T (minus) 4 Days

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King Endymion
There has to be a surprise game, and the one brought today just so happens to be one such game! We also have to have that third-party support ;) Without further ado, here we go!

Rayman Raving Rabbids: Impressions and Video
Rayman meets Gladiator and Wario Ware in this mini-game bonanza. Hands-on and direct-feed inside.
by Matt Casamassina

October 13, 2006 - Rayman Raving Rabbids is not a platformer. You will not be navigating your way through a stylized 3D world or jumping from object to object like you may have done in, say, Rayman 2. This new entry into the franchise represents a dramatic departure from the traditional Rayman play style. But we're asking you not to be a snob about it because yes, Raving Rabbids is completely different, but it also happens to be hilarious and fun. If you ignore it just because it's not a platformer, well, you'll be missing out on a great Wii launch title and passing over a game designed primarily to take advantage of Nintendo's system. If we're making you feel guilty, good -- because damn it, you should own this game.

Rayman Raving Rabbids comes from Michel Ancel and the Beyond Good & Evil team. It could accurately be called a compilation of mini-games and it could likewise be compared to Nintendo's own Wario Ware series. But to be fair, Ubisoft's title is much deeper than Nintendo's, serving up a collection of varied and off-the-wall challenges both more complex and more lasting than many of the over-as-soon-as-they've-begun offerings in the Big N's project. But even if the two were identical, Rayman Raving Rabbids would still have one major advantage, which is that it's coming out this year.

Although the title has been designed to be immediately accessible, it does feature a surreal back-story and a means to connect the mini-games, of which there are more than 70, according to Ubisoft. The game begins as Rayman has been captured by an evil race of bunnies. You've undoubtedly seen these ridiculously funny characters in the various videos and images the developer has already released, but for the individual who hasn't, these beings have been living underground for years and have come to the surface to take over. The bunnies are short, have bad teeth, and hate just about everything except for yellow submarines and dancing. Imprisoned and without many options, Rayman is forced to compete in a series of challenges for the entertainment of the bunnies. If he succeeds in these tests, he gains in popularity and earns plungers, which he can use to build a ladder that he can climb to escape his jail cell. You'll also unlock special costumes -- the big afro, anybody? -- that Rayman can wear.

The intricacies of this setup were unfortunately not available for demonstration in the latest build of the game, which is coming along rapidly. However, Ubisoft representatives did tell us that Rayman will compete in a number of challenges per day over a 12-to-15-day period. He enters a colosseum-like environment inspired by the movie Gladiator and from this arena you're able to choose several different mini-games, at which point the action begins.

Raving Rabbids has a great sense of humor. The bunnies in the game are so well-designed, animated, and voiced, that they have actually upstaged Rayman himself to become the spotlight of Ubisoft's marketing efforts for the title. The game revolves the inabilities of these crazy enemies, which scream in rage if they are interrupted while sitting on the toilet or if they happen to grab a banana instead of a plunger. Don't ask -- you'll find out what we're talking about when you get to sit down and play the various mini-games for yourself.

Let's get into some specifics, though. With 70-plus minis to choose from, Ubisoft could have accidentally favored quantity over quality and we'd be left with a robust, but thoroughly unenjoyable experience. Luckily, that's not what has happened. Instead, the majority of minis in Raving Rabbids are not only funny, but well thought out, making full use of Nintendo's controllers for immediately intuitive, but nevertheless skill-based selections. Some of these mini-games are decidedly easy.

For instance, in one stage, you simply twirl the remote in circles to spin a cow around a chain, and then tap the A button to release the animal, where it soars into the air while mooing and moaning. The better your swing and release, the farther it flies. In a seemingly simple, but somehow difficult mini, you have to use the controller for a game of jump rope. Sounds like a breeze, but in practice it's very much like patting your head and rubbing your belly -- and Ubisoft has done this intentionally just to mess with you. You twirl the rope by motioning counterclockwise circles with the Wii-mote and you make Rayman jump by gesturing quickly to the right with the nunchuk. Not cool. Although we pulled it off, we nearly had a seizure doing so. As if the task itself weren't brain-teasing enough, bunnies continually pop into the screen, peer at you and scream while you attempt it. Honestly, it's hard not to giggle at this stuff.

