Released alongside the launch of the Nintendo Wii, Rayman Raving Rabbids took Ubisoft's mascot platformer hero, Rayman, and shoved him into a world filled with bizarre minigames and evil, screeching bunnies. Not that the Wii launch was hurting for minigame collections, but Raving Rabbids was a success, simply because it combined its hilariously strange characters and the Wii's motion sensing technology into a highly playable and goofily enjoyable game. Now, mere weeks after the Wii release, Raving Rabbids has made its way to the PlayStation 2. This is still very much a minigame collection, but all the motion sensing controls have been replaced with the PS2's analog sticks and trigger buttons. The result is a more conventional series of minigames that succeed in spite of the control shift, due almost entirely to the still hilarious personality of those nasty rabbids.
It might have Rayman in the title, but the real stars of the show are the adorably bizarre raving rabbids.
The Wii version of Raving Rabbids opened with a cutscene depicting the armless Rayman enjoying a picnic with his friends, the globoxes, only to have it interrupted by a group of burrowing rabbids that subsequently kidnap the globoxes and force Rayman to compete in a series of gladiatorial events. For some reason, however, the PS2 version skips this introduction altogether, eschewing context in favor of tossing you into the mix basically blind. There wasn't much of a story to begin with, but not getting a proper introduction to a mode known as "story mode" is a little odd.
The gladiatorial battles consist of many, many minigames. Every single minigame in Raving Rabbids has you using some combination of analog stick movements and button presses to perform completely insane tasks. Trying to list them all would be an exercise in excess. To toss out a few ridiculous examples, one game tasks you with drawing over an outlined image on the screen, which then creates some kind of food for a hungry rabbid, like a can of sardines, or perhaps a baseball; another is basically a game of whack-a-mole, where several rabbids sit inside multiple bathroom stalls, and you have to repeatedly move the pointer back and forth across the screen, tapping the right analog stick to close the stall doors; yet another is a Dance Dance Revolution-style musical sequence where you use the R2 and L2 buttons to hit in time as various bunnies dance onto the stage and hit timed markers; and another still is a hammer-throw minigame where you spin the left analog stick around, while onscreen, Rayman violently spins a cow--not a hammer--around and around, attempting to time the release to hit the playing field and gain as much distance as possible.
All these same games appeared in the Wii version of Raving Rabbids, but they employed the more tactile movements of the Wii Remote and Nunchuk instead of buttons and analog stick movements. This is a game in which motion controls are definitely the preferred control method. It's not that the PS2 controls are bad, but they're just not as engaging. For instance, in the dancing minigame you simply use the R2 and L2 buttons to time the hits, which makes the game really easy, even on the harder difficulty levels. Other games, such as the whack-a-mole bathroom game, are a touch hard to deal with, simply because you have to try to move a cursor back and forth between the different stall doors. With the Wii, the movement was quick, but here it's markedly slower, and it's a bit unwieldy when you're trying to stop on a specific door. And any game that has you quickly moving the analog sticks up and down is borderline broken, simply because these games can sometimes last an awfully long time for the quickness required, and it's not hard to end up losing the rhythm because you accidentally moved the stick too far to the right or left. Basically, it feels like this game wasn't designed with analog sticks and buttons in mind. Even if the Wii version had never been released, the control interface presented here wouldn't translate especially well with the way these minigames are designed. The good news is that the games are still generally fun, but you definitely lose something in translation.
As fun as the minigames are, the comedy of the game is what sells it--and this aspect remains just about as good as ever on the PS2. The rabbids themselves are almost exclusively responsible for this, as they are, without a doubt, hysterical. They're adorably designed, with their dumb stares, high-pitched shrieks, and a penchant for taking comedic bumps. For some reason, they're totally obsessed with plungers and will often use them as a weapon against you. The best parts of the game, both from a gameplay perspective and a comedy perspective, are the first-person rail-shooting missions that take more than a few cues from on-rails light gun games like The House of the Dead and Time Crisis. Each stage is themed after one thing or another, like an Old West ghost town or a creepy cemetery, and the bunnies often take after these scenes, coming after you with cowboy hats and plunger six-shooters, for example. Or, sometimes, the bunnies just go in totally random directions, like the Splinter Cell-styled bunnies that sneak around, wearing Sam Fisher's token night-vision goggles. All the while, you're guiding an aiming reticle and firing off plungers at advancing rabbids. The one odd thing is that it seems like the ability to grab bunnies and use them as shields against oncoming plunger attacks has been nixed in the PS2 version, which is unfortunate, since that was a fun mechanic. Overall, though, these sequences are a great bit of fun, even if they do repeat a few of the same gags a few too many times.