Rayman Raving Rabbids for the Nintendo DS has a lot more in common with the Game Boy Advance version of Raving Rabbids than any of its console counterparts. This is a pure and simple side-scrolling platformer with a few touch-screen-oriented minigames sprinkled in--not a minigame collection, as was the case with all of the console versions of Raving Rabbids. It also must be said that Raving Rabbids for the DS is a rather middling platformer that relies more on repetition and backtracking than it does solid controls or an interesting adventure. Certainly, there is the boon of those creepy, cuddly rabbids to the game's credit, but even they aren't quite enough to pull Rayman's latest DS adventure out of mediocrity.
Like the console and GBA games before it, Raving Rabbids on the DS has Ubisoft's armless and legless hero up against an invasion of brain-dead rabbids. They're rabbitlike creatures with a penchant for self-injuring antics, plungers, and high-pitched screams that are equal parts adorable and frightening. These rabbids are out to take over the world for some reason, and you have to stop them by traveling through a series of stages, collecting trophies and finding hidden exits as you go. It's not much of a setup, and the rabbids don't get nearly enough screen time here. Occasionally they pop up to fight you, and you'll get a few moments of silliness with them during the minigames between levels, but that's about it.
The gameplay is platforming boilerplate. Rayman can jump, hover in midair, punch enemies, launch glowing projectiles, and gain a few new abilities along the way. Most of these new abilities come from costumes you pick up at various points in the game. Rayman's goth-punk outfit, for instance, lets him generate bombs at specific stations within a stage, which can then be tossed at impassible barriers. His grandma outfit lets him create huge boulders for some inexplicable reason, which can then be pushed along to the proper spot and used as a platform to reach areas too high to access otherwise. The trick with the costumes is that there are frequently multiple paths to explore within a stage, and some of them can't be accessed until you have one or another of these abilities. However, this isn't a case where you end up crossing all the paths in one sitting. You'll sometimes find an exit and then have to go back to that level later with your new ability to trek through the new path. And even when you do beat an entire level in one shot, you still tend to cross the same ground multiple times to get to the end, which feels more than a bit like an artificial lengthening process for an otherwise fairly short game.
The backtracking and repetitive nature of the level designs might be forgivable were the gameplay more inventive or enjoyable, but none of that is the case. The basic platforming mechanics are sound, but the jump controls are overly loose and in some situations unwieldy. There are instances where you'll hold down the jump button at the very edge of a cliff and still undershoot a ledge that's very close by. Trying to grab hold of monkey bars to swing across also sometimes doesn't work. Though you won't run into issues like this on a constant basis, they happen enough to be annoying.
When you're not controlling Rayman directly, you're indirectly controlling him in some scrolling levels. In these sequences, Rayman is constantly moving forward, and you're using the touch screen to keep his path clear. Usually this just involves tapping a launch pad to send him up to a nearby ledge or tapping enemies to kill them. However, sometimes you have to use costume-specific abilities to get by. The punk outfit, for example, lets you slice away at chains that hold nearby drawbridges up, or you'll have to freeze water using his chill outfit. These sections of the game are fast-paced and certainly more interesting than the standard platforming bits, but they also suffer from inconsistent controls. There are times where you'll be slicing or tapping away at something and the game just won't respond properly, which inevitably leads to Rayman getting hit.
And then there are the minigames. These games appear from time to time as filler, sandwiched between the platforming and scrolling levels. They often only involve solving basic block puzzles or playing a game of whack-a-rabbid, but they're amusing enough (and unlike all the other gameplay sections, the controls work just fine, all the time). Some of these games can be played separately in the extras mode, as can some of the scrolling sequences in a time-attack mode. Beyond that, there's some unlockable rabbid artwork and a Catch the Fish minigame that's pretty self-explanatory. However, very few of these extras are worth coming back to after a few looks.
Another knock against Raving Rabbids on the DS is that it's not an attractive game in the slightest. The game goes for the whole 2.5D thing, with three-dimensional backgrounds and the side-scrolling gameplay. The problem here is that it all looks just barely above GBA quality. The backgrounds are extremely repetitive, blurry, and bland; characters have limited animations, which are all pretty stiff to boot; the frame rate chugs on a regular basis; and occasional clipping issues and other glitches tend to rear their ugly head as you play. The only saving grace of the game's visuals comes from the minigames and the basic art design. The rabbids are as adorable as ever, and when they appear in short cutscenes or random minigames, there's usually enough wacky stuff going on that it keeps you from focusing on how pixelated and nasty everything looks.
The audio is on the other end of the spectrum. Apart from those goofily pleasing rabbids and their freaky shrieks, the game uses an awesomely bizarre soundtrack that consists of pop tunes sung all Chipmunks style. Many of these songs appeared in the console versions of the game, including renditions of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," "Good Times," and what sounds like a DJ Screw remix-in-reverse version of "Hip Hop Hooray," which pretty much has to be heard to be believed.
But an enjoyably oddball soundtrack isn't enough to salvage Raving Rabbids on the DS. While the idea of a new Rayman platformer sounds well and good, this game feels perfunctory and undercooked in most every capacity. It's not pleasant to look at, the gameplay is inconsistent, and the level designs are more dull and repetitive than anything else. It's playable enough for those anxious to get a proper Rayman fix, but once you're done, you'll probably forget you ever played it.