Ubisoft's Rayman has become a successful franchise spawning several sequels and spin-offs. These days you can find Rayman on everything from the Nintendo Wii to the Xbox 360. However, it's often overlooked that the first incarnation was actually on the Atari Jaguar more than a decade ago.
In Rayman's world peace and harmony are maintained by the Great Protoon and everybody lives a happy, stress-free life. That is until the evil Mr Dark captures the Great Protoon scattering the electoons across the land. With the natural balance upset strange and nasty creatures start to appear and the once green and pleasant land becomes a hostile place to live. It's up to Rayman to rescue the electoons, defeat Mr. Dark and release the Great protoon thus eliminating the evil and restoring the natural balance. It might sound like a cute and sickly sweet adventure for the kids but there's a lot more to Rayman than a cheesy story.
Rayman is a visual treat offering much more than the average 2D platformer. Rayman's character design is original and interesting. He's certainly no Sonic or Mario clone. Likewise the enemies littered throughout the game have the same, slightly left-field and inspired design. All the sprites in the game are colorful, well animated and in the case of the end of level bosses, huge! The backgrounds to each of the stages sport incredible attention to detail with little animations bringing everything thing to life. Each area of the map is varied and beautifully rendered. At times it's like watching a well drawn cartoon. Even now, a decade after the game's release everything looks fresh and vibrant!
The game was ported to several other systems and the main difference between the Jaguar original and these is the sound. The Atari Jaguar Rayman is a 4 meg cartridge, whereas the other versions have the advantage of CD-ROM storage capacity. That's not to say the sound in this version is bad, it's fine. Ok, so it's not streaming CD-quality audio but the tunes are catchy and not distracting. The sound effects are simple but effective. The sound may not quite match the high standard of the graphics but this is a minor grumble.
This game has all the classic 2D platforming ingredients: jumping, running exploration, power-ups, and freaky bosses. You start the adventure with limited abilities: punch, jump, crawl and climb. As you progress through the game a friendly fairy rewards you by granting you new abilities like grabbing ledges, running and even “helicopter hair”. With these new powers you gain access to hidden parts of earlier levels as well being able to complete the challenging later levels, and is does get challenging. At the beginning it's fairly easy to progress and you have time to learn how to use your new found abilities but things soon change.
Some levels require perfectly-timed, miss and you're dead, jumps whilst others require speed and good reactions. The varied pace helps keep the action interesting and sometimes frustrating. As you revisit levels again with a new ability you can often find something new. To complete the game you need to find 100% of the trapped electoons and defeat the final boss. The controls are responsive and intuitive using the joypad and the A,B and C buttons which is just as well. Things get pretty hectic at times. You are awarded bonus lives and you'll need them. The game is huge, and very addictive with plenty of replay value.
As a Jaguar-specific treat there's a breakout-style mini game accessible via a code discovered early in the game. This features Rayman bouncing a large berry up the screen to clear other berries. If you complete all of the many screens you're awarded unlimited continues for the duration of the game. It's a nice bonus ... if you can do it.
Rayman is a great game, simple as that. It might not be greatly innovative, but it is a fine example of a time-honored formula taken to near perfection. Even now, in the 21st century, the addictive gameplay, vibrant graphics and rich level design make this a fun title to play. This is by far the best platformer on the Jaguar so unless you already have it on another system, get it now!