Version tested: Wii
I'm exhausted. Not just because my fun muscles are still aching after the Eurogamer Expo, but because playing Rabbids Go Home is like being trapped on a bouncy castle full of kids who've skipped their Ritalin and pumped themselves up on Red Bull and Tartrazine all afternoon instead. And you know what? I like it.
The first thing is the sheer energy of the experience - every fibre of Go Home vibrates with an incredible intensity, a joie de vivre verging on insanity. There's a constant aural assault of squeaks, clatters and the trademark Rabbid 'BWAAAAAAAA', which reaches right into a very primal part of the brain and flicks that little 'grumpy' switch to 'off'. Graphically it's accomplished without being outstanding, but is full of enough stylised quirkiness to make the experience a visually satisfying one. Bright colours and chunky objects abound, scaling up quite nicely on a 37" full HD screen.
Here's the 'plot'. The Rabbids, for a reason never fully explored, have decided that their true home is Earth's moon and that they need to return there, in order to have a little nap. The best way of making that 240,000-odd mile journey is to collect stuff, put it in a pile and climb it.
Let's get the Katamari comparison out of the way. Yes, you basically hare around collecting random items, the bigger the better. Yes, there's a moon involved. Yes, it's a bit mental. But to write this off as the sincerest form of flattery would be unfair. Ubisoft Montpellier, along with Michel Ancel of Beyond Good & Evil fame, has poured a considerable amount of time, effort and talent into this, and the result is a game which feels like a high-quality standalone effort rather than another sour pint drained from the cash cow.
Gameplay revolves around a shopping trolley, manned by two customisable Rabbids. Initially a bit fiddly to control, this consumer chariot turns out to be a joy to drive, squealing around corners and over ramps with just the right level of abandon - Go Home feels as much like an arcade racer as a platformer.
Rip around in a tight enough curve and soon your wheels start to spark in a very Mario Kart way, hit the trigger once this starts and you'll boost forward, powering the trolley though obstacles and enemies or over ramps. Shaking the Wiimote unleashes a 'BWAAAAAAAA', stunning people, dogs and vending machines. Jumping is a luxury afforded only to the few levels where the Rabbids kidnap a terminally ill man in a portable oxygen tent, whose gaseous life support system allows the duo to float around with a triple jump.
The controls, actually, really couldn't be much better. They're forgiving enough to make the fiddly sections of the game engagingly tricky without frustrating players, but maintain the feeling that control is constantly on the brink of slipping from your grasp. All movement is kept to the analogue stick on the nunchuk, while aiming the Wiimote allows you to launch a cannonball Rabbid at anything on-screen, knocking down objects for collection or disorientating commuters, office workers or jobbing Santa Claus impersonators so the Rabbids can run them over, strip them to their underwear and steal their clothes (and, weirdly, the six-pack of two-litre sodas that everyone seems to carry) for the moon-tower.
It's delightfully silly. Not in that tedious, "we're so gosh darn kooky that we need everyone to know it" way which had begun to plague the Rabbids series, but with a gloriously Gallic, subversive sort of mania which charms rather than grates. Endearing little animated sequences precede each area, drawn in a minimalist style which evokes memories of the odd European cartoon shorts Channel 4 used to show on weekday afternoons when the cricket finished early or budgets ran short.
Collected items are piped into the tubas of occasional Rabbids to store them, accompanied by the most invasively catchy 'oompah-oompah' snatches of brass band since Sy Snootles and his Cantina Band rocked Mos Eisley. Bigger items, the XL objects which are each area's eventual goal, must be flushed into the toilets which signal the end of a level.
Points are awarded for how many objects are collected during the harum-scarum trolley dashes around the varied environments, with one for each out of a possible total of 1000. Special items can also be picked up, each triggering a short vignette as the Rabbids wear, assault or otherwise humiliate their latest acquisition. These special gift objects correspond to new options in the genuinely brilliant customisation section.
Accessed at any point between levels, this surprisingly flexible tool opens with a shot of the interior of the Wiimote, with a Rabbid trapped inside. This is where you'll get payback for every time one these usually infuriating little lapins has drawn its enthusiastic little claws down the blackboard of your mind. Turn the Wiimote upside down and the interior on-screen moves correspondingly, with the Rabbid thumping onto what was previously the ceiling. Go on, though. Give it a good shake. Send that little guy flying, bouncing off walls and electrics like a furry pinball. Cruel? Possibly. Cathartic? Tremendously.
Enter the customiser proper and you'll be able to inflate features, crush heads in a vice, add a vast array of tattoos or accessories and liberally electrocute the little fella with a loose wire. It's like Abu Ghraib does Krusty's Fun House.
There's a strong feeling of subversion, presumably intended to entertain adults playing with children. Droning safety warnings and capitalist slogans are announced over a City 17-style public address system, and settings like office blocks, gargantuan malls and airports lampoon a culture of inflated consumer values and careerism or a paranoid, invasive nanny government. There's no really serious attempt to smash the state, just the message that life's too short not to be foolish.
The variety on offer is impressive for a game which essentially revolves around the principle of repeatedly collecting stuff. There are timed sections, where areas must be negotiated in a race against a secretary on a mobility scooter, bits where you ride a fully functioning jet engine through an airport, levels of riding an inner tube down a hilly canyon. These aren't just set dressing, either. Each subtly shifts the style of play just enough to make a change without jarring the core concept.
Hazards take the form of cacti, explosive barriers, grenade turrets and various flavour of exterminator, contact with each of which will extinguish one of the 'ideas' on the Rabbids' health bar, which results in a 'freak-out' and a restart once depleted. There's not a massive amount of challenge presented by any of them, but that's not really the point. Go Home is about fun, it's a distraction. In an age of interminable gruff marines, sharp-edged muscle cars and horrific alien threats, more power to that.
Not everyone is going to enjoy this. Some people will never warm to Ubisoft's anarchic little fiends, many will find the constant enthusiasm draining. This isn't a purchase for hardcore enthusiasts or steely battlefield veterans with a thousand-yard stare and a pico-second response time. The rest of you, should you be able to engage your inner child, could well find a big old slice of the fun pie cooling on your windowsill.
8 / 10