Review by Tom Clark
"Everybunny Hates Rayman"
A console launch can cover a multitude of sins. At any other stage in a machines life, games that are blatantly a bit crap receive no attention, and head straight for Bargain Bucket Hell. And rightly so. But when a console is preparing to launch, every game that is heading it's way receives a slice of the spotlight - especially if a recognisable video game character is involved. Games journalists chart the progress of the game, stores put up posters, full-page advertisements reach the magazines. And why? Simply because the game is out at launch, so it'll get caught up in the console's hype wake. Launch games will sell, no matter how fundamentally flawed they are. Which conveniently brings us to Rayman: Raving Rabbids......
Rayman is minding his own business, happily enjoying a picnic on a sunny day, like some sort of bonnet-wearing posh bird in a Jane Austen novel. Naturally, things are about to go wrong for the limbless French fool, though, and sure enough the gentle tranquillity of this Summer's day is well and truly smashed when a horde of demented plunger-wielding bunnies burst forth from beneath the ground and kidnap Ray and his Globox buddies, dragging him to The Arena, a Gladiator-inspired venue where, before a hostile crowd of said bunnies, he must now fight to earn his freedom. What does this mean for our plucky hero? Will he be forced into mortal combat with his fellow prisoners? Will he do battle with whatever fearsome beasties the malevolent bunnies throw at him? Will he engage in a battle of wits with his captors in order to earn his freedom? No, actually - instead he'll partake in some really crappy mini-games, with more dancing than is statistically probable. Arses.
When trying to shoehorn a plot into a mini-game collection, there's a fine line to be walked. WarioWare pulls it off by acknowledging that the genre doesn't need a plot whatsoever, and so tries makes the plot as silly as possible, sending the whole thing up. Rayman: Raving Rabbids, on the other hand, makes the mistake of assuming that we actually care about the story in the game, and as such throws various cut-scenes at us, trying to further the narrative. This immediately gives the impression that Ubisoft are trying to hide the fact that they've created a game that by its very nature lacks continuity and substance, and this leaves a bad taste in the mouth from the very start. There's nothing wrong with mini-game collections, of course, but when developers are trying to hide what a game really is, it shows that even they don't have much faith in the game that they're making. And, in Raving Rabbids's case, they're right not too.
Raving Rabbids takes place across fifteen levels, each one representing a day that Rayman spends in captivity. At the start of each day Rayman is taken from his cell to The Arena, which has four doors leading to separate mini-games. Finish three of the four and you have access to the boss level. Beat that and you win a toilet plunger (plungers pop up quite frequently in the game, actually; it's somewhat disturbing), with the idea being that if you win enough plungers you can use them to build a makeshift ladder and escape your cell (which - in an attempt to make the game feel more like one story than a collection of scattered games - contains several things for you to do; you can try on various different costumes, such as the 'granny' look, or the 'Hip-Hop' threads that, almost offensively, see Rayman being 'blacked up'; or you can take a seat on the toilet where you reminisce about the events of past days - or, to put it another way, choose to replay past mini-games). It's actually quite an amusing concept, and the promise of seventy-five separate mini-games is a tantalising one, and made tempting further by the game's cracking sense of humour.
The bunnies themselves are wonderful creations - maniacal bucktoothed fiends with a taste for violence - they ooze character with every appearance (far more so than Rayman himself, it must be said), and their Tom And Jerry brand of slapstick violence towards each other never ceases to be funny. The concept behind the games, too, is regularly surreal, but in a marvellously comical way - from performing a hammer throw using a cow on a chain, to identifying the out-of-tune singers in a choir and giving them a slap; from pulling worms from so disgustingly manky teeth (which explode if you are too slow, in a charming display of what can only be described as 'ickyness'), to making sure that the bunnies keep the doors closed when they use the toilet, Raving Rabbids has the WarioWare brand of zany hijinks down to a fine point. The names of the mini-games are similarly amusing - with titles like Bunnies Have A Poor Grasp Of Anatomy, Bunnies Don't Use Toothpaste, and the almost obvious Bunnies Don't Like Being Shot At, it would seem that Raving Rabbids has all the makings of a comedy classic, and in more capable hands it could well have been a winner, but the sheer inadequacy of the various mini-games on offer really lets the whole package down immensely.
The most prominent of the mini-games is a rhythm game in which a song will play, and a group of bunnies run onto the screen from either side. When a rabbit from the left of the screen reaches the centre you wave the nunchuck, while you wave the remote for bunnies from the right. Every so often the camera zooms in to Rayman and the bunnies having a bit of a dance - which annoyingly blocks your view of what hand you need to shake next, before the rabbit onslaught continues. It's reasonably entertaining, all told, though the rhythm with which you must move your arms often doesn't seem to quite gel with the music, but the problem comes in the fact that in each of the fifteen 'days' of the game, you are presented with another one of these bunny-based dance-a-thons. They all play very much like each other - the different musical genres visited don't seem to ask any different skills of you, and they all last just a little bit too long to be truly entertaining. The game may well boast seventy-five mini-games, but already there are fifteen that play in exactly the same way. It's laziness, pure and simple.
