The Rub Rabbits!

Review

posted 4/12/2006 by Sean Colleli
other articles by Sean Colleli
As you may recall, I previously turned my baleful glare toward Feel the Magic: XX/XY, a bizarre little launch title for the DS. In truth it was more of a tech demo than a game, but it was a labor of love by the venerable Sonic Team, and it was unlike anything else on the market from a stylistic standpoint. With two years worth of experience with the DS, Yuji Naka and his crew of asylum escapees have taken another crack at the burgeoning minigame genre. The end result is called The Rub Rabbits—aptly named for the traveling performance troupe from Feel the Magic.

The first thing fans of Feel the Magic will notice is the art style. Not much has changed—in fact, the presentation has gotten more trippy. The sherbet-soaked backgrounds, 60’s overtones and hallucination-like effects are stronger than ever, for an overall dizzying experience for the uninitiated. The art style remains blissfully minimalist, with black character silhouettes wearing the odd bit of clothing to distinguish individual people. While Feel the Magic’s simplistic visual fingerprint is unaltered, the graphics themselves have seen a bit of an upgrade. Both screens now display 3D polygonal objects and environments, as opposed to the half-and-half illusion from the first game. This technological leap makes for some interesting new gameplay possibilities, but the core play experience is mainly the same.

There’s a new story in Rub Rabbits, one of the strangely endearing characteristics of Magic. It sticks to the love theme established by Magic, but don’t expect Shakespeare—the plot is mostly an excuse for oddball minigames. This time there is a new main character, a goofy college kid who falls head over heels for a statuesque beauty he sees at the mall. The first few levels play in much the same way Magic did, as you attempt to snag the girl’s attention while fending off several rival bachelors. The minigame challenges start off fresh and nonsensical, as expected: your first task is to make it to the top of an escalator, dodging sumo wrestlers as you go. Later, you must blow on the microphone to puff away rivals who happen to be parachuting in to steal your girl. The rivalry ends in a Dragonball Z-esque battle of extreme rock-paper-scissors. Amusing to say the least.

The similarities end early on, however; the girl is impressed enough by your efforts that she starts dating you by the fourth level or so (if only it were that easy here in the real world), but there’s trouble in paradise. A childhood flame (who also happens to be a technical genius) spots you with your new girlfriend and is instantly jealous. The rest of the game plays out as you and your digital object of affection try to evade the machinations of the scheming geeky girl. She’ll be throwing all sorts of comical obstacles in your path, from computer viruses to robotic crabs. When she eventually captures you, you’re forced to avoid her terrible cooking and the love potion hearts she fires from a cannon.

Some other memorable moments include slapping your teammates to keep them awake, kayaking in an alligator infested river, and heaping snow on people to hide them from a bear. I’d say you can’t make this stuff up, but Sonic Team already has. Front to back the solo story will take dedicated players only a few hours to complete, although it’s over twice as long as Feel The Magic and the difficulty has been notched up a bit. There’s a remix of the bull stampede from the previous game, and it took me several tries to beat. One thing I appreciated was the lack of minigame repetition; there are only a few redone games as opposed to Magic’s irritating “nightmare” rehash sequence.

Of course, Rub Rabbits wouldn’t be a true sequel without the racy “luvv” sequences that gave Magic so much undue attention. As before, you take the occasional break from inane stunts to get closer to your girlfriend, but Sega never really crosses the line and most of the content is harmless innuendo. One of the more entertaining scenes is a play on “Simon,” where the girl pokes you in different places, and you must poke her back the same way in the same pattern (she gets mad if you go for the naughty bits).

The only real blemishes in the main story mode are where the developers went a little too far with their creativity. In some minigames you must turn the DS sideways or upside down. This can be a refreshing change of pace, or, more often than not, just plain awkward. Thankfully these parts are short and few, and the solo mode remains mostly enjoyable.

As before there are multiple difficulties and a bevy of unlockables, notably the outfits for the girl. “Maniac” dress up mode has seen a huge facelift, and many of the new features just make sense on the DS. In addition to the bountiful top/skirt/pants combinations, there are also save slots for custom outfits that you create with the stylus and a paint program. You can also dye the girl’s hair from a rich color palette. Maniac mode probably isn’t going to hold your attention for very long unless you’re a fashion designer, but at least it’s a lot more complete this time.

Yet another feature that was absent from Magic due to time constraints was multiplayer, and they were able to throw it into the mix this time. Sonic Team has provided a sprinkling of different multi modes that fit the minigame genre quite well; they’re all something you’d play at a party. The standard mode pits you against three friends, as you all vie for the girl’s attention in a number of outrageous ways. Many of the games from the solo mode have been reworked for multiplayer, so there’s a freshness to playing them with friends.

The second multi mode is called “hullabaloo.” I’m still trying to understand the point of this feature, as the fun factor somehow eludes me. Basically, you and any number of friends hold down different button combinations on a single DS, and try to synchronize when you all press and release the different buttons, according to instructions on the screens. My brother and I tried it and only got frustrated, but perhaps with more people you get the “total embarrassed hilarity” effect that twister seems to create.

The final multiplayer element is called, I kid you not, “baby making.” The Japanese title for Rub Rabbits was “Where Do Babies Come From?” so it makes just a tiny bit of sense, but those hoping for an accurate simulation of human reproduction should take a cold shower. It’s really just Rub Rabbits’ scaled down version of Nintendogs. To make a baby (in the game), two people, specifically a boyfriend and girlfriend, use both sides of the DS to answer a few questions such as age and blood type. Then they cut a virtual wedding cake by jimmying the D-pad and face buttons in as close harmony as possible. Once the cake is cut, a digital baby is revealed. Babies can play in a small park area over DS wireless, and there’s a sleep mode scan function similar to “Bark Mode” in Nintendogs. It’s a cute little distraction, but it’s nowhere near as engrossing or deep as the ingenious puppy simulator.

My only big complaint with this game is that there was so little progress made in regards to audio. It’s still good appropriate music, with the same 50’s doo-wop sound, but there’s hardly anything new to speak of. Most of the music is exactly the same stuff from Feel the Magic, and the main title theme isn’t even translated into English. There are a few new tunes and sound effects, but they’re used to death. In a story mode that is thirty-seven levels long, I don’t want to hear the same three tracks over and over again.

After all is said and done, The Rub Rabbits is everything Feel the Magic should have been. It has the gameplay length so lacking in Magic, a healthy supply of unlockable extras, and replay value in the form of multiplayer. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that Sonic Team stretched themselves a little thin with this game. There are a lot of things to do and some of them are fun, but others feel half-baked and unfinished. To make up for this, a good bit of material was borrowed from the previous game and placed in areas where new content should have been. No doubt, fans of Feel the Magic will get a lot more enjoyment out of Rub Rabbits, they just won’t be very surprised this time. The weirdness can only go so far until something fresh is needed.




B
Sonic Team sinks honest time and development into their zany minigame sequel, and the extra love shines through in most places. There’s a lot more to do, but much of it is lacking depth. The new ideas need some more work, and more original content in the sound department couldn’t hurt. The Feel the Magic series needs to be a little less shallow before I’ll consider a third date, but I wouldn’t turn it down completely.