Kill the rabbit.
Rayman Raving Rabbids 2 is a strange and sad case. A sequel to last year's absurdly entertaining original, it takes almost every imaginative application of the Wii remote first demonstrated there and devolves it into something analogous to a baby shaking a rattle. The common complaint against the original was based on the unfortunate failings of the multiplayer side of the game that, more often than not, forced players to take turns rather than play simultaneously. RRR2 has done much to redress those concerns, but in the process, the fundamentals of the gameplay have been simplified to a stultifying degree. The tone and absurdity of the rabbid scenarios remain as wickedly amusing as ever, but the gameplay fails to deliver the same degree of freewheeling satisfaction and imagination. The game is certainly not a disaster, but in the already over-crowded mini-game market on the Wii, there's little that makes RRR2 deserve attention.
Like the original, the game offers a basic setup to explain the game's premise: rabbids have invaded Earth with a fleet of flying submarines, and Rayman must save the world from them. The game opens quite promisingly with a beautiful rendered cut-scene that lays the whole thing out in three easy minutes. The tone is perfectly set with the rabbids' brain-dead looks unpredictably escalating into panicked yells and inexplicably random behavior. A scene of the rabbids in front of a giant TV playing random commercials and TV clips while watching in a slavish trance is a perfect encapsulation of the tonal and cultural send-ups that the game plays upon. The game's main menu screen is cleverly built around a mall corridor that dovetails perfectly with the deviously simple premise of deconstructing and satirizing modern culture.
When you begin the game you'll have to guide Rayman on a series of "trips" through different continents to save the world. Each trip consists of six mini-games that must be completed before a region can be considered cleared. Every trip can be played in easy or normal difficulty setting, with three new mini-games swapped in for each difficulty. Once you beat a trip, all of the mini-games will be available to use in building your own custom trip. In a nod to complaints about the poorly designed multiplayer in the first Raving Rabbids, all the trips can be played either solo or with up to four players. Being able to play the main campaign with friends is a great addition to the game and impressively unifies the basic strength of the mini-game design. This is a game meant to be played with friends with reckless abandon.
Unfortunately, the mini-games offered aren't nearly as entertaining as the premise that they're surrounded with. A disturbing majority of the fifty-plus mini-games are based around either shaking the Wii Remote or alternately shaking the Remote and Nunchuk (how many different games have you done that in by now?). One of the discrete charms of the original Rabbids game was the synchronicity between what players were asked to do with the Remote and what, consequently, happened in-game. If you were pulling worms from a tooth, you aimed at the worm with the Remote and pulled back. If you were guiding a marble through a maze, you titled the Remote to move the floor of the maze. If you were shooting carrot juice at frenzied rabbids, you pumped the juicer with the Nunchuk and fired the stream with the Remote's IR. It wasn't deep, but it made sense and was pleasantly rewarding in the brief sessions of gaming the title was designed around.
The sequel's core gameplay offers a far less connected sense of motion control. In one sequence, based on television's The Office, you shake the Remote as vigorously as possible to make Rayman freak out while the boss is in another room. When the boss re-enters the room, you have to stop shaking the Remote to avoid being caught. In another game, Rayman must throw paper wads at a teacher in a classroom by shaking the Remote up and down. When the teacher turns around, players use the IR to point at another student to deflect the blame. In yet another game, you're asked to take turns hitting a rabbid on an operating table until he is unconscious. Each consequent hit makes the rabbid sleepier, and the player to score the hit that sends the rabbid to dreamland wins the game. While there are some timing constraints, each of these games rely solely on who can shake the Remote one way or another and, the longer you play each one, the more you'll start to realize how fundamentally disconnected your gestures are from what's happening in-game.
There are a few other variations on motion control that hearken back to the original, including tilting the Remote to steer Rayman around a track during races. The same essential controls are used here, but tracks are now straightforward corridors with only mild curves and obstacles that tend to recycle every few seconds. Also returning are the on-rails shooter levels, unlocked at the end of each trip. Ubisoft Paris has taken a drastic turn with the art direction of the game here, opting to use actual video of real world environments as backdrops and layering the rabbids and their cartoonish vehicles in on top. This choice evokes the whimsy of older children's movies like Bedknobs & Broomsticks and The Muppet Movie with an endearing mix of the absurd bunnies and the real-life places where they have run amuck. Unfortunately, real world settings don't provide nearly the same level of environmental diversity as the 3-D rendered ones from the original. Instead of a constantly moving trip through an intricate level of blind corners and specifically designed geography, we're given bland walks in a straight line that quickly become formulaic. It's commendable that Ubisoft Paris was willing to take such a risk, but the result has needlessly weakened one of the best parts of the game.
Raving Rabbids 2 was clearly designed around multiplayer, and it's here that the game performs best. Being able to jump in and play the game at any point with another player is a great feature, and the random Remote shaking at the heart of the game is never more fun than when you're competing against another person. It's not an entertainment that will last, however, as, even in multiplayer, the formula of shaking as fast as you can for some vague and random purpose quickly becomes pointless. It's fun for a few games, but after twenty minutes of seeing whose arm can waggle faster, most players will tire of the formula.
Not all the mini-games are waggle-tastic dogs, however. One entertaining turn has players holding the Remotes to their mouths like a flute and then pushing the A, 1, or 2 buttons in time with on-screen prompts. Another happy invention is a Spider-Man-based game in which players chase a web-slinging rabbid, twisting their Remotes to line up their player with the air bound target to fire a missile. If you successfully knock the Spidey-rabbid out of the sky, you get to take his position and aim your web slinging with the same Remote twisting to avoid the missiles of other players.
Graphically, RRR2 is a bright and colorful game with some amusingly exaggerated animations to match the crazy unpredictability of the core concept. Underneath the glib art style, however, the game is rife with low-res textures, simple character models, and disappointingly plain environments. The original game wasn't exactly a technical powerhouse, and this sequel seems like a step back from its predecessor. Sound design matches the goofy theme of the game, with lots of unhinged rabbid screams and yelps, and some lively background music to accompany each game. You'll notice some themes repeat a little too frequently, though, and, generally, there's little in the music that you'll remember after you've turned your Wii off and moved on to something else (save the infectious banjo riff that plays at the end of every mini-game).
If you've played the original, Rayman Raving Rabbids 2 is a frustrating disappointment. It has done much to amend the multiplayer shortcomings of the first game and extended the absurdist hilarity of the rabbids to new territory. Unfortunately, the gameplay has been stripped of its modest nuance in favor of arbitrary Remote shaking and some tilt-steering around spartan racetracks. If you've never played a Rabbids game, you'll get a little more entertainment out of this one, if only for the pleasantly cheeky sense of humor. However, the repetitive and disconnected gameplay will eventually wear out even the most open-minded gamers. The inclusion of online leaderboards for each mini-game and an even more robust character customization feature can't do much to ameliorate the ridiculously repetitive gameplay. Coming out only a year after the original, RRR2 makes a good case against publishers rushing to release a sequel to a successful game on an annual basis. RRR2 has taken all the charm and thoughtful originality of the first game and reduced it to a catatonically simple formula that even the most ardent fan will find hard to enjoy for longer than a few hours.