RAYMAN (1995) – UBISOFT
When Ubisoft began their conference on Monday at E3, their lead game was not Assassins Creed, or Far Cry or Ghost Recon. Nope, the honour went to Rayman Origins. Despite the high success of these other franchises, it is Rayman that for a long time has been seen as Ubisoft’s mascot. And with the transition back to classic 2D side scrolling, it got me thinking about the first entry in the series. Rayman was one of the first successful titles for the Playstation, and one of my first purchases for the console. And I can look back on it fondly, because it still remains one of the hardest challenges I have undertaken in gaming.
Ubisoft, being a French company, were perhaps a bit more quirky in their thinking when coming up with the world of Rayman, and it shows in the design of the world and its characters. You play as Rayman, a character with one very defining feature: he has no limbs. One day, and evil dude named Mr Dark comes into Rayman’s world and steals the Great Protoon, which provides balance and harmony in the world, and enslaves the Electoons that hovered around it. It is up to the limbless wonder to free the Electoons which have been scattered throughout the world, before he can advance of Mr Dark’s fortress, which just so happens to be a world made out of candy, and deliver some limbless justice.
Similar to the likes of Mario, there are several worlds to transverse in Rayman, all connected by a static world map. Each world has about five levels in it, four of which are based on the theme of the current world you are in and are split into two or three individual stages, and the final level which serves as a boss battle. In each of the four levels there are six cages which hold the Electoons which must be broken to free them. Only after every single Electoon is the game has been saved can you go after Mr Dark. To help you on your way, each level has small little blue balls, called Tings, which can be collected; 100 of them will give you an extra life. There are also checkpoints scattered throughout (in the form of a board that you would find at a holiday resort where you stick your head through and get a picture), and in special places a Magician who you can pay in Tings to get access to bonus levels, where you can get more lives and goodies.
Its not a walk in the park for Rayman though, as several enemies stand in his way; hunters looking to shoot you to pieces, brass instruments looking to crush you, board pins looking to impale you; basically, theres a lot of things in this game that want you dead. At the start of the game Rayman can only evade them or scare them by waggling his tongue, but eventually you get access to the famous telescopic punching fist, allowing you to attack from range, and other powerups such as the ability to run, and make a helicopter out of your hair. And you thought Mario was inventive by dressing up as a racoon…
So, how to sum up the gameplay of Rayman? It’s very simple to do that: THIS GAME IS HARD. At times, this game is absolutely brutal in difficulty, and when you consider it is aimed at children, it makes it all the more surprising. I bought this game when I was 7; it took me a further 6 years to legitimately beat this game without cheats. I don’t begrudge its difficulty (although I detest the level with ‘Dark Rayman’); in a time when platformers were on the rise this stood out in the market for the challenge that it offered. What I do find surprising is that very few games I have played since have offered such a challenge over the length of the whole game.
I also find it surprising how one of the earliest titles for a fifth generation console has remained so timeless in its presentation. I think two aspects help greatly here; first of all is the cartoon-ish style of the graphics, which in a style similar to Sheep, Dog N Wolf, never really ages compared to the polygons of other games from the era; just look at the original Ridge Racer and see how that has aged. Over 65,000 colours were used to make the worlds of Rayman, and when combined with the aforementioned quirky design, it leads to some excellent and highly original gaming backdrops. The start of the game is pretty standard with its jungle setting, but then in the music themed levels, the platforms are made out of drums and the bars from a musical score, with sharp clefs serving as the enemies. The picture world has pools of ink that Rayman can drown in, and rubbers that he can use to bounce for extra height. Compare this to the more generic modern worlds in platformers (which even Mario is now struggling with), and you have to credit Ubisoft for their forward thinking vision.
The other aspect of presentation is a charming and very well produced soundtrack. It has never been established that there was one overall composer, but the end result is a soundtrack that I personally could listen to happily all day. Researching the tracks for this article brought back a flood of nostalgia that is quite indescribable, and whereas I would normally only give one or two tracks for recommendation, this time I have to recommend it all. Dream Forest, Band Lands, Blue Mountains, Land Of Colours, Cave Of Skops, and Candy Chateau: all of them brilliant. I also love Rayman’s cry of ‘YEAH!!!’ upon finishing a level.
To conclude therefore, the original Rayman is a very good game. To have held up so well over time and to be provide a challenge is a feat that few games ever achieve. It wasn’t simply passed by either; I was blown away when I found out that it is the best selling Playstation game ever in the UK, beating out the likes of Tomb Raider 2 and Gran Turismo. Sadly, the consequent series has been less than stellar; Rayman 2 was a worthy sequel, but since then quality has declined, and it gave the world the incredibly annoying Rabbids series. Here’s to hoping that Rayman Origins will recapture the old glory days of the limbless hero.