by Robert A. Jung
Ubi Soft, for the Atari Jaguar
Superman. Spider-Man. Darkman. Blankman. Rayman?
Okay, so it's not the most inspired name in the world. Nonetheless, Rayman is Ubi Soft's newest entry in the world of video-game mascots, the star of their platform game for the Atari Jaguar. Rayman's harmonious world has been disrupted by the sinister Mr. Dark, who has stolen the Great Protoon and sent reality into a tizzy. Now the Electoons are scattered, weird and mean critters roam the streets, and things just aren't so nice and harmonious any more. Guess who gets the job of saving the day?
In game terms, Rayman is a side-scrolling platform title. Rayman walks, jumps, climbs, and punches through six different worlds, each divided into a number of subworlds that are formed from numerous stages. In each, he must find the captured Electoons while avoiding Mr. Dark's henchbeings and assorted other obstacles in his way. Fortunately, the fairy Betilla will give Rayman new powers, and he can find extra lives, bonus stages, power-ups, and other goodies to help keep him going. Finally, three games can be saved to the cartridge for later play.
Rayman is a platform game for players who are tired of the recycled formulas used in other platform games. While it features many familiar play mechanics, it also has a strategic tone and mellow pace which is fairly different from the "hop-and-bop" horde. This is a game for thinkers and explorers; there is no way to finish the game by rushing through all of the stages, and blindly attacking everything is often not worth the trouble.
Because Rayman cannot enter the last world until he rescues all of the Electoons in the first five, finding them becomes the heart of the game. A few are in plain view, but most do not appear until Rayman moves through certain trigger points, or are in remote regions that are inaccessible until he earns more powers. As a result, the player is forced to backtrack to earlier worlds and thoroughly search each for the Electoons he missed before. This is a fun and stimulating challenge, though the arbitrary nature of some of the hiding places might annoy a few gamers.
If Rayman's only novelty was the search for Electoons, then it would not rate more than as a minor variant on the platformer formula. Fortunately, it doesn't end there; the sense of curiosity and discovery permeates the entire game, and clever problem-solving skills are needed to find most answers. Whether it's a barely-visible ledge or a tenacious vine, players who take the effort to find out how to reach them are rewarded with bonus stages, level shortcuts, and other prizes.
Compared to other platform games, Rayman plays at a leisurely pace that supports its investigative mood. There are no time limits on each level, and Rayman himself never moves faster than a brisk jog. But there's plenty of action and variety; the stages can be anything from a small, straightforward horizontal strip, to complex mazes several dozen screens in size, to a forward-scrolling mini-shooter game. With a diverse selection of enemies and obstacles and stages, the game is far from boring.
The other aspects of Rayman make it a friendly, hassle-free game. Levels are well-designed, without any annoying dead ends or blind leaps. Sympathetic collision detection allows close brushes with enemies, and the controls are blissfully responsive. The only real complaint is the lack of replayability; like many other platform games today, there are no difficulty levels or random factors, and thus little incentive to play it again. But this is a minor flaw at best, as Rayman's world is large enough to sustain most players. It's safe to say that the typical gamer will require at least several weeks of play before he can finally rescue the Great Protoon and save the day.
The graphics in Rayman are gorgeous! The game is rich in colors and detail and animation, forming a visual feast which is far beyond any other platform game available today. Rayman and his fellow denizens quickly stop being sprites on a screen and soon turn into actual characters, complete with unique identities and personalities and attitudes. The stages feature multiple levels of smooth parallax scrolling, and are often loaded with animated details. There's so much to see that one has to videotape a game and play it back in slow-motion in order to catch everything. The game does slow down when the screen gets overcrowded, but these periods are so rare and so brief that only the most obsessed nitpickers will even notice or care.
The sounds try to match the graphics' high standards, but ultimately fall short. Sound effects are sparse but nicely done, and helps enforce the game's "cozy comfort" attitude. Game music consists of a wide variety, high-quality tunes, from light and bouncy to dark and menacing, all of which fits the game wonderfully. But they are far too short; the typical melody cycles after thirty seconds of play, and this can be irritating on longer levels. It's a good thing that the music and sound volumes can be adjusted at any time.
Rayman delivers no new ideas to the platform game genre; instead, what it offers is the flawless execution of existing elements -- precise controls, clever levels, friendly gameplay, gorgeous graphics, and crisp sounds -- all wrapped around a design which actually taxes the mind along with the thumbs. Players who prefer the frantic action of Sonic or Mario might be turned off by Rayman's leisurely pace, but those who are looking for a change from the hop-and-bop clones should definitely give this title a try.