I find Nintendo hardware to be fascinating, primarily because it always seems to turn out… bonkers. The Nintendo Entertainment System, for instance, is considered “normal” today because it singlehandedly revived an entire industry. It was also a video game system packaged with two controllers, a gun, a robot, and a game that featured an Italian plumber fighting a colossal, spiked turtle. Divorce yourself from the fact that thirty years of koopa troopas have made that sound mundane, and consider what an incredible risk that had to have been at the time. Similarly, the Gameboy was designed with battery life in mind, so, after, thirty years of color televisions, Nintendo decided that everyone would be cool with portable games displayed in a single shade of pea-green with a resolution that seemed to be a step below a Tiger game watch. And both systems succeeded! If you want the answer to, “why is Nintendo so weird?” you’re looking at it. Ideas that would never get past a single focus group nowadays literally revolutionized gaming for decades, so the company may be forgiven for taking a few more risks along the years.
That isn’t to say that Nintendo has always run the sportsball into the goalzone, though. For every Nintendo DS, there is a Virtual Boy. For every Super Nintendo, there is the N64. And for every Wii, there’s… the Wii.
The Wii was the undisputed champion of its generation when it came to sales, and it sold enough consoles to guarantee everyone, from toddlers to grandmas, had a Wii in their room. I personally wound up buying a Wii four out of five consecutive years: the first for myself, a year later a gift for a girlfriend, the following year for a parent, and, finally, two years later, another for a friend. I want to say that I’ve never bought another console twice for any reason other than hardware failure, and even then it was begrudgingly after years of putting it off (RIP original Dreamcast, you were too good for this world/Soul Calibur). And I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one.
But if the Wii failed in any way, it was with its library. To be clear, there are a number of amazing Wii games, and some, like Super Mario Galaxy (1 and/or 2), I’d rank as “best games forever and ever (all systems through the end of time division)”. However, the Wii had a sort of… problem with appealing to the people actually using the Wii. That girlfriend I mentioned? I think she played Wii Sports and Mario Party, and that was it. Wii Sports and Wii Fit were the draw for some of the older crowd, but other games that seemed especially tailored to that demographic (like Wii Music or Wii Play) didn’t hold the same appeal. Meanwhile, the “gamer” demographic wanted some of the hard hitting “next gen” action that was appearing on the Wii’s rivals… and somehow Wiiers were supposed to be content with Castlevania Judgment. Heck, even something traditional and fun like Tatsunoko vs. Capcom was marred by a controller that was never meant to support a fireball motion.
This was a problem from the system’s launch, so it’s hard to imagine what it must have been like to be a developer for the upcoming “Nintendo Revolution”. One such developer was Ubisoft, who, as the story goes, was working on another “normal” Rayman platformer. The rabbids had been designed as Rayman’s latest antagonist, but, beyond that, it looked like we were in for another typical Rayman adventure (I’ll assume you’ve played Rayman 2 at some point, as it has somehow been ported to every system ever created). But when the developers got their hands on a Wii development kit, things took a turn for the… bonkers.
Much like Wii Sports, Rayman Raving Rabbids decided to take full advantage of the possibilities of the wiimote. It seems mundane now, but the Wii’s innovative control methods opened a number of new gameplay doors. Did anyone ever enjoy a bowling videogame before Wii Bowling? Never! But now here’s grandpa, begging for a controller. Tennis hadn’t seen any real advances since the Pong days, but Wii Tennis made you feel like you were part of the game. There’s an amazing, alternate history of the Wii where every game was as groundbreaking as Wii Sports, and Rayman Raving Rabbids made a desperate grab for that future with… slamming outhouse doors?
Okay, maybe RRR isn’t that great.
But what’s important is the mad, almost ADD inspired creativity on display in this game. For instance, one of the most mundane games is a simple jump rope challenge: shake the wiimote with proper timing to jump over a rope, and… that’s it. It’s jump rope. It’s also jump rope in a graveyard hosted by a pair of aggravated gargoyles. That makes things more interesting! There are shooter segments that work like a combination FPS/shooting gallery, and you’re blasting rabbids, robots, and the occasional superbunny with plungers. Simon says involves erratically croaking rabbids, and the rhythm challenge dance-offs are slightly more… 70’s than you might expect. There might be an overemphasis on toilet-humor and sheer “omg so random” here, but you can never say this game’s stylistic choices are boring.
Really, that seems to be what’s important about Rayman Raving Rabbids: it’s not boring. It’s a collection of minigames, and a great deal of those minigames amount to “shake at the right time” or “aim” or some other typical task, but the “what’s going to happen next” spurns the player on to see what’s on the horizon. It’s all very… weird, but that weird works in a lot of ways, making this an ideal party game or just something to experience alone. It certainly allows you to feel the magic a lot more than… Feel the Magic XY/XX.
And, in that way, I feel like Rayman Raving Rabbids is the perfect encapsulation of the Wii, even more so than Wii Sports. Wii Sports deliberately appealed to the casual crowd, the people that intuitively understand how to toss a bowling ball as opposed to a hadouken. Meanwhile, Rayman Raving Rabbids appealed to a much smaller percentage of people, a group of people that are easily entertained by screaming bunnies. That… might not be the ideal audience, or even exactly the kind of person the Wii was meant for; but that was the spirit of the Wii, that this new controller could revolutionize an industry that had stagnated on buttons and control sticks, and something new was always possible. Yes, that something new might involve rabbids milking cows, but, hey, we’ve already had plenty of games without milking, I wouldn’t mind seeing a few fresh takes on those udders.
Nintendo is going to keep producing consoles that appear to be bonkers, and it’s entertaining when we get a game that follows that same thinking.
FGC #143 Rayman Raving Rabbids
- System: Nintendo Wii. There are also a ton of ports to other systems, because Ubisoft doesn’t know how to leave well enough alone. I’m not even listing the other consoles, because, come on.
- Number of players: Four, right? This was an early enough Wii game that I don’t think I ever got it going with a full compliment because I hadn’t yet acquired enough Wiimotes. Remember when they were really hard to find? Ah, the good ol’ days of system launches.
- So, did you beat it? Yes, and I want to say it’s the only Rayman Rabbids game I ever 100% completed. It’s amazing how “new and interesting” can become “instantly boring” when a new game is released every year. See also: Katamari Damacy, Assassin’s Creed.
- Favorite Minigame: Sheep shearing. It’s just original enough to be new, but still straightforward enough to be easily understood. And it serves a valuable, wooly purpose!
- Did you know? Michael Ancel created the original design for the iconic Rabbids and began production on the “original” incarnation of this game, but, by the time it was released, he was only credited with character design. So, yes, Rayman Raving Rabbids went through a lot of changes during production.
- Would I play again: I was surprisingly amused while replaying this game, and I almost want to try it again soon… but, on the other hand, after all the Rabbid sequels, I kind of never want to see these creatures again. So… maybe?
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Under the Skin for the Playstation 2! Yes, it’s the game where you try your best to be as annoying as a skin rash. Please look forward to it!