Rakoo & Friends is one of those games that's followed an increasingly common path to market. Starting out as a "free" iPhone/Android app, with plenty of in app purchases (ranging from 69p to £69.99!), it's a game that's ditched its "free" to play wrappings, and hit the Wii U store at a price - a slightly high £8.99. Bringing with it a brand new five-player multiplayer mode that lets you bring your friends along for the fun, Rakoo and Friends (as it's now known) finds new life on the Wii U, with a layer of polish that goes well beyond what you'd usually expect from a game that started out as an app.
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The story here revolves around the adventures of a lovelorn fox known as Rakoo (at least, we think he's a fox. A racoon might make more sense with the name, but who are we to judge?), as he sets out on a quest for lurrrve. After a brief encounter with the bushy tail/rear end of what can only be a seductive she-fox, the smitten Rakoo sets off on a quest to find her - which mostly involves running from left to right over 64 levels of mayhem, dodging all manner of creatures that would try to get in between you and your beloved.
The basic idea here is easy enough - with Rakoo automatically running at a set speed, it's up to you to move him around, left/right/up/down, dodging the various obstacles that come your way, as you power towards the finish line. Some enemies simply form rows vertically up the screen, leaving you a small gap to fit through; others run in a line towards you; and others still seem to home in. Coming at you from all angles, keeping Rakoo safe is a lot easier said than done, and you really can't afford to keep your eye off the ball. One minute you'll be dodging a troupe of warthogs that are running straight at you, the next a rogue wasp will start swooping from the sky with its stinger pointed right at your backside. Luckily, the game does give you warning when a fast moving enemy is about to approach, by flashing an exclamation mark up on screen, but still - you'll need to think on your toes.
That's why it's great that Rakoo and Friends comes with the option to play along with several friends in multiplayer. With one player controlling Rakoo using the GamePad, other players can grab a Wii Remote and play alongside as one of Rakoo's buddies - a particularly depressed looking puffer fish, an easily terrified bird, and a love heart that gives you back health amongst them - with each friends bringing with it its own special abilities. The bird can scream to destroy any enemies within a certain radius; the puffer fish puffs up to deploy its spikes; and a flying acorn type thing that can spit nutty bullets at foes, so each has their own unique way of helping out.
With individual powers comes an individual special power bar, though, that each character will have to try and top up if they want to use their abilities. You can do this by collecting the red or gold flowers that are scattered throughout the level - but only one player can pick them up. At the same time, the more friends you take with you, the less health Rakoo starts with - while you have three hearts (and so can take three hits) by default, if you add everyone in, you'll start with just one.
Along the way you'll encounter various special stages, which drop a power up in at the start of the level for you to use - like "Hot Spicy", that leaves Rakoo tearing through the level breathing fire after devouring a particularly spicy chilli, or "Destructive Mount", that lets you trample your enemies on the back of a giant bull-type-thing. The only problem is, these stages are pretty few and far between, so for the most part, your time with Rakoo and friends will be spent doing the exact same thing - simply dodging the enemies the game throws your way.
With a great lead character, fantastic music, easy to pick up and play gameplay, and a fun concept, Rakoo and Friends has all the pieces it needs - it just doesn't take them quite far enough. With such an incredible amount of polish, we'd actually love to see where Rakoo goes next - the character has legs (both metaphorically and literally), and we'd pay good money for a Rakoo platformer. But with so little in the way of variety between levels, Rakoo and Friends feels like it has that one piece too many missing.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo Wii U