Love them or loathe them, if you were even remotely interested in Wii this time last year there was no way you could have ignored Rayman and his terrifying Rabbid chums. The original game was probably the most high profile Wii launch title except for Wii Sports and Legend Of Zelda: Twilight Princess, and although we weren't all that taken with it at the time, it proved to be a big success for Ubisoft.
The sequel, we're happy to report, fixes practically everything we found annoying about the first version and looks set to stand head and shoulders above every other minigame compilation we've played. We visited Ubisoft's Paris studio for some extended hands-on time with Rayman Raving Rabbids 2 and came away suitably impressed by the amount of party-loving fun the developers have managed to pack into it.
The biggest change is that it's now an exclusively multiplayer experience. We tested it with a full complement of four players, which is the way almost all of its new minigames are designed to be played.
A handful are hotseat games, in which players take turns, but if there are ever less than four people playing in the rest of them then AI characters will fill in.
Also, instead of having to play as Rayman himself, you normally play as a customised Rabbid. There are thousands of possible combinations, including spoofs of famous videogame and comic book characters that may or may not make the final cut. Your personal Rabbid avatar will appear on the online leaderboards, which are updated directly via the Wii rather than through the clumsy website code system of the original.
Custom 'trips' or minigame compilations - so-called because the games are all themed around different global locations - form the real meat of Rayman Raving Rabbids 2. Pick a selection of your favourite games, save the compilation in one of three slots and play all the way through or to a preset time limit.
There are 50 different minigames, including new plunger-shooting levels, two-on-two team-up games and a wide variety of energetic physical challenges. We sampled more than a dozen of them, and whether or not the developers were deliberately feeding us the pick of the bunch, the overall quality level seems much higher than in the previous game.
Several use the remote as a 'real' object. For example, one minigame sees players being disruptive in a cinema, with the aim being to talk on a mobile phone for as long as possible until the manager walks in. You hold the remote's speaker up to your ear, to hear a Rabbid babble, then put it down when the lights come on and start hammering the A button to send a text to all the other players. The slowest players receive a text from the fastest and a beating from the cinema boss.
Another game involves making a scrubbing motion with the remote and nunchuk to wash a pair of boxer shorts. Raising both hands lifts the pants from the water so you can see whether they're clean or torn to shreds. There's also one where you take turns making Rabbids burp by shaking a bottle of lemonade before tipping it upside down to neck it. The person who generates the gassiest blast wave (off the top of the Arc de Triomphe) wins the round. Apparently some of the younger game testers would actually stick the remote in their mouths to 'drink', so watch who you play with on this one.
Among the skill-based games we saw was a dodgems thing set on top of a building, which is exactly like several Mario Party scenes, except with a slippery control system that uses the tilt function of the remote. We found the American football mode to be much more satisfying - as the ball carrier you simply run away from the other players in an effort to hold on to the ball for as long as possible, while everyone else tries to tackle you or fights among themselves.