E3 07: Rayman Raving Rabbids 2 Preview

In our previous coverage, we learned the basics about what sort of hideous malformed animal Ubisoft plans to yank from its hat with Rayman Raving Rabbids 2. At this year's E3, we went hands-on with the newly unveiled Nintendo DS version, featuring entirely unique mini-games, and got details on five new mini-games from the Wii version, including the Rock Band-esque music segments.

Ubisoft made the first Raving Rabbids on the DS a platformer, but the new portable version resembles the wild party game format of the original console versions as well as the Wii sequel. That doesn't mean the company is taking half the games from the Wii version and porting them sloppily to Nintendo's portable--none of the 36 mini-games on the DS version of Raving Rabbids 2 appear in the Wii version. Ubisoft created original games to make use of the DS' touchscreen and microphone. Even the Rabbid character customization module on the DS gives players the option to draw directly on their Rabbids--a feature not present in the Wii version--and save their custom carrot-catures.

The increased emphasis on multiplayer of the Wii version will remain in the handheld hare-fest, as 80% to 90% of the mini-games will feature single-cart sharing for between two and four players. The infamous music levels from Raving Rabbids will now make an appearance on the DS version, with five to six songs adapted for mini-game play. Called Rabbid Bands, the music mode has players touch notes as they pass a bar at the bottom of the screen, occasionally holding the stylus on the note and moving with it back up to the top of the screen when indicated a la Elite Beat Agents.

In all three of the mini-games I played, Ubisoft rendered the loveable lagomorphs fairly well. While not masterpieces, the 3D bunnies and their environments looked about as good as most character models in newly released DS games. The two non-music games I played featured fairly simple gameplay--McBunnies had me match the food item presented on the top screen with one of the four on the bottom screen, while Weird Mood required frantic stylus action through dragging correctly colored packages to a bunny's absorbent brain. As you can imagine, neither of the games were terribly original, so hopefully Ubisoft will work in some unusual gameplay elements to spice things up a bit.

Ubisoft demoed five new mini-games for me from Rayman Raving Rabbids 2 on the Wii, including the revamped music minigame. A rendition of Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" played by a washboard-toting, jug-blowing band of backcountry Rabbids, the level featured vastly improved gameplay from the music levels of the first Raving Rabbids. As much as I liked a few of the songs from the predecessor, shaking Wii-mote and Nunchuk alternately or simultaneously over and over to Rabbid dance numbers got tiring. This new version supports up to four players with a Rock Band-like choice of guitar, drums, keyboards or vocals. The premise is similar to the first Raving Rabbids music segments, but the different instruments require movements and beats specific to their play style, for the most part. Between standard segments of shaking the Wii-mote or Nunchuk in time with symbols floating down the screen, the game may require Rabbid musicians to repeat some of those strenuous running or twirling motions with the Wii controllers. My taste of the music segment left me with the feeling that Ubisoft has definitely improved upon the formula, but still hasn't improved on it enough to make even one session feel entirely engrossing.

Out of the other mini-games I tried, I had the most fun with what an Ubisoft rep described as the Rabbids' interpretation of American football. It was essentially what young children innocently refer to as "smear the queer," with one football-toting Rabbid trying to keep the ball from the others. The Nunchuk's analog stick controlled a Rabbid's running, and shaking the Wii remote made the characters dive viciously at the ball-bearing bunny. A laundry washing game and a swimming game both invovled fairly predictable Wii motions, and an office minigame was essentially a variation on "red light, green light."

The on-rails shooting levels of the first Raving Rabbids will return in the sequel as well, though I didn't get to go hands on with any. Regarding customizable Rabbids, Ubisoft said they hope to give players the ability to save their custom Rabbids on the Wii remotes internal memory as is done with Mii avatars. I played all the way through the original Raving Rabbids, mainly due to the lack of playable Wii launch titles, but the meaty multiplayer modes in the sequel may force me to give Rayman's cugly (cute and/or cuddly plus ugly) friends another chance.

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Ubisoft's Rayman Raving Rabbids 2 on Wii and DS will arrive in stores November 15.