The Rabbids have come a long way since their first appearance in the Rayman series back in 2006. Since then, they’ve featured in numerous party games, all starring the titular little bundles of chaos. Rabbids: Party of Legends, previously a China-exclusive release, now comes to the West to help tide fans over until they team up with Mario again in Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope.
The party game genre is nothing new and Rabbids: Party of Legends doesn’t try to reinvent it. If you’ve played games like Mario Party, you’ll know the formula presented here. Players will compete against each other in a variety of contests. Sometimes they will be alone and sometimes they will be teamed up. Winning a game earns you Books, with the player with the most Books at the end of the game dubbed the champion.
With Rabbids: Party of Legends, developer Ubisoft Chengdu has framed the party game around the classic story of Journey to the West. The Rabbids themselves are modelled after characters from that story, such as the Monkey King, Tripitaka, and Pigsy. The Rabbids were hanging out in their time-travelling washing machine when it transported them to the world of the classic 16th-century Chinese novel. Yes, it is a loose premise but the game does make an effort to stick to it throughout, which is a welcome change from many party games.
The minigames that the Rabbids compete in are themed around that story, with players trying to pull the mystical Golden Pole from the bottom of the ocean or avoid the descending palm of the Enlightened One as he tries to put an end to their fun. It isn’t an exact retelling of the novel, but it is closer than you might expect from a plot synopsis that includes the phrase “time-travelling washing machine.” It makes the game's Adventure Mode feel more coherent than we expected, encouraging players to try just a few more games to unlock more of the tale.
People don’t play these kinds of games for the plot, however; it is all about how entertaining the minigames are. Some won’t be surprising, such as variations on Simon Says and King of the Hill-style contests. Most often, you compete against each other but some require you to team up and cooperate, something that can be very fun or very frustrating depending on who you get paired with. But that chaos is part of the fun here and there is plenty of chaos to be had.
All the games are played with one Joy-Con controller, which is a relief since it means more people can play for less hardware. Some games require you to hold the controller upright and move it to the rhythm of the music playing. Some use the gyroscopic sensors and make you hold it as flat as possible while moving your Rabbid around. Others have you drawing on the screen or shooting flying books. It is a really good variety of games available, ensuring that you’ll always have something new to do as you play.
The strangest thing to come out of our time with Rabbids: Party of Legends was the lack of an online multiplayer option. While local multiplayer is the focus of the game, the lack of any option for online play feels like a missed opportunity. Playing against others around the world would certainly keep the game feeling fresh and fun a bit longer.
Playing through the Adventure Mode — either on your own or with friends by your side — nets you experience points. These points slowly level you up, allowing you to unlock new characters to play as and, importantly, new minigames to enjoy in the Party Mode, which allows you to skip the story and get straight to the gameplay.
The problem is that games for Party Mode unlock painfully slowly, meaning you’ll need to play the story for hours and hours if you want to enjoy everything else the game has to offer otherwise. It feels like they’re trying to stall to make you pay for DLC, but there isn’t any on offer. It is the only part of the Rabbids: Party of Legends that feels poorly designed.
The visuals will be familiar to fans of the series. The Rabbids all look suitably cartoonish and well-animated. The costumes they wear all have a flair for the dramatic that works well against the backdrop of Journey to the West. Playing the game in docked mode is significantly easier than in Tabletop Mode; the text instructions that play before each game are very small on the Switch’s screen, meaning that four players would be very cramped together if they all want to read them.
We would go so far as to say that docked mode is the only way to properly enjoy Rabbids: Party of Legends, which is a shame because this could be a very fun game to play away from home if the visuals translated better to the smaller screen. The action just becomes indecipherable when reduced to such a small scale and the text is nearly impossible to read.
Those various issues hold Rabbids: Party of Legends back from being one of the best party games for the Switch, but there is still a lot of fun to be had trying to control the tiny little monsters as they rampage through one of the most beloved stories of all time. The unique costumes and visuals, which make a real effort to stay within the novel theme, showcase more attention to detail and care than you might expect from such a manic series.
Rabbids: Party of Legends is a fun, polished party game that can soak up a few hours if you have enough people willing to jump in and out. The visuals feel unique within the Rabbids franchise while still capturing the charm and personality fans will expect. The slow progression of unlocking new games in Party Mode, the lack of online play, and the fact that the game is almost unplayable in Tabletop Mode hold this title back from being truly worth the asking price, though.