Review by MaxH
"Focus over fireworks"
Rayman is an absolutely splendid piece of gaming and the most fun I've had with a platformer in a long time. It eschews the fancy vehicles and forgettable gimmicks that are commonplace in most recent platformers in favour of remarkably solid design and satisfying, back to basics fun.
The evil Mr Dark (and if that's not an evil name then I, and Ubi soft, don't know what is) has imprisoned all the Toons (Useless blue villagers) and taken the light away from the world. So Rayman, the rather unappealing character with no limbs, has to travel across over twenty levels set across seven worlds (Not including the elusive 'secret world') to put a stop to all this nonsense.
First things first, throughout this game you will not see one revolutionary idea. Rayman is completely unoriginal, derivative and 'familiar'. But it's taken most of the recognised platforming traditions, added the control scheme from the original playstation game and upped the pace to near flustering levels. Rayman isn't a game filled with puzzles to muse over, it's one where quick reactions and a good foresight are required. Being a little less forgiving than most platformers, you will often be asked to predict what comes next, and where it will be. At first this seems horribly unfair, but once your brain locks into the game's dynamic, you'll be whizzing and gliding around corners before they even hit the screen.
The objectives for each level are simple, get to the end without getting killed. There are also bonus levels to find, cages of toons to search for and extra lives and power ups to scavenge for. But that's all irrelevant, you'll need it if you want to unlock the secret world, but the game's focus is firmly on furious platforming, and it's a focus that's definitely welcomed. What sets it apart from all the bog standard side scrollers clogging up the handheld is it's sublimely fluid action. The pacing is to expertly balanced, and the level designs so finely tuned that whizzing through is a fantastically enjoyable, though not always easy, experience.
The game isn't afraid to throw challenges at you at every turn and you'll need to get some real practice before you can overcome all the obstacles facing you. It's very clever, everything is very well thought out. While standing on moving platforms you'll have to kill flocks of enemies mid-air, duck and jump over spike bushes, and knock spiked balls on chains into rotation to avoid crashing into them, and then avoid them as they are moving. It all sounds pretty standard, but getting through it is a real highlight, and you are always eager to face to next part of the level, not looking back for a second.
Ubi soft have thrown in some levels to add a little variety too. Your helicopter glide will be evolved into a fully fledged flying machine in one level, making for an incredibly tense float around some narrow spiked corridors. There are also the difficult levels in which you have to climb to the top of a level while water/lava is slowly chasing you up. And, providing the highlight of the game, one of the final moments in which a shadow of yourself will be following you around the level. It is always three steps behind, but it is mimicking every move you do, if you touch him, you die so you have to tread carefully and you can NOT stop. This sounds fairly simple, but the circular nature of some obstacles make avoiding your shadow all the more difficult and strategies will have to quickly be put into play if you are to succeed. It's perhaps the only unique moment in the game, and by far the most difficult, but it's just one example of Rayman's severely compulsive gameplay.
It isn't perfect though. As good as it is, it has all been seen before, and it would have been nice for one or two new ideas to rear their head into the cart. Also, enemies are grossly underused. Some of the enemies' designs and abilities are really inventive and impressive, yet they appear only three or four times a level, sometimes there aren't ANY enemies at all. The AI (Which is staggering for a GBC game) could obviously have been put to good use for some trickier moments of platforming. Battling baddies has always been a crucial part of platformers, so why is it so unimportant here?
Complimenting the speedy play are some absolutely gorgeous worlds and character designs. Rayman is ugly as a character, but he moves beautifully, and that goes for all his foes as well. And the worlds are so lush and lavishly detailed that you feel they shouldn't be moving at such speeds on a gameboy. It all fits together to make for stunning presentation and an imaginative graphical style.
Sound is also quite deep and dramatic. It's over-eager beeping is sometimes a little too loud and irritating but the overall tunes are memorable enough and paint a great atmosphere. They are repeated a bit much and are perhaps a little too moody, but they serve well to remind you the world needs saving and you're in a rush.
The game has plenty of levels to keep you occupied and the later ones are a lot harder than you'd expect, but the game's main task, defeating Mr Dark, can be completed in just a few short hours. Freeing all the Toons and visiting all the bonus levels and such to open the secret world, and in turn exploring that, is a considerably bigger challenge though, and makes the game well worth the money. However, it would be nice to see a platform game that didn't rely on side tasks and actually had twice as many levels. But then maybe the quality couldn't be upheld. Still, I can dream.
Rayman is a triumph of real fast, furious gameplay over tired gimmicks and cheap gameplay tricks. It comes as a slap in the face to fools like Titus and THQ, reminding us all that there is still fun to be had from 2D platforming. Rayman is supremely enjoyable, and way above the merely 'solid' title I was expecting. It's a reminder that, even when stripped of it's flashy extras, platforming can outrun any genre, any day.
+ Frustrating, addictive, intelligent and euphoric, all at the same time
+ No frills platforming at it's best
+ Carefully executed moments of variety
+ Perfect pace
+ Graphics to make you salivate
+ Quite a challenge towards the end
+ Good sound
+ Mostly solid, sometimes inspired level design
+ Wonderful enemies.......
The Rayman who wasn't there
- ......... But hardly any of them
- Not nearly as much of it as you'd like
- Occasionally a little too unfair
- Nothing new really
- Dire plot
If you like this....
Rayman Advance - GBA: Not quite as enjoyable, but still very professional and absolutely beautiful platforming
Rayman 2: The Great Escape - N64: imagine this, with the same level of intense enjoyment and beauty, and put it into 3D. There you go.
Rayman 2: Forever - GBC: A direct sequel to this. I haven't played it yet, but I assume it's more of the same.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 03/04/02, Updated 03/04/02
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