In Carrot Juice, another mini, your job is to stop an army of scuba-gear-wearing bunnies as they advance on your oceanfront cocktail stand. You have to pump carrot juice into their scuba masks, which fill up and drown the characters. To do this, you aim your carrot juice hose with the Wii-mote, which naturally offers pixel-perfect accuracy, and you pump up and down as fast as you can with the nunchuk, which controls the flow of your carrot juice. If you're quick, you'll be able to send a constant stream of juice at the enemies. If you're slow, you'll sputter carrot juice their way at random intervals. Ubisoft said nobody had lasted with the mini longer than three minutes and we understand why; your forearm actually grows tired. It's awesome and completely different because rarely has physical exertion been a factor in videogames -- but here we are. Incidentally, we lasted more than two minutes and then the bunnies got us.

In Bunnies Don't Give Gifts, one of the critters approaches Rayman with a box filled with dynamite and a lit fuse hanging out. Rayman has a very limited set of time to run the box around the island and give it to a faraway bunny, where it will, of course, explode. Rapid up and down motions on both the nunchuk and WIi-mote cause Rayman to run faster and faster. Simple, but enjoyable, and you can keep trying to beat your time.

Bunnies Don't Close Doors has been a favorite of ours since we first played it in New York. Several bunnies are in different outhouses and they are all trying to go to the bathroom. The problem is that the doors to these outhouses keep swinging open, at which point the clearly modest bunnies will scream and then throw a plunger at you. Nobody wants a plunger in the face, so it's best to keep those doors closed. You do it simply by pointing with the Wii-mote, grabbing the door with the A button and then slamming it shut. It's easier said than done, especially when multiple doors start sliding open. The game's crude humor is highly appealing to us.

Bunnies Have no Memory is more or less a game of Simon Says. Four bunnies on-screen cry, wail and sing different off-key notes and you have to repeat their outbursts perfectly. You merely point at a bunny with the Wii-mote and tap the A button to do it.

Bunnies Don't Use Toothpaste is a particularly gruesome mini-game. The scene zooms in on a bunny's grotesque mouth, whose broken teeth house protruding worms. When the worms squirm out of the bunny's teeth, they look at you and smile, and your only task is to aim at them with the Wii-mote, grab them with the A button, and snap back to pull them out. When you eventually mess up, the action zooms in even closer to the bunny's horrifying mouth and the critter screams in agony and rage.

In Bunnies Helped Tame the Wild West you journey through an on-rails first-person sequence shooting the enemies with plungers. The backdrop is, naturally, the wild west, despite the fact there are some random robots thrown in for good measure. Using the Wii-mote, you point and shoot. You can tap a button on the nunchuk to rocket out a grappling hand, which latches onto bunnies and pulls them -- squirming and screaming -- to Rayman. And to reload your plunger gun you just shake the nunchuk.

In yet another mini, Rayman flies atop this giant bird and the objective is to soar around the island in search of pigs. Flying is done with the Wii-mote and feels very natural. You hit the A button to extend the bird's claws and latch onto a pig. And from there your goal is to drop the pig in a nearby pen. When we played, we were challenged to grab three pigs before the time ran out and always nabbed only two -- we still don't know where that last sucker was hiding.

All of the above mini-games played flawlessly, but there others were clearly still unfinished. For instance, in one game, the action was designed to mimic the fundamentals of smack-a-mole, but with bunnies instead. As they critters popped out of holes in a garden and looked around, you were meant to smack them on the head and send them packing. But the Wii-mote ran into some sensor issues and we were unable to try it. In one final mini, we saw a beat-up bunny with bandages and bruises, and our Wii-mote was supposed to control an on-screen hammer. We could never get it to work.

Despite these minor issues, we walked away from the game convinced that -- whether or not it's a traditional platformer or not -- it's going to be fun and funny. Plus, with its various multiplayer modes and huge selection of minis, it's bound to be one of the better games at launch for two or more players.

Just as it's done with Red Steel, Ubisoft has utilized the Wii hardware with Rayman and created beautiful and very stylized environments that are backed up by strong graphic technology. Lush, colorful beaches mingle with dark, rainy, gritty backdrops, just as the cute bunnies pop into environments with creepy statues and robots. Rabbids runs at 30 frames per second and supports progressive-scan and 16:9 widescreen modes.

We've posted a handful of direct-feed Rayman videos in our media section and we'll have even more next week. Don't hesitate to check them all out to see for yourself why we're so excited about the game.

(I had to give at least one review/preview to the folks at IGN...))
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