In the mid-90’s, the gaming industry was undergoing a drastic and bold transition from the fourth generation into the fifth generation; developers were working harder than ever to refine their technology, a wide variety of iconic franchises were introduced, and the third dimension was officially taking center stage. However, if there’s one game that perfectly signifies this transition more than any other one released during this period, it would have to be the first game to star Ubisoft’s limbless wonder and mascot of sorts, Rayman.
Initially released for the Atari Jaguar and later ported to a multitude of consoles throughout the years (and I do mean a MULTITUDE), this side-scrolling platformer revolves around the titular character as he must make his way throughout a wide array of bizarre lands to thwart the schemes of the evil Mr. Dark. With that said, how does this game hold up years after its’ release? Let’s find out, shall we?
Right off the bat, these are visuals that WILL grab your attention just by the sheer vibrancy and creativity of them. Not only is this the best looking 2D platformer of its’ time, but it also might just be the best looking 2D platformer, period. Rather than just using the typical “grass world, desert world, ice world, lava world” and so forth, each one is extremely distinct and unique in its’ own right, Band Land and the Candy Château being the best examples of this. It especially helps that you can tell that a lot of blood, sweat, and tears went into making each and every one of them as bursting with creativity as they are, which can also be applied to the many characters that Rayman will encounter on his journey, whether they be good or bad. I don’t know what else to say other than it’s simply pure eye candy.
A good percentage of my favorite music comes from video game soundtraccks, and this is no exception. The music is just amazing, managing to range between a wide variety of styles, whether they be atmospheric, buoyant, or whimsical. The sound effects help to add to the general aesthetic to the game, helping it feel like you’re truly playing an interactive cartoon. In addition to the visuals, the sound might also be the best I’ve ever heard in a 2D platformer.
Now the gameplay is where things get difficult to throughly summarize. On paper, it’s fairly typical – you go from A to B collecting stuff while avoiding enemies, fighting various bosses along the way until you get to the guy who’s been causing you all the trouble in the first place. However, there are plenty of things to keep it fresh. To start off, as you progress throughout the game, you gain more and more moves, whether they be using your hair as a helicopter or using your detached fists as a defense mechanism, that will aid you against certain types of enemies as well as being beneficial to certain areas. You’ll also have to search for the MacGuffins of the game called Electoons, which are scattered throughout each of the levels and are locked in cages. The level design is superb, offering the right amount of platforming as well as some stages that can get pretty brutal at times in turns of difficulty. You can also gain extra lives by collecting 100 Tings, which are the coins or rings of the game. While some might be turned of by the difficulty, the gameplay is still very much fine as it is.
THE BOTTOM LINE
I can see why the Rayman franchise has stayed around as long as it has, and the first game is definitely an ode to this notion, giving an engaging, immensely colorful, and challenging take on the side scroller. While I like the sequels and LOVE both Origins and Legends, there’s something about the original that keeps bringing me back for more. I’m not quite sure what it is, but it’s surely enough for it to earn a spot in my favorite games of all time.