Rayman Raving Rabbids
Whilst Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog (despite the latter's more overly poor showing of late) have helped epitomise the platforming genre over the years, their dominance has been largely unthreatened. A myriad of characters have attempted to mimic their success over the years, but despite some respectful efforts, none have ever really come close to displacing the prowess of either Nintendo or Sega's most famous mascots. Ubisoft's Rayman is one such... thing who has kept plucking away at the hope of more widespread recognition, but his latest Nintendo DS outing isn't anywhere near one of his better chances.
Despite an identical name, Raving Rabbids on the DS settles for a return to Rayman's platforming routes rather than the mini-game madness that turned out to be quite a hoot at the Nintendo Wii's launch. In a storyline as insignificant as choosing a Diet Cola drink as part of a massively fattening fast food meal, the Rabbids have invaded Earth to capture Rayman because, for some untold reason, they hold a mighty grudge against him. Our hero's only chance of escape and freedom from his prison is to seek out a collection of trophies hidden across the game's levels, utilising a series of skills and abilities to further his quest. After proving himself worthy by collecting enough gold plated cups, Rayman's final challenge is a showdown with the evil Rabble Droid, leader of the Rabbids.
And so the journey begins, a trudge through a collection of uninspiring environments on an adventure that, ten minutes in, is already difficult to give a monkey's about. The 2D levels are displayed upon a 3D background, much in the same way as New Super Mario Bros, but unlike the plumber's latest effort which feels just as fresh as the original format did over 20 years ago, Raving Rabbids' design feels tired and generic from the off. All developers have the same options when it comes to the design of platforms and enemies, but it's clear from playing Rabbids that some are better at making these choices than others. Most levels feel like a sluggish romp from A to B, hopping, skipping and jumping to be transported at the end, from behind which a Rabbid inexplicably emerges each time to shout after you've disappeared.
Rayman's basic repertoire of manouvers includes a jump (with ear propulsion for extra distance) and the ability to fling his detachable fists at enemies to dispose of them. In addition, sets of extra skills are hidden throughout the game. By collecting suits of varying colours, a selection of super powers are bestowed onto Rayman, including the ability to throw flames, freeze water and perform telekinesis in order to coil up a spring below a platform that'll help you bounce to a high-up ledge.
These costume changes are employed in tandem with separate trophy-collecting levels that make use of the DS's touch screen. The top screen displays a rough map of the level, while the bottom screen has Rayman running along under control of the computer, leaving one hand free to use the stylus and the other to press one of the four face buttons to switch between the main character's special abilities. The idea is a clever one and certainly tasks the player to interact with the touch screen in a number of different ways, but the experience is spoilt by the responsiveness of the controls and the often-crowded nature of the 2D plains. Rayman is being chased by a group of Rabbids, putting you under pressure to nail each and every touch screen element as swiftly as possible, but a combination of the speed of the automatically side-scrolling level, the panic to switch costumes quick enough, and the diminutive spot the tip of the stylus must hit to avoid taking damage or having your path blocked, all but spoils the experience. The additional pressure of collecting trophies set upon multiple paths makes for a frustrating time, indeed.
Raving Rabbids isn't the prettiest of games either, and once again the Super Mario comparison is all but unavoidable. While New SMB brims over with character and charm throughout, Raving Rabbids' world is, for the most part, a drab and dreary sight to behold, smeared as it is in dowdy-looking hues throughout. Fuzzy character models, ugly jagged edges and stretched backdrops in which each individual pixel is clearly visible don't exactly exhibit much graphical polish either. The messy style could be representative of the title's art style, but to this reviewer's eyes at least, it's no Picasso.
Similarly, the in-game soundtrack is below par. Some of the tracks licensed in the Wii version of Raving Rabbids have been ported over, including the recognisable tunes of 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun', 'La Bamba' and the theme from Pulp Fiction, but unfortunately the quality is measurably lower. The DS' little speakers certainly don't aid the continuous barrage of tinny noise that accompanies Raving Rabbids throughout, and somebody needs to put an end to the earache-inducing noise of the Rabbids, too.
Rayman has the potential to be a super little platforming character, but he's always going to have a tough time in shouldering up to the genre's big boys. After the success of Raving Rabbids on Wii, Ubisoft could have had a good chance to replicate something along those lines on the DS, using the console's unique control scheme to create something worthy of merit. Unfortunately, they've taken the easier option of creating a hackneyed title with a series of touch screen controls tacked-on. It feels like there's only one thing left to say: better luck next time, Rayman.