are numerous on-rails sequences in the title.
The game's sick sense of humor is constantly promoted in play situations. For instance, when you have to use the Wii remote to remove worms from the shattered teeth of a bunny's diseased mouth. Or when you have to spin the pointer around like a lasso so that you can hurl a cow into the air for no particular reason. And finally, when you must use the pointer to slam the doors of outhouses shut as they slide open while the bunnies attempt to relieve themselves. This latter sequence comes complete with appropriately disgusting sound effects of the rabbits grunting and pushing.
The selection of games, the utilization of the controllers and the comedy all come together for an experience that is easy to pick up and enjoy. But although Rabbids is a really strong title for all of the above reasons, it is not without shortcomings. With all mini-game compilations, there are bound to be some duds and Rayman's got those, too. A few of the minis are, shall we say, less memorable than others. For instance, there's a challenge where you have to listen to the internal speaker on the Wii pointer for audio cues to guide a pig through a battlefield. We tried two different controllers and the speakers occasionally spat out muffled sounds, but nothing that could be interpreted as anything helpful. Even if the audio cues had worked, though, the mode would still have been boring.
As a mini-game fest, Rabbids delivers a surprisingly addictive single-player romp, which is not praise that can be leveled at the majority of offerings in this genre. Oppositely, though, many of the minis do not support simultaneous play for two or more players, which is a big oversight so far as we're concerned. Instead, you go in sequence. One player first and then another. In soccer, you shake the Wii remote and nunchuk to quickly run forward and then hit the A button to kick the ball; when it's in the air you guide it toward the goal by aiming with the pointer. Clearly, during a mini such as this it would be impossible to enable simultaneous play. However, even when the challenge is simply to trace on-screen outlines with the Wii remote the title will not enable simultaneous play. This is unfortunate because it somewhat diminishes the potential of multiplayer party opportunities.
Luckily, in addition to the fantastic on-rails sequences, which do support simultaneous play, there are a dozen or so others that likewise take advantage of the option. Some DDR-style Rayman dancing scenes even feature split-screen action, which is a nice touch. A sleek graphical user interface conveniently displays which games support simultaneous play and which ones alternatively are played in sequence.
Rabbids features a central hub world that is a coliseum, from which Rayman can take part in four challenges in the context of the game day. It's a fun setup that reminds us of the movie Gladiator. However, while the load times are usually speedy, there are a few too many of them when going back and forth between levels for our liking. This is a nitpicky complaint, but we're nitpickers.
In case you haven't noticed yet, Wii really isn't about next-generation graphics. At roughly twice the horsepower of GameCube, it isn't quite ready for the high-definition era. That noted, the BG&E team has pushed style and art in favor of cutting-edge graphics techniques to give Rabbids a look that is pleasingly atmospheric. The bunnies are fabulously designed and frequent levels complete with remarkably varied and moody backdrops. Rayman parachutes from the clouds onto a rocky desert scene in one mini and races through a dark and rainy swamp in the next. The fluid character animations, which are usually funny, help bring life to these unique locales. The game generally runs at 30 frames per second and supports a 16:9 widescreen mode. However, after some video tests we discovered that it does not run in progressive-scan -- a true oversight. This is especially weird because the manual for the game cites an 'options' menu where you're supposed to be able to flag on 480p support. The problem is that the options menu doesn't actually exist. The graphics are complemented by a soundtrack that features bunny-sung remakes of Girls Just Want to Have Fun and La Bamba, among others, as well as an endless supply of bunny cries, yells, laughs, and burps. It all sounds great in Dolby Pro Logic II on Nintendo's system.
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