For every videogame character who becomes an icon, there's a videogame character who is and who always will be, from the moment of their conception until the end of time, a bit rubbish. For every Mario there's a Hugo; for every Sonic the Hedgehog there's a Gex the Gecko; and for every Lara Croft there's those lesbians out of Fear Effect.
If it weren't for the fact that the Rayman games have been mostly excellent (Rayman 3 on GBA, for example, is a lost classic), it'd be easy to imagine that the limbless wonder would fit firmly into the second category. Evidence for the prosecution - no arms or legs, a strangely expressionless face, bulbous nose... the list goes on.
But then there's the case for the defence. Thanks to Michel Ancel's design genius he's appeared in some rather excellent games that rank alongside the best platform games ever, and the incredible sales for the Rayman titles arguably helped Ubisoft grow into the colossus it is now. And now he's making his debut on the Wii in one of the console's launch titles, no less.
The good news for those who aren't a fan of Rayman is that he's no longer the star of the show - well, not the only star, anyway. It's all about those raving rabbids of the title, of course, who have invaded Rayman's world and taken all his little friends prisoner.
Rayman has also been captured and, at the start of the game, can be found locked in a dingy dungeon underneath a gladiatorial arena. In order to win his friends' freedom and to win luxuries with which to brighten up his cell (think furniture and clothing accessories rather than phone cards and Woodbines), Rayman must head out to the arena each day to compete in a series of trials - or as they used to be called in the old days, mini-games.
Trial and error
There are more than 70 of these in total and there's a wide variety of gameplay styles to choose from. Rhythm action fans will like the dancing games, where you must shake both the Wii remote and the nunchuk in time to high pitched cover versions of tunes such as Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. Rayman will follow your actions on screen, and if you mess it up he'll take a hit from one of the bunnies parading around the dancefloor.
Then there are sports-based games, such as Bunnies Only Fly Downwards. Here, you're tasked with guiding Rayman as he skydives through the clouds, using the nunchuk and Wii remote to guide him through a series of coloured rings. Yes, it's all a bit Pilotwings, and as a result it's good fun.
Cows play a big part in several of the games, such as the one where you have to whirl the remote above your head as if you're waving a lasso. Press the trigger and the cow on the screen will go flying, and you'll earn points according to how far away it lands.
In another game, you have to shake the remote up and down as fast as you can to milk a cow. There's also a game where you have to milk a pig, and probably some joke about Rebecca Loos to be had which currently and perhaps fortunately escapes us.
But for the most part, the games are all about bunnies. There's one game where a row of them are sitting on outdoor toilets, and the cubicle doors keep flapping open; it's your job to shut them again by aiming the remote and shaking the nunchuk. Another game sees you serving behind a beach bar, and you're tasked with spraying bunnies with carrot juice to fill up their scuba masks before they reach you. Obviously.
Many of the games offer a two-player option; some are turn-based, such as the one where you have to use the Wii remote to trace over a drawing on screen, and some can be played simultaneously, like the cow/pig milking games. There are also a few four-player games - we saw one where Rayman and three chums are sitting on curling stones on a patch of ice, and you have to get your character as close to the bull's-eye in the centre as possible.
As you might expect, it's multiplayer where the fun really begins. If you always wanted to know whether you can lob a cow further or milk a pig faster than your friend, here's your chance; and for even more fun, you'll want to try out the FPS-style mini-games.
Now, what with Rayman and Nintendo being involved here, you won't find yourself armed with a big fat AK-47, but a gun which shoots bathroom plungers that attach themselves to bunnies' heads. You also get a grappling hook which allows you to grab rabbits and use them as shields, or simply give them a black eye.
One game sees you strolling down the main street of a town in the old Wild West, being attacked by wave after wave of bunnies in cowboy hats and, later on, some kind of giant robot thing with lasers. There's also a game that the development team unofficially refers to as "the Doom map" - this time you're exploring a dank and dingy sewer-type environment, of course.
These games were probably the most enjoyable ones we played. The control system works well - you aim and shoot with the Wii remote, and reload by shaking the nunchuk. You also use the trigger on the nunchuk to release the grappling hook. It's very easy to get the hang of, it feels intuitive and there's a high level of accuracy with regard to what you're pointing at and what you see on screen.
And best of all, you can play all the shooting games with a friend. There's no split-screen here, just a single view, Time Crisis-style, and the player who scores the most hits wins the game. It may not be novel, but it's all done very well and it's highly entertaining.
However, not all the mini-games seem to be quite so much fun. For example, there's one where you have to use the Wii remote like a skipping rope for Rayman to jump over - and it's impossibly hard, seeing as what's happening on screen doesn't seem to bear any relation to your movements. In addition, there are some games which seem to be based more around luck than skill, and the novelty can wear off pretty quickly.
Speaking of novelty - there's certainly plenty of it here. Playing mini-games with the Wii remote and nunchuk really does offer a different experience for even the most hardened Mario Party fan. Generally speaking the controls are simple to use and understand, though littler kids might need the on-screen instructions explaining as they vary so much between the various types of mini-game.
Rayman Raving Rabbids is likely to appeal to grown-ups, too, particularly the overly competitive and/or drunk. It's unlikely to keep you hooked for hours if you're playing on your own but then neither is Bishi Bashi Special. RRR doesn't quite have Bishi Bashi's sense of humour, unfortunately; everything's a bit too wacky in a way that's a bit too obvious.
Having only played the Wii version, it's hard to tell how well the game will work on other consoles with traditional controllers. It's also hard to tell how well it will shape up against the other options for Wii-owning party game fans such as Wii Sports, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz and Wario Ware: Smooth Moves. But there's certainly a good variety of gameplay styles here and some real highlights, such as the FPS games. Check back soon for the full review...
Rayman Raving Rabbids for the Nintendo Wii is due out on 8th December.
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