Party game collections are two-a-penny nowadays, but it’s easy to forget that the Rabbids were among the first onto the bandwagon. Sure, Mario Party made minigames mainstream, but the Rabbids (alongside their pal Rayman, now excised from any Rabbids games and often replaced with – forming a neat circle – Mario) weren’t far behind. The Rayman Ravings Rabbids minigame collections were some of the first games on the Nintendo Wii, when new games were hard to come by, and we spent many hours waggling our wiimotes at them.
So, rather than perceiving it as yet another minigame party collection, Rabbids: Party of Legends represents something of a coming home. On a personal note, I also get them mixed up in my head with Minions (more on the homicidal rather than mischievous end, but they’ve always seemed similar to me), so there’s a neat serendipity that this is launching just as Minions are dominating the box office. It’s 2006 all over again.
Handed to Ubisoft Chengdu, their Chinese arm, Rabbids: Party Legends has a decidedly South-East Asian flavour. Having dived into a magical washing machine, the rabbids find themselves in the feudal myths of Monkey, the Trickster God. To get back home, they have to find some sacred books that have been scattered to the winds when they crash-landed into a temple. Those same books have turned the Rabbids into a colourful cast wearing hanfus, short dresses and wielding fans.
It’s a neat enough thematic bow to tie around the minigaming. But what makes Rabbids: Party of Legends truly stand out is how the minigames have been organised.
Party collections like this tend to have two paths in front of them. There’s the Mario Party path, which creates a kind of megastructure – in its case a board game – that becomes a supergame around the games. It’s an expensive, risky approach, as it can get in the way of a swift play-session amongst friends. But get it right, and the results of the minigames mean so much more. The alternative, second path is to just stick the games in a menu or a random playlist, and let players have at it. That’s the easy option.
Rabbids: Party of Legends takes a third path that we hadn’t even considered. It structures the minigames into a kind of campaign, where a story threads together all of the game’s minigames, resulting in a narrative across four acts. Up to four players embark on these acts (they’re seven or eight minigames each, so they chunk up roughly into an evening’s worth of play each), receiving rankings at the end so that there is still a semblance of competition between the players.
You can’t accuse Ubisoft Chengdu of taking the easy, formulaic way out. It’s a fascinating approach that definitely has pros and cons in separate columns, with slightly more on the cons side.
Focusing on the pros, it brings a simple, understandable structure to a game of Rabbids: Party of Legends. Each act is a short number of minigames, and there’s a simple finish line to cross. There’s no Mario Party-style complexity to confuse younger players. There’s also room for some neat interludes that remind of Mario Party’s arbitrary ‘have a star for being the slowest character’ awards. You are given a problem, like a deadly river and no way of crossing it, and three choose-your-own-adventure solutions with their own fortune-wheels to determine if you’re successful or not. You can lose or gain sacred books with your choice, and it’s a lightweight, fun aside that does a better job of leveling the playing field than Mario Party ever did.
But there’s a big, bold entry in the ‘cons’ column. It just won’t let you flipping play. Rabbids: Party of Legends has umpteen slow loading screens, which don’t help matters, but there’s also interminable story dumps and intros to each minigame. You can hold a button to skip through a lot of these – bar the loading screens – but there’s a constant sense of Rabbids: Party of Legends getting in the way. The story, frankly, isn’t good enough to warrant the party’s attention. Ubisoft Chengdu have a difficult time trying to weave a narrative that makes sense, and it mostly just comes off as makework, but it’s constantly in your face.
A party game collection is only as good as its minigames, and Rabbids: Party of Legends does a rather swell job at them. Presentationally, they look as bawdy and colourful as you’d hope, with the traditional Ubisoft sheen. And there’s the trademark Rabbids insanity, as they scream and wail across the screen.
We’d have happily swapped the tutorial screens for those of Mario Party or My Singing Monsters Playground, though. Those two games let you play practice matches within in-game arenas rather than read text. Without that kind of onboarding here, a first-run at a minigame can be a confusing affair, particularly for kids who haven’t played similar games in the past.
The games themselves, though, are great. We’d bundle them into three. There are the ultra-familiar minigames that have been seen in countless other minigame collections: the track-and-field button mashers, the memory patterns, the rabbid under three moving cups. They may raise a little sigh of familiarity, but they look great, and often have a Rabbid reeeeeing over the top of them. Some will also be happy to see the return of Rabbids rhythm action minigames, although there are no officially licensed tracks. We loved Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ on the original Raving Rabbids, and it’s a shame to only have unlicensed muzak here.
The second bundle of minigames are familiar, but there’s some rabbidy subversion to make them interesting: rabbids will appear and block the screen, unwanted rabbids will appear in the arena, and other rabbids will outright lie. A fantastic minigame asks you to jab the analogue sticks in the direction of a sign that a rabbid holds up. But that rabbid will hold the sign ‘up’ while presenting an arrow that points ‘down’, tying you in cognitive knots.
The final third of minigames are imaginative and we really haven’t seen them before. That’s a decent proportion. These include a speed-drawing game, where you have to form a shape before you get whacked by a ‘The Wall’-style obstacle; an arena where you have to balance books on your head and reach a distant table; and a game of Simple Simon, but with two Simons – one of whom wants you to do the opposite of what he says.
If there’s a criticism of these games, it’s that there’s a weighting towards pattern-matching games, and we’d have taken a few less. It’s not a biggie, but it was notable that we were often waiting for an NPC rabbid to do something and then reacting to them, whether that’s copying their action or finding a rabbid under a cup. We’d have liked more skill-based free-for-alls to balance these out, rather than sitting on our hands.
Completing acts generates XP, which unlocks minigames and characters for use in a second game mode that grows over time: the Party Mode. We’d have preferred to have this mode fully unlocked at the start of the game, to make it a more viable alternative to the slow campaign, but it’s good to have it there. And we’d like to reserve a little criticism for Ubisoft Connect, which pops up far, far too often in the top-right of the screen, trying to tempt us into its ecosystem. It’s not going to happen, Ubi.
Ultimately, Rabbids: Party of Legends is in the upper echelons of party games. It’s got that lavish Ubisoft presentation going for it, and the gormless rabbids are as entertaining as always. We’d have let the rabbids chomp away at the unnecessary and time-consuming story stuff, but mostly this is a fun, frantic collection of party favourites that will unite and divide your family, no matter the age.
You can buy Rabbids: Party of Legends from the Xbox Store