Developer: Sonic Team
Release Date: February 13, 2006
Buy 'RUB RABBITS!': NDS
How far would you go for the one you love? Would you fend off mechanical bulls bent on her destruction? Risk your life in a gator-infested river? Defend her from … computer viruses? Partake in a dangerous game of … Roshambo?
Surreal. Eccentric. Silly. In short, that is The Rub Rabbits! for the Nintendo DS. A few more tosses of the adjective shaker could possibly send creative, short, and funny tumbling out. For all intents and purposes, this is the sequel to Sega's Feel the Magic: XY/XX, which was launched alongside the DS back in 2004, a quirky relationship adventure told by way of a variety of engaging mini-games. People who enjoyed the first game will find even more to toy with here, but folks who didn't really "get" Feel the Magic will probably still be a bit turned off by the premise, gameplay, and presentation of The Rub Rabbits!
The Rub Rabbits! is a carnival-goer's dream come true. Imagine striding through a fairground, enticed by the menagerie of carnival games to experience, each one a bit different than the last. You want to throw darts at balloons, knock over objects with air rifles stuffed with corks, toss rings onto a wooden peg, all for a small prize that really isn't worth the price of admission. The Rub Rabbits! is similar in theme to such an endeavor. While you may come to the carnival seeking other entertainment, the games will always draw you in. Here, in The Rub Rabbits!, the main attraction is the games themselves, with the bizarre story being the trinket up for reward.
A tale of love and revenge, you naturally want to see how the story will progress for your in-game character. Along the way, helping drive the narrative, are a bunch of mini-games, little diversions to overcome before the next piece of story is revealed to you. Each of these games is a short little segment that requires using the touch screen, and here, diversity is the key ingredient. From throwing snowballs to shooting parachuting enemies out of the sky with a blowgun, to affectionate (yet perverse) petting in the dark, The Rub Rabbits! never has time to get dull.
The Rub Rabbits! embraces the Nintendo DS' touch screen capabilities, requiring you to play the entire game with the stylus. The mini-challenges the game tosses at you are very seldom within the realm of normality, so you'll need to suspend your disbelief and leave your penchant for verisimilitude at the door. You'll find yourself tapping, rubbing, and sliding in these mini-games, and some will even require you to turn the DS upside down or sideways. As mentioned, the games range from the normal (playing a piano ballad) to the odd (burying your friends in the snow to hide from a killer grizzly). Each seems to become wilder than the last, and fortunately, humor is one thing that aids The Rub Rabbits! in this crazy adventure.
The Rub Rabbits! succeeds as a diversion from the video game norm, using a charming visual aesthetic, a unique presentation, and a control scheme that changes with each scene. The story itself is told in minimalist fashion, with usually just a few storybook stills describing the events leading up to the next mini-game. This works for the most part, but sometimes, you'll be hard-pressed to figure out how your character has gone from having an affectionate snowball fight with his girlfriend to outrunning killer robots in the next scene. You'll never be able to figure out what will happen next because the game tosses the absurd at you at almost every opportunity. The Rub Rabbits! starts out innocently enough, with your character trying to win the hand of a pretty girl, but soon devolves into a Saturday morning cartoon rife with impossibilities. In a way, that's where the charm of the title lies: it never takes itself too seriously, so you shouldn't, either.
The presentation is slick and attractive. All of the human characters in the game are essentially silhouettes: black, featureless entities wearing colorful clothing and hair. It's a strange concept, and one that Feel the Magic: XY/XX instituted first, but the characters are easy to identify with, and the lack of any facial features doesn't erase the outlet for expression. If anything, it makes the act of expression even more intriguing, as characters have to rely on gestures and body language to relay moods and motives to the player. The title also uses polygons for each mini-game, and most of the scenes look very nice and colorful.
If you approach The Rub Rabbits! as you would any other game, you could wind up a bit disappointed. There is little text or dialogue in the story, and the mini-game style of gameplay is not for everyone. In fact, a good many of the games are just downright not fun. That's not to say they don't try, or that they aren't diverse or interesting in nature, but some are just less enjoyable and rewarding than others. Many titles require separate "levels," meaning you need to repeat the same action – such as running up an escalator and avoiding pedestrians – multiple times, with each "level" getting a bit harder than the last. When these games are not fun to begin with, the motivation for sticking with a scene you loathe starts to fade. If you bite the bullet and finish the scene, you are free to continue to the next, which means an entirely different gaming experience. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel, and that's a good thing.
In the audio department, we get some catchy tunes, but these music samples quickly outstay their welcome. Nearly every mini-game is plagued by the same bubbly musical score, and you can't help but notice this. Luckily, you are spending more time frantically tapping or sliding the stylus across the touch screen for it to be a complete bother, but in some of the gentler scenes, you will learn to loathe the repetitive soundtrack. The cooing and giggling of your characters is as close to actual speech as you'll encounter in The Rub Rabbits!, but it matches up nicely with the game's featureless character models. Sound effects are great, but the music quickly stales.
The control for each game is different; some will require you to defeat a mass of enemies by tapping them quickly, while for others, you'll need to rub furiously on the touch screen to make your hero sprint. Others demand you to turn the DS upside down or sideways, something that works better than it sounds. A few mini-games make use of the DS' built-in microphone, and these are by far some of the most interesting of the carnival attractions. In an early game, you need to blow into the microphone to shoot darts at aerial attackers. You aim a blowgun via the stylus and blow into the mic slot to let loose the darts. This mini-game was far and away my favorite, but I was disappointed that many of the others never really had me smiling and bouncing in my seat as this did. Later, you'll have to use the microphone to soothe your lover's painful wounds by blowing on them; it is a pity more of the mini-games weren't this mindful of the microphone.
The Rub Rabbits! is dangerously short. It can easily be beaten in a sitting or two, but due to the nature of the grab-bag gameplay, you may want to play through the game again, or at least revisit some past mini-games you unlocked. That's the good thing – when you beat a story scene, you unlock it for use later. Some of these games allow you to play via multiplayer, while others offer new, harder challenges to complete. You'll find yourself trying your favorite mini-games over and over again, while leaving the ones you despised to molder in their solitude, untouched because of the frustration or tedium they invoked during the Story mode. The length can be a serious issue to many people who don't normally replay games, and the lasting appeal post-completion depends on how well you liked the mini-games initially. If you only truly enjoyed a few, you probably won't pick up the game again any time soon.
It's hard to critique a title that plays unlike most others on the market. You can easily find a lot to like in The Rub Rabbits!, and the diversity of gameplay keeps you hooked for a long time, but like those booth games at the carnival, you will probably grow bored or despise many for their simplicity or frustration factor. Each of the games in The Rub Rabbits! is extremely short, and though there is a large quantity of them to enjoy or despise, you will blow through all in just a few hours. The story is something out of a surreal comic book, and the mini-games are equally eccentric. Controlling the games changes from scene to scene, though most are easy enough to navigate (ironically, the title's namesake – frantic rubbing – is the most frustrating input method of all). I can't recommend a The Rub Rabbits! purchase for everybody, but if you enjoyed Feel the Magic or want to try something a bit different and want to stretch your DS' capabilities to the hilt, give the game a shot. For everyone else, because of length and ease of completion, consider putting this on your rental queue.