Rabbits, in case you have forgotten, are principally known for three things: their large ears, their hopping locomotive style, and for their voracious sexual appetites. Ubisoft's Rabbids, on the other hand, are principally known for stealing the limelight from poor old Rayman. The nose-less alien things may not be quite as horny as genuine flesh-and-blood bunnies, but they're still quite good at reproducing - squeezing out a new entry in the series every year since 2006. Thankfully, these minigame-centric outings tend to be quite fun - though I'd personally prefer it if the franchise stuck to its original French title, "The Rabbit Cretins".
In the last outing, the lumpish lagomorphs were attempting to build a spaceship so that they could get back home; this time they've gotten their sticky mitts on a time machine - resulting in a series of typically silly jaunts around various iconic moments from history: the stock market crash of 1929, the creation of the Mona Lisa in Da Vinci's workshop, and the assassination of JFK in 1963. Okay, so that last one's more of a hopeful guess than a confirmed fact; I just have this great mental image of a Rabbid lurking behind the grassy knoll, rifle in hand. You'd wait for the motorcade to pass, take aim with the Wii Zapper, and then BAM! History is made. Or perhaps you could control a Rabbid riding Oswald's magic bullet, steering yourself down towards the President and- oh, alright, I'll stop there. Young children might be reading. If so: sorry.
Political snuffings may be out of the question, but the first showing of Rabbids in Time suggests there'll still be plenty of diversity to the four-player mini-games on offer. The Wall Street Crash stage kicks off with a cutscene showing the Rabbids arriving behind the board that lists all the stock values; a few playful spins later, the world descends into economic meltdown. For us this simply results in a quick bout of team box-grabbing, with the Rabbids splitting into two pairs. The aim is simple: nab the numbered crates littering the level, and carry them back to a goal at the top of the map. Each player can carry one box at a time, and you make your rivals drop their prize by dashing into them with a shake of the remote, but the biggest challenge is posed by the fact that each participant is tied to their partner by a short length of bog roll (toilets, lest we forget, are a key part of the Rabbids aesthetic).
As a result of this bathroom bondage, a bit of teamwork is required to actually get your two Rabbids moving in the right direction. Throw in the demands of a ticking clock and the irresistible urge to muck around with your opponents' efforts, and the result is a surprisingly fun little scramble for points. As is often the case with this kind of fare, it helps a lot that your human rivals are standing right next to you - allowing scope for loud jeers, indignant yells and all-out assault with a Wii remote when things inevitably do go wrong.
The Renaissance Italy stage offers a slightly calmer diversion, taking the form of a three-lap air race around Florence. The idea here is that you're supposed to be amusing Lisa del Giocondo (aka Ms. Mona Lisa), but soon that concept fades into the background in favour of a Diddy Kong Racing-style contest. You steer by holding the remote and nunchuk like a set of parallel handlebars, hitting speed pads for a quick boost and gathering powerups to lob at the other bunnies. It all works well enough, but it's not nearly as much fun as the Wall Street bit.
As enjoyable as the two mini-games are, it's the hub level to Rabbids in Time that seems to offer the most larks. The map takes the form of a swanky museum, with individual exhibits acting as portals to each of the mini-contests. As with the 1929 stage, there's an unbreakable length of toilet roll wrapped around your avatar's little legs, but this time all four players are caught in the same Andrex manacle. Provided that you can get everyone pulling in the same direction, you can drag yourselves over to a glorified dressing up area, allowing you to clothe your Rabbid as a Roman Centurion, Red Indian or Prohibition-era gangster, among other choices. None of this has any bearing on the way the game plays out; it's just for fun.
Indeed, "just for fun" is a phrase that seems fairly applicable to Travel In Time as a whole. It's hardly going to be rivalling Assassin's Creed Brotherhood as Ubi's showstopper of 2010, but it should be great for a laugh with three mates (or three hostages you've taken, provided that Stockholm Syndrome has kicked in). As odd as it sounds, the most immediately appealing feature of the game is the fact that you can make your Rabbid shout the word "Bwaaaah!" by tapping down on the D-pad. If all four of you start doing this at once the results can be gloriously irritating to anyone else in the vicinity, which is probably why Ubisoft has seen fit to include a sort of simplified Guitar Hero-type mode: here players "Bwaaaaah!" away in response to a set of on-screen prompts, altering their pitch by tilting the remote sideways. If you all manage to hit your cues, you'll deliver a garbled rendition of Deep Purple's Smoke on the Water, or another well-known tune. It sounds appalling of course, but it's also very funny - and sometimes that's all that matters.
Raving Rabbids Travel in Time will be released on Wii on November 12.