Review: Rabbids: Alive & Kicking

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The reigning king of motion-controlled minigame madness stands about three feet high, has a nose that could double as a pink water balloon and is more flatulent than the last half hour of a beer and barbeque bash. You know him as Wario, Mario’s evil and more flamboyant nemesis, and by my lights, his collection of minigames, the now impossible-to-find Wii classic, WarioWare: Smooth Moves, is the height of the genre. It’s simple, it’s quick, it’s hysterical, and—this is the important and under-appreciated part—the controls just work.

You’d think that Ubisoft’s goofball Raving Rabbids ought to be well positioned to make a run at the minigame throne through simple strength of numbers. God knows they’ve had enough practice—on the Wii, the DS and the Xbox 360, our goggle-eyed rodent pals have dog-piled it through at least five games. Rabbids Alive & Kicking is their first bum-rush at the Kinect universe. And wow, did those googly-eyed rodents miss the target.

As you’d expect, the action here is focused on the short and (sometimes) sweet. A Quickplay option lets you jump into the fray immediately, randomly selecting one of the 30 or so minigames. Party mode has you setting up player profiles for up to 16 players, and then facing off in one-on-one bracket battles the AI tracks and sets up. If only the minigames themselves were more interesting, more rabbideliriously funny.

Some of them are: Running and punching your way through a stampede of Rabbids to close a door, for instance, head-butting a Rabbid while head-banging, or using your hand to swat back cars a Mothra-sized Rabbid Robot hurls at your head from the Golden Gate Bridge. Other options are just horrible and lazy fits with motion control—raising your hand to score the opportunity to pick a multiple-choice answer to a spot-the-differences game? What is this, art class? Alive & Kicking’s spin on Guitar Hero looks cool at first, with that virtual air guitar hovering in front of your on-screen image, but strumming it is imprecise to the point that you’ll wish the guitar were real–so you could smash it, Pete Townsend style. Alive & Kicking even tries to shoehorn the speedy WarioWare approach, with games that require nothing more than moving your arm to cut a cord or smash a plate.

If you lose a party challenge, you’re supposed to incur an embarrassing penalty—wiggle like a supermodel, bark like a dog, crab-walk the floor, etc. The other players then get the chance to vote on how well you rocked your humiliation by voting—i.e. standing on the left or right side of the screen. Not only does this prove an unfair way to screw your opponents—if the vote is “no”, your score gauge takes a nasty hit, on top of the score you just lost for not winning the challenge—but it almost always devolves into a WWE-style scrum, as players try to bump, punch and drag everyone else to their side. Alive and kicking, indeed.

What really sinks the Rabbids this time around isn’t the games—it’s the menus. While many developers (Microsoft, for instance) favor a Kinect approach that has you hover over an icon while a meter fills up, Ubisoft has opted to have you hold your hand over a tab in a stack, then swipe it to the left to select it. It sounds cool and futuristic—kind of like waving your hand to open a door on the Starship Enterprise—but frankly, it just doesn’t work. Even if you hold your hand perfectly still before swiping, the sensor inevitably slides or scrolls to the tabs above and below it, forcing you to reposition and start over. The simple act of selecting a freaking game mode can take five minutes to execute, and that’s a textbook definition of the third circle of hell, especially when you’ve just completed one of the blink-an-it’s-over minigames and are just looking to keep the action rolling.

We’re well aware that it’s all but impossible to eradicate a stampede of Rabbids, so I don’t expect this is the last we’ve seen of them in Kinectville. Maybe next time, they’ll add quality evolution to their bag of replicating tricks.

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Pros:
+ A handful of the minigames are entertaining and funny
+ AI management of the party-game brackets is a smooth and sensible feature

Cons:
- Too many minigames are brief, lazy or imprecise
- Kinect menu navigation is a nightmare
- Party Mode rules lead to some not-very-fair competition

Game Info:
Platform: Kinect for Xbox 360
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft
Release Date: 11/8/2011
Genre: Party
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1-4
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

About the Author

Aaron R. Conklin has been writing about games and games culture for more than 15 years. A former contributor to Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine, his writing has appeared on IGN.com and in newspapers and alt-weeklies across the country. Conklin's an unapologetic Minnesota sports fan living in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Midwest's most underrated gaming vibe.