I first played Rayman when I received it for Christmas and was surprised by how much fun it was. It is a well-known fact that parents who buy games for their kids on a whim generally end up with disappointed kids, but this was most certainly not the case. Rayman features well-animated characters, excellent controls, sharp, colorful graphics, and a perfectly-suited soundtrack. I ask you, what's not to like?
The story of Rayman is the stuff of typical platformers; stop the bad guy, save the girl, restore order to the universe. The Great Protoon is a magical sphere that keeps the universe in balance, and a certain Mr. Dark has stolen said sphere to bring chaos and destruction to the otherwise bucolic utopia. The fairytale creatures that orbit the Protoon have been rounded up and captured, and must be saved along the way in order to gain passage to Mr. Dark's stronghold and fulfill Rayman's destiny. The plot plays out very nicely, and as more information comes to light Rayman is granted more powers. Rayman's powers include grabbing ledges, throwing his fist to attack, spinning his hair like a helicopter to reach far away platforms, and running. Every so many levels Rayman receives a visit from Petilla the fairy, who bestows upon him new abilities in a small arena that allows you try that new ability out.
The soundtrack really sets this one apart from other generic platformers. Every level has a particular theme, and that theme is accentuated by a fantastic score. From dense, tropical jungles to dank, musty caverns, the score exemplifies the mood and adds an extra layer of atmosphere in every instance. The levels, again, all have particular themes; one of my personal favorites being a land of art supplies, flooded with a sea of swirling paint. Considering the time this game was released, Ubisoft really pulled out all the stops in the art department; the game simply looks amazing. The difficulty is also quite a bit higher than you would expect for a game with such a presentation. Rather than bog the experience down, it really increases the replay value.
I have this game for the PlayStation as well, but I prefer it on the Saturn. The first reason being the few added sound effects, such as when a level is completed; in the Saturn version, there is a yell, a funky horn solo, and an orchestra hit. In the PlayStation version, the orchestra hit is replaced with a tiny triangle hit; very disappointing. Also, when a level is completed in the Saturn version, the screen dematerializes in visually impressive ways, such as exploding or rolling up into a sphere that bounces around in 3D. This little extra is also missing from the PlayStation version. Any way you can find it this is a fantastic game and an overall joyous experience. I would recommend the Saturn version, though, if available.