Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Rayman (PS1, SAT) Retro Review

If you can recall, I previously listed Rayman as one of my favorite platforming mascots. Most of that was due to the fact that I greatly enjoyed his latest platforming romp, Rayman Origins. Now, I am turning my attention to his very first adventure, Rayman, for this first review of June. Note: All screenshots are from the PlayStation version of the game.

Meet the Old Crazy

Poor Rayman never reached the heights of popularity of Mario or Sonic, though one could consider Rayman to be the French equivalent of those two platforming icons. My first run-in with Rayman was an awful Nintendo DS port of Rayman 2: The Great Escape around the system's launch followed by the Nintendo 3DS port of the same game. Apparently, Ubisoft loves to create less than satisfactory ports of Rayman 2. What hooked me on the character, however, was his most recent adventure, a return to form with Rayman Origins. That game made me want to check out Rayman's first game, simply called Rayman. Does it still hold up in the present?

As typical of platformers, the story of Rayman is not anywhere near a harrowing tale of complexity and drama. It is quite basic. The Electoons, a source of power within Rayman's world, have been captured by the main villain of the game, the mysterious Mr. Dark, and placed within cages all around the various levels of the game. Don't you feel the need to get involved and save the day as well as ridding Rayman's realm of Mr. Dark?

Rayman comes across as a simple platformer, but there's some depth to be had. For one, Rayman can only get hit about four times before he dies. Lives are earned through gathering orbs and collecting Rayman idols placed in usually precarious locations. Levels generally consist of an abundance of secret areas, and the levels are split up between sections of huge areas and rooms, sort of like Yoshi's Island or Wario Land.

Right away you can see how
striking this title truly is.
At the start of the game, Rayman only has the ability to move, jump, and climb certain structures. This makes enemies a big threat. However, as you progress throughout the game, Rayman learns new helpful abilities to take down Mr. Dark's forces a peg or two. He can gain the ability to throw a powered punch, to hang from cliffs and pull himself up, to grab special objects like rings to fling himself across chasms, and to pull out his signature helicopter move, allowing Rayman to slowly float across gaps effortlessly.

Can you keep up with the action?
There are a handful of worlds for Rayman to visit. They forgo the typical tropes found in most platformers. One world you'll be in a swampy forest while another you'll be walking along a world filled with musical instruments as platforms and hazards. There's usually five or six levels in each world, and there is a spot on each world's map to save progress. The last level of each world pits Rayman against a boss character. From bipedal saxophones to stone golems, Rayman has his work cut out for him.

I ordered eggs, not Rayman.
Speaking of boss battles, the fights here are quite intense. Like I said, Rayman has a limited amount of hits he can take before he perishes, and the bosses pull no punches. Their patterns offer a myriad of moves to outmaneuver, and they mix things up on a consistent basis. The first fight against an irritated mosquito has the enemy dropping small and then humongous barbed balls onto the arena which bounce when dropped. Rayman must time his movements just right to pass under them unharmed. The boss can also jet horizontally across the battlefield. Rayman needs to either duck or leap over the mighty mosquito depending on where it attacks.

As if the bosses weren't tough enough, the actual game is deviously difficult, something you wouldn't expect for a game that you would think would appeal most to children. Levels feature loads of platforming peril and challenges that require quick wits and reactions. One level in particular involves  Rayman and a brass instrument-shaped series of enemies which use their ability to blow Rayman away from them. Rayman gains a lot of speed when being blown back, and players must use his momentum to jump over a succession of increasingly smaller vertically-inclined platforms as he gets pushed back and forth. Falling means you must ascend this tower of instruments all over again. To say this part of the game is annoying to play (and it's only the second world!) would be an understatement. Enemies are pretty crafty, too. When they see Rayman is firing one of his fists outward at them, they appropriately duck under them. This can be maddening to the player, but it shows some intelligent AI. Challenge is one thing, but I think for a game that tries to appeal to everyone, Rayman will turn a lot of people off before they even get to the meat and potatoes of the title. It also doesn't help that there is some trial and error to be had here-- especially with a few obnoxious blind jumps.

That red power-up bestows Rayman with increased health.
As stated previously, Mr. Dark captured all of the Electoons and stuck them inside cages. There are six cages in each level that need to be broken open with a punch from Rayman. Cages are well hidden and require you to explore far and wide. Some cages don't spawn until you complete a certain objective or visit a specific portion of level. Other cages require you to return to the level when you have picked up the required ability to reach the cage. Breaking open cages and freeing Electoons isn't just a personal goal for players to achieve; in order to reach the final, final boss of the game, all cages must be opened in every level.

Rayman is a gorgeous 2D game. The vibrant and vivid visuals from characters to the cheery backgrounds speak greatly of the talented artists and the terrific art style the game sports. Rayman and the various other characters in the game animate splendidly, presenting believable movements. Even with all the chaos that occurs on the screen, Rayman rocks a solid framerate at all times. Rayman is indeed a beautiful looking game, and even when you die time and time again, you will appreciate the art the game holds. From sights to sound, the music of the game is pretty catchy and is overwhelmingly good. It isn't the best the series has to offer (no, that accolade belongs to Rayman Origins), but it is pleasant on the ears regardless. Sound effects come across as suitable for each situation. For instance, when Rayman incurs damage, he utters a hiccup-sounding yelp that is pretty adorable. Point being, if it is presentation you are worried about, Rayman will no doubt surprise you.

One ability allows Rayman to grip these floating rings.
Rayman is an interesting title and conundrum. On one hand it is full of exquisite charm, personality, fun platforming, and gameplay. On the other hand it is full of such frustrating difficulty (even early on, but it is always perceived as fair) that the intended target of the game will without a doubt abandon the game when they reach a roadblock or stumbling point. If you are into platformers that are unapologetic in their challenge, then Rayman is an apt choice for a fan of those types of games. For people easily irritated, this limbless wonder's game might be good to pass on, or perhaps you could look into the slightly toned down DSiWare version of the game. Whichever your stance, I believe Rayman for either PlayStation One or Sega Saturn is worth a look as even with its challenge, its unbridled character, setting, and presentation exudes such a level of charm that the game is really hard to pass on.

[SuperPhillip Says: 8.0/10]

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