This could be forgiven, perhaps, if the other games made up for it in terms of originality and enjoyment. But, to be perfectly honest, they don't. The majority of them are just to awkward to be fun. In general, mini-games work best when they are simplistic and intuitive, but the majority on offer here aren't either. The control methods chosen for the games tend to be either fantastically counterintuitive - which pretty much directly goes against what the Wii is supposed to be about - such as in the immensely frustrating game where you must fly a bat by turning the Wii Remote like a key, which is even more clunky and cumbersome than it sounds - or are just plain tiring. For reasons unknown, Ubisoft have decided that these games would work best using the Nunchuck and Remote in tandem, even when logic dictates that they don't, and all too frequently this results in you having to wave at least one of your hands up and down as quickly as possible. A fine example of this is a game in which you must shoot carrot juice into the snorkels of some swimming bunnies. You aim with the Wii Remote, naturally, but instead of firing with the 'B' trigger, which would seem to make sense, you instead must pump up and down very quickly with the Nunchuck in order shoot the juice. It makes little sense, and yet it is a system that is repeated all too frequently in Raving Rabbids, due to the fact that many of the mini-games actually play just like each other even when they are masquerading as a different game (one mini-game is even cheekily named Bunnies Like To Recycle From Other Games) - and with many such games lasting well over a minute your arms will soon be wondering what they've done to deserve such punishment.
It's not just the unnecessary physical abuse that the game throws your way that makes it frustrating, though, there are several other control issues. On occasion the game will stop registering what you are doing and tell you to move closer to your TV, even if you haven't moved at all - annoying because the gameplay tends to continue without you. At times the sensitivity of the Wii Remote feels far too sticky and slow - such as in a Kororinpa-esque game where you must roll a ball through a maze in order to get a rabbit to give his mate a bit of a smack (don't ask), while at other times the sensitivity feels to loose - a game where you must use the pointer to move through a twisting course without touching the sides will test even the steadiest of hands, as the pointer wobbles about the screen at even the shallowest breath. Even moving Rayman around with the analogue stick which should logically be the simplest task to implement - feels wrong - the big-footed bastard slides around a bit too much - as if in an ice level on one of his platform outings - meaning that even getting from one mini-game to the next is a chore. Not good, Ubisoft.
That said, there are some passable moments, which come in the form of some first-person shooter segments at the end of many of the 'days'. These on-rails levels are a real treat, and a true breath of fresh air after the aching, frustrating slog that is the rest of the game. In these moments - which see you hunting down rabbits and shooting plungers into their faces, the controls for once feels spot on - you'll be shooting bunnies out of mid-air with ease, and grabbing them to throw at their friends without even having to think about the controls. What's more, the humour of the game hits it's peak here, with rabbits dressed like Sam Fisher from Splinter Cell, or bug-eyed bunnies dressed as cowboys (which is shockingly adorable). However, though these sections last longer than the standard mini-games, they do feel a bit too short at first, and the fact that - like the dancing games - you'll see several variants on the theme by the time the end credits roll means that eventually, even these moments become tiresome.
Graphically, though, Rayman really hits the mark. The bunnies themselves are wonderfully represented, and their fanatical wee faces are hard not to fall for as they utter their piercing screams and run at you, tongues wobbling in their mouths like something from a cartoon. There are several nice touches in their animation, too - such as the way they will fall back with a plunger stuck to their face in the shooting sections. Without a doubt, the bunnies themselves are the stars of the game. The backgrounds, too, are very well represented from suitably dusty looking western towns, to beaches boasting some truly stunning sunsets, through to some quite creepy-looking areas that have seemingly stolen their vivid colour-scheme from a Tim Burton animation, the locales that the games will take you too are simply marvellous. And while The Arena itself actually looks quite bland, with some simple grass effects that must underwhelm pretty much everyone, the way that the crowd changes from day to day is quite well done - in early levels you are met with just a few hostile bunnies in the stands - by the end of the game The Arena is packed, and 'I Love Ray' banners are all over the place. It's a small touch, but it's quite effective.
The music in the game is relatively sparse, but works well when it appears. The famous Pulp Fiction riff rears it's head every once in a while - usually during racing sections, and the songs used in the dancing games are all recognisable - there are versions of 'La Bamba' and 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun' among others, and these are represented well enough. Most the time, though, you'll find yourself listening to the maniacal cries of the rabbits. At first these seem quite sweet - nasal, but suited to the characters. But if you are attempting an extended play session, it really starts to grate, and before too long, you'll find yourself wanting to reach into the telly to throttle the wee buggers. It's a good job they look so adorable, really.
Rayman: Raving Rabbids may look quite pretty. It may have a good sense of humour, and it may have the odd enjoyable moment. But, ultimately, it will only ever disappoint. The controls are shoddy and illogical. Mini-games are recycled at an alarming rate. It features rhythm-action that doesn't quite keep to the rhythm of the songs. It has a multiplayer mode that, against all videogame law makes you take turns at the racing games. Despite the odd good moment, and some nice graphical flourishes, there is really very little to recommend about Raving Rabbids. Like a rabbit with myxomatosis, it's best disposed of quickly and painlessly, and never spoken of again.
Reviewer's Rating: 1.5 - Bad
Originally Posted: 05/29/07
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