The Rabbids seem to have a bit of a thing for console launches. Originally conceived as nefarious enemies that had captured Ubisoft's limbless protagonist Rayman, holding him captive and making him complete a daily onslaught of wacky mini-games for their entertainment, the strange space rabbits originally debuted at the launch of Nintendo's last console, the Wii back in 2006. With their trademark blend of toilet humour, slapstick violence and foghorn-like BWAAAAAAAHHHHHs proving ever popular with the wider audience, the zany Rabbids have set their invasion sights on Nintendo's newest home console, the Wii U, with their latest game, Rabbids Land, set to launch alongside the new system.
And as you may expect if you've played a Rabbids game before, Rabbids Land is a game that doesn't take itself too seriously. With the rambunctious Rabbids having taken over a theme park, the game is essentially a virtual board game, with players taking it in turns to pass the GamePad around, roll the dice, and move around the squares on the circular board, with each space they land on having a different outcome – some may give you an item you can use on your opponents, others may drop you into an impromptu quiz show, while others still may kick-start one of the game's many mini-games. For every mini-game you complete successfully, you'll be rewarded with a trophy, and the first player to amass ten trophies and make their way to the centre of the board will be declared the winner.
However, while the game itself supports up to four players, from what we've played so far, it appears the minigames themselves will only support two, with the person who managed to land on a mini-game square on the board, armed with the Wii U GamePad, taking on another player chosen at random, who wields a Wii Remote and Nunchuck. While leaving two players out of the action may seem a bit unfair, to it's credit Rabbids Land does make full use of the GamePad's unique features – Touch Screen, gyroscopes and more - giving the player with the GamePad a different view of the action to the player with the Wii Remote, and often a different kind of challenge altogether.
This "asymmetric" multiplayer is a feature Nintendo have been quick to promote about the Wii U - giving each player a different challenge - and it's something the very first minigame we played demonstrated quite well. As an homage to the fact that the Just Dance series began it's life as a mini-game in the original Rayman Raving Rabbids Wii game, the minigame was split into two parts, with the player with the Wii Remote having to copy the poses shown on screen as they moved from right to left, getting points for each correct stance, much like in Just Dance, while the player with the Gamepad held the controller in front of them, and had to use it to look around the ghost-train-like area, hovering over little circles that popped up in time with the music, getting points for each one they hit.
Channelling the spirit of Indiana Jones, the next game levelled the playing field somewhat, and saw the madcap bunnies dressing up as adventurers, who had to roll around a dimly lit temple atop a few boulders in a fight to the finish. Here, the player with the Wii Remote took control of three Rabbids, each standing on a green boulder, and had to tilt the controller to roll them around the area, while Mr. GamePad controlled a single, giant golden ball, and tilted the GamePad from side to side in an attempt to chase down the green Rabbids and, er, crush their balls. However, far from being an open area, the course was actually a small maze, with several entrances that were too small for the larger golden ball to fit through, giving the Wii Remote player a little escape route as they tried their best to survive till the timer ran out.
However, not all the games in Rabbids Land are crazy competitive trials, as some actually ask you to work together. One such game, and the final game we played, was set in the Tunnel of Love, and seems likely to be a huge hit with younger players. Faced with two rows of love struck Rabbids, it's up to you to pair the Rabbids together - but how do you know which ones are best suited for each other? After all, there are no dating sites for Rabbids, no hundreds of variables to try and help lonely Rabbids find the perfect partner. Instead, in the world of Rabbids, things are a lot simpler - all you had to do was lift up their skirt/shirt, and have a peer at the Rabbids pants. Lovely. With one player looking at the front of the Rabbid's pants, and the other the back, this mini-game was basically like a game of pairs, as you examined each Rabbid's pants, with a heavy reliance on co-operation. By which we mean it quickly boiled down to us shouting 'heart', 'sausage', and 'poo' at each other as we scrambled to match enough Rabbids before the timer ran out. Ah well. At least they seemed happy enough with each other.
But while the mini-games on offer are certainly fun, and there's plenty of trademark slapstick humour to be found, our main worry with Rabbids Land is one of longevity. With (apparently) only one simple, circular board to play on, compared to most Mario Party games' half a dozen, and a more limited selection of minigames, we're a tad concerned we'll have seen and done everything Rabbids Land has to offer in the space of a few games - especially as the board has no alternate routes and no crazy theming. Unlike Mario Party, the games aren't automatically triggered at the end of each round, either, with you instead having to wait for someone to land on the corresponding square to start a mini-game, and even then there's no guarantee you'll be taking part, as the games only seem to support two players – the problem being that watching your friends playing is nowhere near as fun as actually playing for yourself.
Either way, our concerns will be answered soon enough, as Rabbids Land hits stores alongside the Wii U next week, on the 30th of November. Having only been able to go hands-on for half an hour so far (still long enough to play through an entire game, though), and with most of the menu options initially locked off, we're remaining hopeful that Rabbids Land will have plenty of tricks waiting to be unlocked. We'll find out, come next Friday.