Back in a time where every developer and their mother were chasing the latest trend in 3D graphics and blocky polygons, one small developer in France decided to go the other way. Instead of the latest in technology, they decided to go back to what worked in the past and make a 2D platformer that would have been impossible to make on earlier hardware.
As such, Ubisoft got their first big hit with Rayman, which is a game that is as good now as when its first released, ridiculing in the process the early adopters of 3D technology like the absolutely horrendous Bug!.
Genre: 2D Platformer.
Developer: Ubi Pictures (Ubisoft).
First things first, I am changing my rating system to a simpler 10 point system. Games that get above a 7 I fully recommend, and those that get below that are mostly a waste of time. That leaves the score of 7 to depend on your taste.
"They definitely need a hero to save them now!"
Mascot platformers classically had little narrative. Instead, they must focus on crafting a character and personality to the game's world and setting; especially regarding the protagonist. That's what made the difference between utterly forgettable games and the stuck and gained iconic status.
Rayman clearly crafts a world that blends and works together. In some ways, it reminds me of the dreamy setting of the Kirby series, yet with a more surrealistic style.
Regardless of style, the game's world gives it more of a narrative than the basic hero saving the kidnapped things motif. It's a world that makes sense for the limbless Rayman, as many of its inhabitants share the same visual design cues.
The sheer joy of Rayman is positively infectious
As for the mc himself, he follows the 90s school of "cool" design, like other mascots of the era including Gex and the Sonic redesign. With his blonde parted hair and red bandana, he would have fit in any famous 1995 boy band. Except, what makes Rayman an endearing character is a goofiness to the character that belays his cool factor.
All in all, it's a game world and character that was clearly going to be iconic, as was proven later with time.
"I'm Betilla the fairy, and I'm going to help you in your quest"
No matter how good the world design is, it wouldn't hold muster if the gameplay wasn't good. Thankfully, I can clearly say that Rayman is a fun game. True, it doesn't add much beyond adhering to the standards of platforming, but it does it well enough to be enjoyable.
Rayman can jump over obstacles and punch enemies by throwing his limbless hand. He gains some standard power-ups like gliding and grappling hands. Late in the game, you get access to the dash ability, which exposes one major weakness in the game.
It is somewhat slow.
Not when you are riding mosquitos though
You get the feeling that is slow for two reasons. First, to support the zoomed-in look the game is going for, most probably to showcase its gorgeous graphics and animations. Second, to reduce the difficulty of a game that has surprising spikes.
Honestly, the game would be slightly boring if the levels did not have such a great variety. Levels have different mechanisms that change-up platforming a great deal. Some levels require you to vertically escape an increasing flood, while others remind me of the tree sliding scenes in Disney's Tarzan. It's a variety that distracts from the few shortcomings of the game.
"You're courageous Rayman, but you have to keep at it"
What doesn't distract from the shortcomings of the game is, essentially, its two biggest shortcomings. An almost broken difficulty sometimes, and a surely broken endgame collectathon.
First, the much-vaunted difficulty of Rayman is actually very manageable. For most of the game, you have the tools available to surmount any challenge, with fair checkpoints available, and health items as well. However, against bosses, that changes. Since your powerups rest on death, dying against a boss means a more difficult time fighting them again. Until you get a game over, you are fighting without powerups.
HA HA HA HA, now fight me without power up, but first...
Second, in order to actually get into the final level of the game, you need to free all caged "Electoons" in all levels, with six cages per level. Initially, the game doesn't give you any indication that you need to do that, and as such you will need to revisit a lot of those stages.
Worst yet, many of the cages are invisible in the level until you do some oblique jumps and punches, or are inaccessible until you get a later powerup.
That just sucks the enjoyment of trying to get into the end boss, especially when it turns out to be one of the unfairest boss gauntlets I ever faced.
"Go and free the Electoons, Rayman, and bring back The Great Protoon from its mysterious kidnapper"
The only part of the game that I cannot have any "buts" or "howevers" is ints graphical and musical presentation.
Simply put, this is a game that truly stood the test of time, and its 2D graphics and animation look as amazing now as they did in 1995. Clearly inspired by cartoons of an earlier era, the game's drawings would fit in any of those cartoons.
Backgrounds are lush and imaginative, and apart from one or two uninspiring levels, they are among the best in the generation. That is supported by the synergized denizens of the world, with their well-animated movements and their expressiveness.
Again, there is simple joy in the game's design and animations
This expressiveness is further accentuated by the several sound effects in the game, from the "yeah's" you get when finishing a level to the various bops and sounds Rayman makes while traversing the grounds.
Not to be outdone, the musical composer pulls a truly immersive and atmospheric score, reminding me of David Wise's Donkey Kong Country's soundtrack. These are some impressive tracks, from the eerie style of "Lost in the Woods" to the chill piano of "Entering the Cavern". The soundtrack has a wide breadth of style and each track and ambient sound adds a third dimension to each stage.
Here is a game that didn't chase the trends of the time, and instead focused on crafting something that is true and tested, and looks great in an absolute term.
As such, despite some obvious shortcomings, Rayman manages to be a game with an ageless quality. It's excellent graphics and music will stand the test of time, and the variety of its levels are worth playing even if you never end finishing the game.
At its best, the game is like jumping in the clouds of platforming bliss
1- Pay attention to audio cues, as they alert you to spawning enemies and Electoon cages.
2- Stacking up in lives isn't worth it if you are playing the game without save-states.
3- Once you get the dash ability, go back and use a guide to get all the cages (if you want to finish the game).
4- Getting 100 orbs nets you a life and recovers your health.
For those reading one of my Saturn review blogs for the first time, here is the basic concept:
I already reviewed both major Generation 4 consoles, and am now to review Genereation 5 consoles; starting with the Sega Saturn. In these reviews, I take a top 100 games list and review the games that interest me in that list.
This time, my review series is based on this top 100 games list from Retro Sanctuary.
Also, note the following:
-If you have any suggestion of a game that is not in the Retro Sanctuary list that I should review, please suggest it.
-Make a bet on each game to check whether Chris Charter played it or not.
And with that, Rayman closes us out
I knew I was going to enjoy Rayman, which I finally beat after first playing it way back in the day and never going past the 7th or 8th stage.
Next game on the list would have been Bubble Symphony at #74, but no Western version was ever released. So, I am going to be playing Enemy Zero at #72; a survival horror game that surely aged terribly. However, maybe it still retains some grace to be enjoyable today.
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