I picked up my Nintendo DS when the console launched in November 2004. At the time I wasn’t really interested in that many of the launch games, so I got Asphalt Urban GT, the demo for Metroid Prime Hunters, and Project Rub, also known as Feel the Magic: XY-XX. While Asphalt was an okay racing game for the device, it was only Metroid Prime Hunters and Project Rub that truly made use of the touch screen, and since you can only play a demo for so long, I dived into Project Rub.
Developed by Sonic Team and published by Sega, Project Rub is a weird game that sees the player take on the role of one man who is trying to impress a girl, a classic tale of love you might say. Assisted by a group called The Rub Rabbits, players embark on a ridiculous journey that gets way too emotional, and goes to some outlandish locations like the moon, but it’s great fun because of the gameplay.
Project Rub is made up of dozens of mini-games, nearly all of which utilise the touch screen of the Nintendo DS. From forcing a man to vomit the goldfish he’s somehow swallowed, to battling hordes of oncoming bulls and a giant robot, Project Rub really did have it all when it came to unique gameplay for Nintendo’s new console.
I can’t really stress enough how fun these mini-games were. Today they’d feel like common copies of smartphone games, with each one offering the player a score out of three stars as an incentive to try again, but at the time it was brand new. Three difficulty modes, the hardest of which is impossible, kept me, and I’m sure many other players, coming back for more.
The concept of Project Rub might sound a little awkward, and it would be quite contentious if released today. At the time however, I saw the game as a collection of mini-games and nothing else, though I could understand why it might have made some people feel uncomfortable. In fact, that was the focus of one of the mini-games, which forced players to scream “I love you” into the console’s microphone so that the in-game girl would hear them. My friend and I figured out that you could just blow at the microphone to win the game, but we still screamed at it for fun every now and then.
At a time when the Nintendo DS needed games that sold people on its unique features, Project Rub was an outstanding example, particularly when you take into account most of the other launch titles were ports from other handheld consoles, most of which didn’t use the touch screen.
Two years later Sonic Team and Sega launched a prequel to Project Rub, The Rub Rabbits! The game built on what Project Rub established, fast and frantic mini-games that made the most of the touch screen. While The Rub Rabbits! leaned into the story of trying to get a girl to fall in love with you even more than Project Rub, it felt as though it went too far. This was reflected in the game’s less positive review scores compared to its predecessor, but it was still great.
In the sequel, the story went to new extremes, and saw players avoiding sumo wrestlers on escalators, battling raging mechanical bulls, or kicking away the advances of a rival woman, whose love means death in The Rub Rabbits! The mini-games associated with each piece of the story were just as bonkers, and the game was just as great as Project Rub because of it, but I’d still say that Project Rub is the superior game.
As time went on, the Nintendo DS saw a plethora of games that took advantage of the touch screen, making the most of the console’s unique selling point. Eventually I did get to play the full version of Metroid Prime Hunters, and it was awesome, but it wasn’t there when the Nintendo DS needed it most.
More than anything, I’d argue that Project Rub and The Rub Rabbits! were released at the most crucial time for the Nintendo DS. It needed games that demonstrated why it was so much more than a new Game Boy, even though it could play Game Boy Color and Advanced games, and there were very few other games on the market at the time that did this.
The Nintendo DS was the base unit that became the Nintendo 3DS, and the family of consoles spawned between and since. In some ways we have that console to thank for the Switch’s touch screen, but I don’t think that anyone would have noticed the original concept if it wasn’t for the contributions made to it by Project Rub and The Rub Rabbits!