Review: Rabbids Land (Wii U)

Worth your launch day carrots?

The inaugural Rabbids game was a launch title for the Wii back in 2006, so it seems only fitting that Wii U should have its own outing with the furry little hellions right from the get-go in Rabbids Land. This time around the action is presented in the context of a digital board game, like Mario Party, and while the actual board game component feels half-baked, the mini-games are fun. With the right group of people, Rabbids Land is too.

The board game frame for Rabbids Land is about as simple as can be. Your goal is to travel around the board, racking up trophies and making it back to the centre once you've acquired 10 (or 20, if you like) of them. You roll a die on your turn, choose which path to take if more than one is possible, and land on a square. Depending on your luck, that square will net you another roll, a present (power-up) or the spin of a wheel to trigger board-shifting events. It could also let you play trophy roulette, lose a trophy on the spot, answer a quiz question, or — saving the best for last — whisk you and another Rabbid away to a mini-game.

Note that that's "Rabbid" in the singular, because while Rabbids Land is a four-player game, all of the mini-games are actually one-on-one, so only two people play at a given time. Benched players don't have to sit around for too long, and in the right atmosphere it can be fun to cheer and jeer from the peanut gallery, but the lack of any attractions that involve everyone at once is still disappointing. On the flip side, this means that hardware requirements for the game are happily modest: the GamePad and a single Wii Remote and Nunchuk combo can carry all four players.

Making up somewhat for the one-on-one limitation of the mini-games are the Quiz spaces, which let one player answer a pub quiz-style question, all adorably relating to the esoteric habits and properties of "Humans". At the same time, the other three get to pass around the Wii Remote and bet whether the first player's answer (visible on the TV) was correct or not. A right answer nets two trophies, but a winning bet also nets one, so everyone's in on the action.

On the whole, there's nothing terribly compelling about the board game side of Rabbids Land. While it works, it's definitely not anything you'd play in real life. But it exists mostly as a vehicle for delivering the mini-game goodness the series is known for, and here Rabbids Land does not disappoint.

There's a good variety in the games on offer here, and the best of them are a blast. One of our favourites is Star Cheap Discovery, which features what is undoubtedly the dopest lagomorph-themed club anthem you're likely to hear in 2012. For the Wii Remote and Nunchuk-wielding Rabbid, it plays like a rhythm game: shake the Nunchuk and Remote when Rock Band-style cues light up the left or right sides of your space cruiser, respectively. Successfully catching the cues on beat will send out flames from the back of your car, which the GamePad player — tethered to the bumper — has to avoid wakeboard-style by tilting the controller. It's a creative combo that's fun for both players, and the intergalactic setting and unexpected auto-tuned accompaniment is a treat.

Another standout is In The Nile, Crocodile, which has one player spinning around in place to deflect incoming Rabbids to safety with a satisfying splat from the GamePad's screen, while the other player bats them skyward with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk. There are also a couple of fun and genuinely nail-biting variations on the cops-and-robbers-style mini-game trope: Gift of Taking has a GamePad thief with an overhead view trying to lift goods undetected by the security camera-controlling second player, and The Pirate's Precious Jewels sees the GamePad player sneaking around collecting jewels with night vision while the second player tries to catch them red-handed using a lantern.

There are 19 mini-games in total, and while there will probably be a few you could do without, for the most part they're quite fun. All of them use the GamePad's unique configuration in some way, too. You'll find yourself blowing in the microphone to send penguin-suited Rabbids hurtling towards a second player's boat, tilting the pad like a wood maze to direct Rabbids towards gems before they're crushed by your opponent's Raiders of the Lost Ark-esque boulder, and tracing a path on the touch screen to guide a lit fuse towards as many boxes of fireworks as possible. All the mini-games you've played in the main Trophy Race board game can also be played in Free Play mode with one or two players, or in a Treasure Hunt mode made for one.

This brings us to an important caveat with Rabbids Land: it's unequivocally meant to be played with friends, and doesn't hold water as a single-player experience at all. Treasure Hunt lets you play mini-games and collect tokens to unlock videos (worth it!), but you'll need to unlock them in the board game mode first, and that just isn't much fun by yourself. When playing alone, there's no option to skip or speed up the three computer-controlled Rabbids' turns, and though you're spared having to watch the AI compete against itself in mini-games, it's still a long wait between your turns; put-the-kettle-on long. The ability to bet on other Rabbids' quiz responses is also inexplicably removed for single-player, which means there's even less to do when you're not up to bat. One plus is that you can play the solo modes entirely on the GamePad, so at least you can watch some TV while you're waiting for 'Rabbid 2' to hurry up and roll the dice, but this doesn't change the fact that the game simply isn't very much fun for one.

The second potential problem is that there's not a whole lot of depth to it. With a group of friends you'll have a good time, but after you've seen all the mini-games, not much changes from round to round. There's only one board, and while the presents can switch things up a bit, the scenery and trappings always stay the same. Still, most of the mini-games hold up to repeat play, so the replay value of this game comes down to you and your friends, and what you're looking for. After a few playthroughs, Rabbids Land is more likely to be background entertainment than the main event at a couch-side get-together. That's not necessarily a criticism; it's surprisingly perfect to pop in when you're already sitting around talking. The mini-games only occupy two people at a time and the action in-between is low key enough that you don't need to have your eyes glued to the TV to stay in the game. Whether that sounds like a good time or not will depend on your individual group of friends, but it might be a better fit than you think.

One thing Rabbids Land doesn't skimp on at all is personality. The game never takes itself seriously, and the Rabbids themselves are decidedly on the Moe, Larry, and Curly side of the spectrum. It's all genuinely charming in a Saturday morning slapstick sort of way, and the animations are hilarious, from the Rabbids' reactions of joy and terror to the fact that everything they do, whether receiving a present or rolling the dice, involves being smacked on the head. Your Rabbid is just as likely to swim, scoot, or flop head over heels to the next square as they are to hop or run. The irreverence extends to the game's presentation as well, with a ticker that runs across the bottom of the screen reporting things like "Lick your elbow to unlock exclusive content!" along with scores, positions, and hints. The unlockable videos are actually quite cute and entertaining, portraying snappy vignettes of the Rabbids' antics throughout space and time.

The Rabbids have never looked better, and the fresh coat of high definition paint has worked wonders. Even if they're not pushing the system, the graphics go a long way towards creating the personality that shines throughout the game, and it's clear that a lot of love went into bringing the Rabbids to life. It's a shame that the board itself isn't more interesting, but the mini-games do a good job of mixing things up in terms of visual style, and the pre-mini-game cutscenes look great. The audio package is more of a mixed bag. Aside from the aforementioned bumpin' club track in Star Cheap Discovery, the music in the background is largely forgettable. Much more impressive are the Rabbids' infernal yelps at the slightest sign of surprise, happiness, anger, or any other emotion: intentionally ear-piercing, but very well done.

Conclusion

Its launch day timing and name place Rabbids Land in unfortunate competition with Nintendo Land, which is a superior multiplayer experience in every way. That said, if you've got a group to play with and don't mind the one-on-one restriction of the mini-games, there's a lot of fun to be had here. Fans of the series in particular will get a kick out of seeing these furry faces in HD, the excellent and characterful animations, and the unlockable video shorts. Rabbids Land wraps fun mini-games in an underwhelming board game shell, and while it may not be the life of the Wii U party, if you happen to be throwing your own these guys make great little guests.