Rayman Raving Rabbids
| Rayman Raving Rabbids

Outwardly the French are sophisticated and stylish – think Cordon Bleu, cute little berets, a puff on a Gauloise and the shrug of the shoulders that says 'Je ne sais quoi'. When it comes to the Gallic sense of humour, however, all this falls into a sort of gentle surrealism. Benny Hill remains big over there, while, to outsiders, top-grossing French film Le Visiteurs remains a bewildering cloud of farting and belching jokes.

There's something similiar going on with Rayman. Let's face it, the very concept of Rayman Raving Rabbids is about as mad as a knitted kettle. Even creator Michel Ancel admits the plot of alien rabbits invading the world is part cliché and part ludicrous. Still, like the rest of the game, you have to admit it's nothing if not imaginative.

So after a quick cartoon intro showing our hero being abducted by the rabbids, Rayman's become a gladiator for the human race. The only way he can liberate us from the crazed, bunny-like creatures is to fight his way through numerous arenas collecting special trophies as he goes, before finally taking on the Rabble Droid. Which means tried-and-tested 2D platform gaming at heart, interspersed with various mini-games and some special 'on-rails' touchscreen levels.

The atmosphere is childish and inspired in equal measure, and the art design is superb – think Disney meets Tim Burton – with the rabbids themselves grinning maniacally from the screen and screaming whenever you complete a level.

The in-game music is similarly smile-inducing, with distorted sing-song versions of La Bamba and Cyndi Lauper's Girl's Just Wanna Have Fun among the more captivating tunes. But while Rayman Raving Rabbids scores high marks for presentation and mood, its platforming mechanics fail to beguile.

To some extent this is due to the current vogue of combining the kind of 2D jumping-and-collecting that brought Rayman to prominence over a decade ago with cramped 3D graphics. Of course, environments look a lot more interesting this way but visually this can be distracting. It doesn't encourage simple level design either.

As for our hero's abilities, they remain the usual jump, hover, and punch, while you'll spend plenty of time collecting stars to level up your life bar, and lums, which you can throw at rabbids or use to further extend your life.

More interesting are the special abilities unlocked as you find four Elemental suits. Using the fire suit enables Rayman to create and throw bombs at otherwise unbreakable barriers, while unlocking the Cloud suit grants him the ability to float up to higher platforms. Ice and stone make up the rest of the power set.

There's nothing particularly wrong with this sort of thing, of course (special abilities opening up new routes, for instance, has kept Nintendo going for decades), but the more time you spend going through these levels, the more it feels more like a slog rather than a pleasure.

Often it's a matter of consistency: will a drop into the void lead to fresh pathways and a hidden stash of lums, or an early death? There's also too much stress on lever pulling and pressing the right button when you're at the right spot to allow for inventive gameplay to shine through. And, be warned: this is a game that demands you replay levels over and over to make progress.

Far better are the mini-games and touchscreen missions that are interspersed between the platform levels. Completing these opens up new areas through a neat hub system.

With the touchscreen missions, Rayman automatically moves forward – rather like one of the clockwork Marios in March of the Minis. Stylus in hand, you have to interact with items in the level to ensure he gets through as quickly as possible, whether that be by collecting lums, destroying obstacle boxes, or operating springs to blast him upwards. You can also blow into the microphone to repel enemies.

Generally short and sweet, these are more fun than the main game. Special boss levels are accessible, too, once you've collected pieces of the Rayman Gear, a kind of underwater submarine that can fire missiles and ensnare objects with a grappling hook.

But other sections feel tacked on, almost as if Ubisoft was torn between delivering a traditional platformer while overhauling the experience for the touchscreen generation. And it's this disconnect that's the game's biggest failing.

Despite the overall short playing time, effort has clearly been invested to try deliver variety and fun. Yet the core 2D platforming within 3D levels isn't sufficiently polished for Rayman Raving Rabbids to compete with the current crop of Nintendo games like New Super Mario Bros.

Maybe like Jean Reno's knight in Les Visiteurs, Rayman would have been better off suited sticking to his own time and place. Alternatively, he needs to commit to DS gaming's here and now to truly win us over.

Rayman Raving Rabbids

The presentation is great and there's lots packed in, but the core platforming of Rayman Raving Rabbids is unfulfilling
Mark Walbank
Mark Walbank
Ex-Edge writer and retro game enthusiast, Mark has been playing games since he received a Grandstand home entertainment system back in 1977. Still deeply absorbed by moving pixels (though nothing 'too fast'), he now lives in Scotland and practices the art of mentalism.