WTF is up, doc?
We're all dying for Kratos
to be resurrected, for Master Chief
to trim his cliff-hangnail, and for Katamari
to keep right on rolling. By virtue of their quality, some games really do deserve the often criticized (by us, no less) sequel treatment, and the industry is better for them.
But most games don't, including the odd but dull DS launch game Feel the Magic XY:XX. Though it prompted me to write over two dozen incredibly bad song lyrics, it didn't do nearly enough to amuse gamers with its total lack of long-term value. It was quirky, stylish, confusing, and by any rational account, a mediocre product…
…making it inexplicably ripe for a sequel. Despite the fact that we really didn't ask for it, we went into The Rub Rabbits optimistic that they would somehow take the artistic success of the original material and add compelling gameplay. Unfortunately, what you just read isn't what you get. While it reprises the offbeat look and feel of its distinct forbear, The Rub Rabbits eventually falls prey to the exact same gameplay pitfalls that doomed its magical mentor.
Some will recall the Rub Rabbits as the "Super Performance Group" of helpers from Feel the Magic, the bunny-eared guys who aided you in your quest to land the girl of your dreams. I don't know who green-lit the idea that they should get top-billing, but it makes no sense since the "plot" of The Rub Rabbits has little to do with them. Rather, it's just a re-telling of the first game's story: another faceless boy meets another faceless girl, and they're both tossed into a nonsensical, absurd adventure used purely as a backdrop for over 30 mini-games.
Rescuing your lover from peril includes all kinds of quirky challenges, like powering a canoe down alligator-infested waters, tossing her in the air to grab fruit, navigating a unicycle over a precarious rooftop and even applying ointment to a gash on her leg. You'll blow into the mic to shoot darts out of a blowgun and even tip the DS upside down to play a retarded "Simon Says" flirting game. Some games, like the 'bull stampede' ripped straight from Feel the Magic, require you to poke and prod the DS so frantically, Nintendo could legitimately file molestation charges.
Unfortunately, the bulk of the games are just tedious exercises in stylus and touch screen manipulation. More often than not, you are given three lives with which to complete five levels of each game. These increase in difficulty but follow easy-to-learn patterns, leading to a quickly tiring game of trial-and-error. You are rewarded with extra 'hearts' for beating all five levels of a mini-game without losing a life, but it doesn't matter if it's your first try or your fiftieth. In turn, it pays to quit and restart if you lose a life early on, resulting in even more repetition.
From start to finish, a dedicated gamer can wiz through the story in one sitting. The Rub Rabbits tries to extend its life a bit by letting you replay any of the games in Memories or Attack modes (depending on the game), but that's not very enticing. Earning hearts doles out new outfits for the girl in the reprised Maniac mode, a great plan for those interested in changing the skirt of a tiny digital woman. Ahem.
The only thing that really differentiates The Rub Rabbits from Feel the Magic is its new multiplayer options, though like the rest of the package, these are better ideas than games. Hullabaloo is the most interesting of the lot, a weird version of Twister requiring you to hold down buttons, then pass the DS to a friend who has to hold down more. Laughter and hijinks ensue as you quickly pass the DS around the room, I guess, though it's really not that thrilling. Nor is the sexy Baby Making mode, which lets two people answer a simple questionnaire and cut a cake to create a Rub Rabbits baby. You don't do anything with your offspring other than trade him wirelessly, a pretty cold thing to do with a newborn. At least Nintendogs let you pet your baby. You can also play a few mini-games wirelessly with up to three others using just one game card, but since the mini-games are so bland, it's hardly worth the energy.
The game's graphical style will turn heads…provided those heads never played Feel the Magic. The stark, silhouetted characters make a safe return, as do their great animations. The bizarre flipbook storytelling style is back as well and is still an offbeat but effective way of telling the game's insane tale. Sadly, the grooves are far less, uh, groovy, and the mini-games are so thoroughly littered with annoying sound effects that the music is mostly lost in the mix, anyway.
It's hard not to appreciate the artistry behind The Rub Rabbits, but it's quite easy to write off its boring, repetitive gameplay. The presence of multiplayer is a step in the right direction, but really, why keep walking stylishly when you're not going anywhere? We advise leaving these bunnies on the shelf, else they should continue to multiply.