Version tested: Wii
Even after years being forced to be professionally impartial, there are always going to be some games that you approach with a prejudice. In the interests of providing adequate background to this review, then, I feel compelled to admit that I've never liked Rayman. I don't hate the games, you understand - just the character, the world he inhabits, the weird little deformed things he usually has to rescue and, most of all, his silly early-90's fringe. Raving Rabbids also seems to represent everything that is a bit dodgy about the whole Wii concept - it is a sequence of mini-games, nothing more and nothing less, all based around controller movement. Whenever I played it at various preview stages, its wacky humour came across as trying a bit too hard and the mini-games themselves all seemed to involve the same three repetitive actions. I wasn't expecting to take to this at all on a professional level, let alone find any personal fondness for it.
Now, though, I find myself unexpectedly charmed. Raving Rabbids is funny. Properly funny, too, not just immediately-forgettable, infantile funny. It's slapstick and bizarre and occasionally quite dark, and importantly, it makes no pretence of depth. Yes, it's just a series of mini-games, and no, it doesn't exactly exemplify the sophistication of control that the Wii is capable of (you'll want Trauma Centre: Second Opinion for a taste of that), but it does do a good job of showing how fun it can be. Played in a group, Raving Rabbids is surprisingly entertaining and often laugh-out-loud funny - occasionally because many of the games require you to move the nunchuck up and down as rapidly as possible in a vaguely suggestive manner, but more often because of its character design, variety and general silliness.
Raving Rabbids dispenses with every established Rayman character except the limbless nonce himself, allowing the titular Rabbids to take centre stage. Rayman is kidnapped by these ridiculous little sado-masochists at the beginning of the game and forced to perform for their entertainment, which provides the somewhat flimsy justification for the fifty-odd consecutive minigames that make up the story mode. The Rabbids themselves account for a lot of this game's appeal - unlike the rest of the Rayman universe, they are instantly likeable. Expressive and often hilarious, their over-the-top screaming, vacant stares and bizarre design are certain to provoke a laugh - they are perfect characters for movement-based slapstick comedy, which is exactly what Raving Rabbids is all about.
The mini-games themselves cover everything from basic rhythm-action to on-rails shooting to drawing shapes on the screen, although a tediously large proportion of them employ the same vigororous-shaking-with-one-hand-whilst-pointing-with-the-other control method. They range from the reasonably normal - cow-throwing, say, or free-falling, or annihilating a level full of Rabbids with a plunger gun - to the completely deranged and frankly terrifying (there's one where you have to carry a pig around a minefield whilst horrible demonic voices and anguished squeals emanate disturbingly from the Wiimote's little speaker). You'd think that waving and shaking could be stretched to the very limits of their entertainment capabilities in maybe ten different games, but there are more than forty completely unique ones here and a good measure of them are ingenious. Twisting left and right steers a bird through the air in one game, tilting the Wiimote around guides a ball around a maze in another; some require you to just wave like a madman, whilst others demand precision and patience. It's difficult to fault Raving Rabbids' variety, except to say that the mini-games begin to repeat themselves rather more than is acceptable towards the end of the story (which, by the way, has the most unexpectedly sinister ending I've seen in a long while).
Having seen that ending, though, you have seen everything that Raving Rabbids has to offer, and that really is the crux of the matter. It's a reasonably long sequence of minigames, and those games are intuitive, inventive and often very funny, but that's all there is to it. This will not entertain any discerning gamer for very long at all, especially not on your own. It needs to be played in a group, where people can take turns at the games and laugh together at the madcap humour. Its value is as an introduction to the Wii, a launch title to show friends and family and have a bit of fun with before going back to something more substantive. It fulfils that role admirably, but expect anything more from it and you will find yourself disappointed. In that sense, it's rather like a more expansive version of Wii Play.
I'm very conflicted with Raving Rabbids. In a year's time, when we'll probably have mini-game-heavy Wii party games coming out of our ears, Raving Rabbids may well be sitting at the back of the shelf, never to be touched again. It's so very, very simple and essentially basic that it somehow feels wrong to enjoy it. I am not at all convinced that this sort of motion-based mini-game tomfoolery is going to retain its novelty for more than a couple of months, and with Wario Ware: Smooth Moves on the horizon it's difficult to recommend this as a definitive party game.
Right now, though, as a launch title, Raving Rabbids is very good fun, especially in the right company. It doesn't have any depth to speak of, but it's unique (for the moment) and has a genuine sense of humour, a quality few games can boast. It's an apt launch title, lacking in polish but rich in character and laughs. It's probably not worth buying just for yourself, but if there's somebody else that you're hoping to entertain with your newly-purchased Wii - especially kids, who seem to find the Rabbids even funnier than the rest of us - then this is a lively, inventive and fun introduction to Nintendo's new way to play.
7 / 10