Review by Mariner

"Wasn't this game supposed to be good?"

I used to think side scrolling platformers were a surefire key to success. Y’know, the Mario clones - where jumping is key and an emphasis on avoiding enemies or engaging in close range combat. Heck, when all you ever played was Mario and Sonic, you’d probably think the same thing. And yes, there are others that do it well too. But somehow, Rayman does not manage to catch the same instant success feel that Mario and Sonic did. It isn’t even a problem with shoddy programming or anything like that. It’s the fact that the game failed in its attempt to copy Mario - taking all that was good out of it and leaving only a hollow shell of mundane platforming and sloppy design objectives. In the end, it’s no fun at all.

Like I said, it’s a side scrolling platformer. Your hero, Rayman, must make his way through a multitude of levels of all sorts. Levels are split into multiple smaller areas, breaking the game up into manageable chunks. But the purpose of each level isn’t just to get to the end, it’s to rescue some small little critters (called electoons). There are six cages of them in each level, and you must search around for them all. Rayman can walk, jump, and occasionally learn special moves. His main attack is his punch, in which he throws his fist at enemies (which then comes back to him, boomerang style), but you will learn many new tricks along the way. There’s all sorts of enemies, of course, as well as platforms and evil traps and the like. And there’s quite a few levels of this.

If that seems exciting to you, beware. Perhaps the most unfortunate problem is the insane difficulty. This is almost at Contra levels of frustration here. For a platformer - for a game intended for a younger audience - that’s just plain ridiculous. There are your classic one-hit kills, like pits and spikes and such, which are painful enough. But you often cannot see these killers until it is practically too late, creating an artificial and most definitely wearisome challenge. And the enemies... bleh. One in particular will duck every time you try to throw a punch, meaning you somehow have to catch him off guard. Not that big of a deal, I guess, but this is the first enemy you find! What happened to goombas? Other enemies (also early on, I might add) include people that consistently fire massive bullets at you and can’t be hit from the front, other people who charge at you and take multiple hits to die, and grasshoppers that refuse to let you get past them and also take multiple hits to kill. What makes things worse is that your attack occasionally doesn’t work. I’ve hit these enemies before without any reaction from them at all! I guess you have to hit them in a certain area at a certain time or something, but I couldn’t find a pattern. And that’s just plain stupid. This is a platformer. It’s supposed to be an enjoyable game, not one riddled with frustration due to cheap challenges.

And yes, there are other problems as well. Remember when I said you couldn’t see pits and spikes until it’s too late? That’s because the “camera” (for lack of a better term) is zoomed in too close. Your character is pretty darn big, and everything around him is pretty darn big, which means you can’t see too far in front of you. You occasionally have to jump blind or guess which way to go. Don’t be surprised to find that you need to die once or twice first so that you can find out where you’re supposed to jump. Absurd, don’t you think? The game moves kind of slowly too. There’s no run button for Rayman (possibly because you already have no reaction times thanks to the camera), and so he has to slowly walk and jump everywhere. I can live without running if the game is good enough, but this game most definitely isn’t.

And it’s not just the particulars of the game that bother me either; the whole thing just feels off. Take, for instance, the “coins” of the game - in this case shiny blue jewels. Like everyone else, collecting 100 of them means a free life. Unlike everyone else, you lose them when you die. Sonic got away with that because they directly influenced your health. But here, it’s worthless, especially considering how hard the game is (you’ll almost never make it to 100). And then there’s your main goal. You must rescue six cages worth of little critters per level. Which means the game feels like a collectathon. Forced collecting is a very bad thing, as it tends to make a game tedious and frustrating. It means one must consistently go back and replay levels after finding new moves, just to see if you can save a few more electoons. It also means that the levels aren’t linear, which I personally like in platformers. Leave exploring to the adventure games; I’d much rather have numerous small secrets than plenty of branching paths, but I didn’t get that here. Which means the actual game is rather boring just playing straight through, as there’s nothing there. Sigh.

To put it simply, Rayman does not feel like it contains the essence of platforming, so to speak. In Mario, I can be running the entire time, simply charging forward and timing my jumps perfectly. It allows the level to become a second part of you, allowing you to run through it without even thinking about it. In Mario 1, if one coin box is hidden in a row of blocks, I can merely run, time my jump to hit that one block, and continue running with no time lost. I am constantly doing something, constantly moving forward, and constantly feeling in control of the situation. I miss that level of control here. In Rayman, I must stop constantly and work my way through the game, as opposed to feel my way through. Rayman never became a part of me. It never became a fluid experience. And because of this, I would rather play Mario again and again than see whatever else Rayman might have in store for me.

I suppose I ought to slightly even the scales a bit here. The game does have its good side. Namely, the character. Rayman looks like a platform character, and certainly his character himself deserves to stand next to Mario and Sonic. The ideas involved, namely the dismembered hands and feet, are interesting enough, and could be much more than was shown. Likewise, the art was very beautiful, and the music definitely complemented it. If all you want is a pretty platformer, you got it. Honestly, the presentation is really great. Despite the problems with this game, don’t discount Rayman as a whole. I don’t know anything about Rayman 2, but I’d say the franchise has potential. The problems with this game can easily be fixed, while the good parts will likely stay for quite a while.

But yet this game fails, not because of any one problem or factor, but because a woefully horrific design. The difficulty is bad enough, but you could learn to live with it. The slow pace of the game or the zoomed in camera makes the game kind of slow and frustrating, but it’s not enough to kill it. The blue jewels are stupid collecting stuff is boring, but you could still have fun for a while. But when you put all these together, you realize the game looks no fun at all. It is missing that certain something that makes you want to keep playing. And thus, despite the charming atmosphere and pretty graphics and all sorts of nice things you could say about the game, you just can’t accept it as being in the same league as the great icons of platforming. It’s not even close.

Final Score - 5.0

Reviewer's Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Originally Posted: 01/06/03, Updated 01/06/03

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