Project Rub / Feel the Magic XY/XX

Now that Yuji Naka's cult favourite DS launch title is out in all territories, we offer up our verdict on the crazy and stylish touch-screen title.

Sonic Team

By Keza MacDonald

I seem to remember a friend of mine trying to explain to me, during the Mega Drive vs SNES days, that 'Nintendo games got substance, but Sega games got style.' It's taken until now before I've really seen what he was trying to say. Back in the Nineties, Nintendo had a fat psychedelic Italian plumber - Sega had a supersonic blue hedgehog with killer trainers.

At the beginning of the Noughties, Nintendo had a powerful but unmistakably ugly black box graced with the same fat psychedelic Italian plumber - Sega had one of the sleekest, most sublimely-designed consoles yet made, graced with the 'kickin' beatz' (ahem) and out-there style of Jet Set Radio.

And now, standing along that selfsame plumber in Nintendo's DS launch lineup, we have the super-styled Project Rub, yet another something new from Sega. The substance is somewhat questionable - essentially this is a series of novelty minigames - but it's wrapped out in the most strikingly new presentation since Jet Set Radio. Characters are black anonymous shapes wrapped up in bright clothing and the surroundings look very much like a student flat from the 1970's, full of purple and orange swirls, pulled off with such panache that it manages to make the whole game's look coherent and effective as well as unique.

Project Rub is a very good illustration of the 'new way to play' which Nintendo seems to be heralding as the reason for the DS's existence - it's near-impossible to imagine this game working on any other console. It is essentially a story-driven set of about thirty minigames, revolving around the adventures of one chap and the girl of his dreams. His efforts to win her heart see him, among other things, setting fire to giant plants, flinging pedestrians at trucks, swimming through the bowls of a snake and rescuing falling parachutists. It is a bizarre game, and not exactly the most extensive one in the world, but it has immense charm, and the touchscreen-based minigames often raise a smile simply because of their sheer, brilliant ridiculousness.

Oddly, the game's story somehow manages to be surprisingly touching (no pun intended), especially towards the very end, which actually brought a tear to my eye. Happily, and in sharp contrast to the usual extremely shallow nature of videogame relationships (and videogame women), there is a real sense of significance in the hero's heartfelt struggles to win back his love. Aside from the minigame where you have to unbutton her top (which, let's face it, is a bit silly), nothing about the way this game treats its heroine is even remotely cheap; this, it must be said, is immensely refreshing. According to the game's creators, realising the characters as black shapes inside their clothes does more than just define the game's style - it allows one to relate to the game in a personal way and define the characters as you will.

To the meat of the game, then - and sparse though it is, it's in no way sub-par. None of the minigames is frustrating enough to leave you stuck for ages, and once they've been played in Story mode, they become open for your delectation in slightly more extensive form via your Memories log. The variety of challenges on offer is impressive, although a good many of them involve rubbing something as fast as is humanly possible, thereby often causing a great deal of wrist-pain which may arouse peoples' suspicion. In my entire experience of the game, only guiding the character across a narrow track on a unicycle whilst rabid sharks leap, with very little warning, from the water either side has proved properly exasperating. By contrast, blowing on the screen to send a boat gliding across the ocean to rescue the girl from the water is absolutely inspired, even if huffing frantically at your DS on the bus is liable to get you kicked off and/or locked up.

Polishing off the minigames in the Memories log performs a purpose other than just to embarrass one in public places - it unlocks new items of clothing, hairstyles and shoes in which you can dress the faceless heroine in the aptly-named Maniac mode. It's even possible to dress her up in a Sonic headset, then zoom in and touch her inappropriately with the stylus to your heart's content if you feel so inclined. This aside, though, customising the girl's appearance can prove surprisingly fun, especially for female players, who the game most certainly does not alienate. Project Rub bodes well for Nintendo's plan to bring non-gamers into the fold - it's simple and innovative enough to be enjoyed by everyone. In fact, this game seems to appeal to girls more than anyone else, somewhat weirdly considering that games involving the pursual of a digital female are almost always somewhat male-exclusive.

Another notable contributor to Project Rub's chic presentation is its music, which is very chilled, very funky and very cool, even though occasionally sounds a bit like it's out of a softcore porn soundtrack. It's difficult not to play the game at full volume, and completing the game's story mode opens up the soundtrack in a jukebox along with all the different sound effects, ready for playing with at will. The delightfully strange and varied nature of the score really suits this quirky little game and adds a lot to the overall style and presentation.

So, there we have it: Project Rub, an unusual and unique little game with a lot of distinguishing qualities. But is it actually any good? It's very shallow, takes all of a few hours to complete and holds little lasting appeal. On the other hand, it's delightfully bizarre, remarkably inclusive and bursting with style. I can see Project Rub coming to be remembered as a cult classic, but there's no way it's going to be remembered as a great game. Nonetheless, its appeal is considerable, and Project Rub is something that any curious, progressive gamer should have a look at.

Graphics Sound Gameplay Depth Presentation OVERALL
8.5 9.0 6.5 6.0 9.0 7.0

Unusual, short-lived and not without its charm, Project Rub is an essentially shallow package of a game presented in a sufficiently slick and appealing way to make it worth noticing. This is a game of style over substance, but it's a good example of the 'something new' that the Nintendo DS seems to be striving to provide.

Video Coverage
(See Latest Videos & Video FAQ Here)
Project Rub / Feel the Magic
Lots of direct feed gameplay
(640x480, 1.4Mbps)
2.25min 22.4MB WMV
Project Rub / Feel the Magic
Teaser sequence and interactive foolishness as demonstrated at TGS 2004 (640x480, 1.8Mbps)
1.11m 15.1 MB WMV
Project Rub / Feel the Magic
Direct feed footage including Feel the Magic. (640x480, 1.4Mbps)
1.07min 11.0MB WMV
Project Rub / Feel the Magic
Direct feed footage including Project Rub (640x480, 1.4Mbps)
1.07min 11.0MB WMV

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