The only game this fall that lets you shout the clothes of Santa Claus is a platformer without a jump button, a mix of Katamari Damacy and Mario, and another strong third-party original for the Wii.
You are not a plumber. You are not prince. You are not even Rayman in the Rabbids Go Home, the new single-player action game starring three bunnies (one of which lives in your Wii Remote) and a shopping cart. The raving Rabbids are making their fourth annual Wii outing since seemingly hijacking Ubisoft's Rayman platforming series, turning it into a party game series, and now making it a platformer again — sans Rayman.
Who would be clamoring for this? Welll, do you like Looney Tunes? Do you want to run a shopping cart over someone's dinner? And do you see many other platformers from which to choose?
Screaming Absurdity: From start to finish this is a game that tastefully borders on bad taste, making it perfect for 11-year-old boys and anyone who wants to feel like one. We've got a level-based action game that stars some maniac rabbits, who think that they can steal enough junk from human civilization to build a pile that will reach the moon. To do this, they (you) are wheeling two Rabbids and their shopping cart through shopping malls, airports and hospitals, among other locales, frequently pressing an attack button which emits a Rabbid yell that blows all but the underwear off any people in the Rabbids' way. This includes Santa Claus, who drops not just his red suit but cheeseburgers for the Rabbids to horde. Not just nurses, air traffic controllers and other people who lose not just their clothes but — from almost all of them! — a bottle of soda. Even old people get stripped to their underwear.
Yes, you are even yelling the clothes of old people who are slumped in their wheelchairs with an IV drip above their slouched heads. But you only do that after you yell the gowns off hospital patients in their sick bed, then you bounce off their bellies to vault the Rabbids and cart over walls. Do the patients mind? Actually, they pray out loud a thanks to the lord for giving them this "trial." The guys from whom you snatch their dogs whine for the ASPCA. The people on the plane that's taking off while your Rabbids remove an engine from its wing don't say anything — but hopefully they made it! I'd be troubled by some of this if it wasn't all portrayed as slapstick cartoon comedy where no one gets hurt. Remember when more games made joyfully this little sense?
The Good Kind Of Simple: This is indeed a platformer without a jump button. A Wii Remote and Nunchuck are used, but the inputs are simple. You steer and speed up as one Rabbid pushes and the other rides in the shopping cart. You drive them into all this human stuff so they can collect it into an ever-changing tower of junk in the cart. You've got a pair of attacks, and that's about it as a default. Though it is in vogue for the stat-upgrading influence of role-playing games to infiltrate other genres through the likes of Borderlands or Ratchet and Clank, Rabbids Go Home stands with the Marios in keeping the default characters little changed throughout the game.
The novelty in games like these is in how each level is shaped. In a rare return to quality 3D platforming (played from fixed camera perspectives), most levels present the evolving challenges of exploring and careening through halls of malls and hospital rooftops, trying to collect the most items, not fall off tilting platforms, bashing a few enemies and accelerate off many a jump ramp, before reaching a large item at the end to add to the pile. Like a good Mario game, Rabbids Go Home will offer a break. Maybe a level produces an item that temporarily allows the Rabbids to jump after all. Some levels turn out to be a fun mix of inner-tube slaloms and a sort of upside-down-Plinko. A few are simply chases along a roadway to catch a truck carrying a cow.
The Lunatic Fringes: There is much in the periphery of this game that's odd, but welcome. The soundtrack, for example, is decades' old, offering such non-modern hits as John Denver's "Leaving on a Jet Plane" or the relaxing Calyspo song "Jamaica Farewell," which can calm nerves during nervous narrow rooftop dashes. Other oddities include the ability to torture and deform the Rabbid living in your Remote (remember I mentioned borderline bad taste?). You can use this little guy as a projectile in levels. But he or his friends can be shaken in the Remote and then entered into online fashion contests administered by Ubisoft through the game's Rabbids Channel. That separate Channel can be installed to your Wiii dashboard and accessed without the game, allowing you to keep up on which mad entries people have made for, say, the most Halloween-appropriate Rabbid.
Hapless Hub: Continuing an often-irrelevant tradition, Rabbids Go Home has a hub world, a small city that includes doorways to five batches of stages. It's unclear why the designers thought the player should access a hub before getting to one of five lists of levels they might want to access and play. Let's say you lose interest in the levels in the current menu and want to try some earlier ones. You have to return to the city and head over to the doorway that will bring your Rabbid to another list of levels. Given the lack of original and interesting things to do in the city, it feels like a time-waster.
The Less Good Kind Of Simple: Rabbids Go Home is easy. Maybe that's for the 11-year-old boys. Your busy reviewer won't complain about a game he could casually dip into each night this week, laugh at a lot and proceed through with few lives lost. But if you grumble when games are easy and don't consider returning to levels to find every hidden item the way to get your money's worth, then this game might not be your thing.
Rabbids Go Home mixes the inanity of a good Saturday morning cartoon, the fluid movement of a Mario game (as good as you can get without the jumping), the collecting of ridiculous human stuff of Katamari Damacy and winds up serving a fun, easy comedy.
The game looks and sounds good, and, best of all, surprises with its warped sense of humor. It's another strong Wii game from a non-Nintendo company, adding to what's become an eclectic shelf of small 2009 Wii gems alongside Dead Space Extraction, House of the Dead: Overkill and Deadly Creatures. And this one doesn't even have "dead" in the title.
(Rabbids Go Home was developed by Ubisoft Montpellier and published by Ubisoft for the Wii on November 1. Retails for $49.99 USD. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played to the end, helping the Rabbids approach the moon and liberating the clothes from hundreds of skinny, dopey cartoon humans.)
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