Review by awesomephatman

Reviewed: 09/20/05 | Updated: 09/21/05

UnderRAYted Man

Back when Rayman 2: The Great Escape was released, many the world over rejoiced its creative characters, unique mechanics, and unparalleled variety. While all that made the original great is still here, albeit in a lesser form, it has certainly lost some of its magic when placed in the palms of handheld gamers. Bigger and perhaps better platformer games have come since then, too (Psychonauts, Viewtiful Joe, Ratchet and Clank), though none of those can match Rayman's fun factor--if, that is, you are among those possessing the nostalgic memories of his original outing as I do.

The game begins with a fairly lengthy cutscene explaining the situation at hand. You know the story--a bad guy is intent on destroying the world with the hero, Rayman in this case, tasked with stopping him. Though the overall story arc isn't too original, you'll be kept interested thanks in no small part to numerous scenes that flesh out the story. These sections are usually peppered with bits of humor here and there, and they help to keep its serious themes from becoming melodramatic. After all, its setting and art style don't try hard to convey any sense of realism. In the end, the story is nothing more than a classic story done mystically well.

And within just a few minutes, you'll have the opportunity to play as Rayman, which is where the game falters a bit. Even though you have two control options, neither gives you the optimal play provided by an analog stick. Still, the digital touch pad proves to work well after a while, and you'll be swinging, jumping, and fighting freely then. Once you reach this mark, assuming you have the patience, the game's downright impressive play will start to sink in. Through variety, pacing, and unrivaled level design, you'll be totally immersed in Rayman's majestic world, filled to the brim with fantastic and wondrous creatures. With almost each and every level comes some kind of distinct play style--from sliding down an immense, ice-covered slide to running frantically along unstable, wooden planks from a pursuing pirate ship and even taming a wild 'rocket' to ride on yourself, the variety is truly matchless. It may come as a surprise then, that the levels are somewhat straightforward and linear--not to say that's a bad thing, for the levels are enjoyable and packed with hidden passageways and numerous secrets. In fact, if you're not one for exploring, you'll never discover the game's many yellow lums (1,000 in all), which will grant you access to bonus stages and a slew of boasting rights. And if you're a completist, you'll want to do it for the sense of pride, anyway.

Upon traversing the beaten path and off searching for these floating fairies, you'll undoubtedly come across many creatures and beings that will likely not be in a friendly mood. With each character comes a detailed visual model and a way to dispose of--usually, this involves Rayman sending some hot blasts from his hands to the enemy. If you are to destroy these beasties, you'll need to first lock on to the enemy by holding the 'R' button. Doing so will place Rayman in a strafing state where he can easily dodge return fire, while keeping his foe in view. The system works well enough, aside from a few wonky camera moments, but it would have been nice to have an option to toggle 'R', too. Though there are various diverse enemy types to encounter, the real stars are the bosses. If you come in expecting your typically generic fights, you'll be pleasantly surprised. If there's one word to describe the bosses you'll fight, it's inspired--and not just in appearance, either, because you'll soon find that to defeat them, resourceful and original methods are required. After finally solving their weakness, then your subsequent conquest, you'll feel an enormous sense of accomplishment (especially that last boss...).

To be sure, gameplay isn't the only thing that makes a game great. It's an amalgation of elements achieving this--gameplay can only take a game so far. And so, this brings us to the next point of interest--visuals. Of course, this DS incarnation of graphics has taken quite a hit when sitting next to the likes of the N64's title, but they are still quite respectable when alone. Vibrant colors, splashy effects, and wondrous worlds come together to create a fantasy setting like no other. You will be mystified when playing this game, sometimes prompting a jaw or two to drop. As true as this remains, the visuals are still pixelated, sometimes even muddy. But you can hardly tell when the animation is so smooth and pleasing to the eye.

But oh, we have so much more than eyes--namely, and key for the complete satisfaction of the experience, are the ears. Haunting, romantic, adventurous, inspirational, frenetic--there's a tune in Rayman for each of these words to fit perfectly. Accompanying the dynamic music, which changes to fit the situation, is the sound. Nature-inspired chirps and effects fit right in with Rayman's fantastical world and all serve to further immerse you in the gameplay. The DS speakers have allowed the developers to somehow produce a surround-sound-esque system, which may even have you whirling around, looking for the cricket you heard. Indeed, the music combined with the inspired graphics and gameplay will motivate you to not only beat the game but enjoy doing so, too.

And how rewarding it will feel to beat this game to its fullest. You won't feel gypped or tricked, nor cheated or swindled--a genuine sense of that feeling when you've just beaten an amazing game will ensue. If you'd played it previously on another system, you will certainly possess a much greater appreciation for the game than opposed to it being your first play through.

In short, as a standalone game, which I am grading this, a solid 8 is in order. However, as a port and a first-time experience, it achieves only a 7. As a nostalgic trip down memory lane, though, Rayman DS scores a phenomenal 9.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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