Tired of bowling, performing open-heart surgery and mowing down the armies of the Third Reich with your Wiimote? Would you like to toss plungers at a bunny taped to a rotating wheel while you’re wearing a sombrero? Sure you would, and Rayman: Raving Rabbids will let you do just that. But how long does it last?
In one of Ubisoft’s many, many Wii launch titles, this one coming from Michel Ancel’s Ubisoft Montpellier, Rayman finds himself kidnapped by a bunch of bunnies away from a peaceful picnic with the friendly Globoxes. Our limbless hero is forced to participate in around seventy sadistic trials using the Wiimote and nunchuck and to start off, that’s all the game tells. Rather than bore you with needless back story, Story Mode gives you a quick cutscene and throws you into the game.
You begin in a hub with five doors, with the middle, largest door being locked. Every time you clear a mini-game, the plunger (yes, a plunger) above the boss door moves up slightly until after the third mini-game, the door opens. Then you have a choice of clearing the fourth mini-game (which you’d want to do anyway for the sake of completion and unlocking all of the costumes) or going into the “boss” mini-game, which will either involve on-rails FPS stages, warthog races (unfortunately not of the Halo variety) or flight stages. Once you clear that fifth mini-game, you’ll win the plunger and return to your holding cell, which becomes more well-furnished as you clear trials and grow in popularity with the bunnies holding you hostage.
Once you clear mini-games in Story Mode, you unlock them for play in Score Mode, where you can play against your own score, your friends, or the planet. When you finish a game, Raving Rabbids gives you a web code to enter at www.raymanzone.com for their own style of Xbox Live-ish leaderboards. They couldn’t do it with the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, so they used their own servers, which is commendably creative on their part.
This set-up is just fantastic, of course - laugh-out-loud characters, lots of unlockables - but means absolutely nothing without the games to back it up. And there, Rayman delivers. The Wiimote is used in every conceivable way, and then some. You’d have never thought to play Labyrinth (a wood game where you tilt a board to get a marble through a maze while dodging pitfalls) or Whack-A-Mole with the Wiimote, but apparently the developers did. You’ll pluck worms out of a bunny’s teeth, fly a bat, play curling, bowl, play soccer, and throw a cow before you finally free Rayman.
Unfortunately, some of the minigames have glitches that interfere with gameplay. In “Bunnies are heartless with pigs”, Rayman must carry a pig through a maze to the pig’s mother, listening to the pig’s squeals from the remote. If the pig squeals loudly, there’s a bunny lying in wait to roast the pig. (Which, too, makes for a very entertaining mini-game.) In the second part of this game, it sounded like the remote was glitching. If this was intentional, it was a cheap way to increase difficulty; if it was a glitch, it was a very detrimental one. Other games are just too control-sensitive to be much fun with the Wiimote and only end up being infuriating.
Rayman is probably one of the better looking games currently on the Wii. While it won’t have the anti-aliasing of its future Xbox 360 cousin, it has crisp visuals and good looking textures in the environments. Each of Rayman’s costumes are well-detailed, and the water looks very nice. It looks good even without the bells and whistles more expensive hardware can provide. On the audio front, the highlight is the pained screams of your rabbit adversaries. Several of the music tracks are sung by bunnies, most notably Girls Just Wanna Have Fun and the Ubisoft Montpellier Chorus. Unlike most games, you directly interact with the best music in this game.
The most frequent mini-game - there’s one in every bunch of five - is a rhythm game where you strike downward with the controllers in time with the bunnies. The first time you do this with the rabbit rendition of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun you’ll be in love. There’s a couple of disco songs, a Spanish tune, some hip-hop and rock (Dark Iron Bunnies is better than you’d expect), and each one has at least two levels to it. It’s by no means as complex as Dance Dance Revolution or Guitar Hero, and there should be more songs, but it’s still fun while it lasts.
While it lasts is the problem. Once you beat the game, which won’t take more than a few hours, whether or not there’s anything left to do is up to how much you liked the mini-games. Most aren’t worth more than one or two plays, and some - the agonizingly painful, rip-your-arm-off “Bunnies are addicted to carrot juice” comes to mind - aren’t even worth one. You can replay them to max out your point totals and unlock the challenges (mini-game marathons) and bonuses (things like the “Bunnies can’t…” commercials), but there’s very little reason to want to.
Most of the games, as previously said, are innovative, surprising uses of the Wiimote. They’re fresh ideas that will bring a smile to your face the first time you play each one, but after that, you won’t care to keep coming back more than a few times. The only ones worth playing over and over again, even with the online leaderboards, are the rhythm games, and even those won’t last you forever. Others, like the aforementioned “Bunnies are addicted to carrot juice” (shaking the nunchuck up and down rapidly hurts) are not even worth the first play through.
Then there’s multiplayer, but unlike Wii Sports, trading controllers is cumbersome and boring with the longer-lasting games. Take, for instance, the shooters: you play for five minutes, trade controllers, watch your friend play - proves to be a dull experience. The FPS games have co-op, but for that you need two nunchucks and two remotes. Good luck finding those.
Rayman: Raving Rabbids is a creative, hilarious game that everyone needs to play just for the experience. It’s worth at least a rental until you can finish the story. After the story is over, though, unless your friends are into it and you have the extra controllers, there’s not enough to keep it in your Wii.
Final Score: 7 out of 10 - Above Average (how do we rate games?)