I suppose if I'm to be completely honest about things; I've never really been a fan of the Rayman series. My first exposure to Rayman was on a Dreamcast demo disk (remember those?) and like all platformers, it's all hit or miss with me. Mario, Spyro, Banjo? Oh yes! Ape Escape, Sonic, Conker, Rayman? No thanks. And Jakk and Ratchet all seem to depend on the outing. Needless to say, playing a new Rayman game wasn't up there on my list of things to do, but as with all things Wii-lated, things have a tendency to be a little different on Nintendo's new console. And luckily, Rayman Raving Rabbids is not a platformer at all, but an excellent mini/party game collection that places the Rabbids center stage while Rayman takes a back seat.
Rayman Raving Rabbids (RRR) is a collection of 70-odd mini games that will force you to use the Wii remote and Nunchuck in various new and clever ways not unlike the Wii's other mini/party game collection; Warioware. The biggest difference between the two is simply that while RRR contains fewer games, they are generally much longer (minutes compared to seconds) and generally have more depth to them. To get anywhere in RRR, you'll need to play the game's story mode which follows the misadventures of Rayman as he is ambushed during a picnic and forced to partake in a Gladiator-like series of trials in order to collect enough plungers to escape his prison (and rescue his Globox friends). Each day, Rayman will be summoned from his cell (where you can replay past games, check out the music player, change into unlocked costumes, etc) and made to take part in four games (you need to pass three of the four to move on - thank God) before attempting the day's "boss" battle. Each game has a detailed explanation of its rules and controller actions, so there's nothing to ever fret over really except for two games of which are mind-numbingly frustrating. More on that later.
Completing games in story mode then unlocks each to be played in Score Mode. In this mode, you can play through each game over and over in an attempt to gain enough points to unlock some pretty funny movies and well as post your high scores unto an internet leaderboard. Since the Wii has online capabilities, it seems a little ridiculous to have to go to these lengths, but I'm sure die-hard fans (and hardcore competitors) will oblige. After a game is unlocked for Score Mode, it is also available to play in multiplayer mode (up to four players), but the multiplayer aspect is not as engaging as could've been. While it is fun to play certain games (rail-type, shooters, etc) cooperatively, there are also games that must be played in turn and only a few adversarial games where the console will be shared at once. Still, it's fun to take turns (and compare scores) for the simple reason that you can get a better picture of what is happening and what needs to be done in each game.
The mini-games themselves (along with the wacky Rabbids and the ever-present twisted humor found throughout the game) are truly what elevate Rayman Raving Rabbids beyond the typical party game. The games are, for the most part brilliant, clever and fun. The best involve Dance Dance Revolution-like dancing (or drumming as the case is here), an on-rail shooter (a la House of the Dead) which lasts quite a bit and is infinitely replayable, cow tossing (I always knew there was a market for good ol' fashion cow tossin') and the frantic water-pumping/running games which are not only physically engaging, but which are excellently implemented. In the water-pumping game you will need to pump water with one hand to fill a reservoir so you can shoot approaching Rabbids in the face with enough precision to fill their water masks and have them sink. While it may sound odd (because it really is) it's also a lot of fun and even my wife had a blast playing these games (she was even better than me at the rail-shooters!).
There are obviously a few other games that, while cleverly implemented, just aren't as engaging as the aforementioned. One of these involves extracting worms from rotting teeth, while another has you drawing shapes (with a giant magic marker) in order to feed a hungry Rabbid. There are also two games, as mentioned earlier, that are just pure frustrating to play. One involves opening toilet stalls (with Rabbids behind them) which you must shoot in order to keep the Rabbids away. While this should prove fun, this particular game feels broken and it's only through sheer dumb-luck that it was passed. The second game involves balancing a marble (like those plastic handheld versions) through a maze using the Wii Remote. The controls are fine, the game is fine, but the catch is that you have a few holes to navigate around and you're on a very short time limit. Again, this was finally passed using sheer dumb luck after countless attempts. I only point these two out since every other game feels like skill can pull you through, or at least using your head. These two examples however, prove that it only takes persistence, luck and lots of patience, something that a few may lack in the face of constant failure. For all this negative talk however, it should be mentioned that for every one annoying game, there are technically thirty-five others which are great.
Graphically, Rayman Raving Rabbids is surprisingly well put together. There are always a handful of things happening on the screen at once (some there simply to distract you) and each one feels colorful, well animated and fun to watch. On the Wii, there are actually few games as striking as RRR and while it may not hold up against the other next-gen consoles, as a Wii title it serves it's purpose nicely. I doubt anyone will be playing RRR for the graphics anyway. In the sound department we have the same story, with a very fitting and strong audio presentation, but one that is simply there to highlight the games and not detract from them. A note on the presentation should not be complete without mentioning again the twisted sense of humor found throughout RRR and a nod of praise to the development team for succeeding in bringing life (and personality) to the Rabbids. Maybe we can see a new franchise starting from this; one which hopefully doesn't include Rayman himself.
In the end, what every Wii owner has clearly come to expect from their games is a clever and fun use of the hardware and the controllers. In this respect Rayman Raving Rabbids succeeds admirably and even manages to deliver a game which can be (much like Wii Sports) enjoyed by almost anyone who plays it. A great compilation of mini-games, some of which have actual depth, and an infectious sense of frenzy and humor make this an easy recommendation for anyone looking for a Wii title that will flaunt and justify their new hardware purchase.