With Michel Ancel’s recent departure from the gaming industry and retreating to nature as is the most logical step for organic species, we can now turn our heads backwards to his first, and still best IMHO, foray into the world of 3D. Rayman 2 was a game I first played on Playstation 2 on the ported and upgraded edition ‘Rayman Revolution’. One port among many to put it lightly. This version of the game added in an explorable overworld area where you accessed all of the levels from. I recently revisited this version of the game and was soon turned off by the sluggish frame rate and confusing level design. One aspect of this version that I remember taking up the most time was finding where I was meant to go and I think I would re-explore (and re-battle enemies) of this overworld because its layout often meant I spent too much time looking for the level I was meant to go to, only identifying and locating it by the name.
In order to avoid reliving these hard times I simply went onto GOG and bought the version that has HD graphics and as far as I understand it is a port of the N64/PC version. Michel Ancel has described the Dreamcast port as being the ideal version of the game, then so be it, I’m happy as I am.
Now anyone who knows me or reads the game spew I write, knows the game snob that I am, will also know I like games with levels. Therefore I would find this game to be damn near perfect. When you finish a level, you simply see the next stage opened up on the overworld select screen and then you jump right on into the next world. Giving me only the parts I wanted. However, I can easily see the explorable overworld of Revolution having a greater impact on a younger player since it gives off atmosphere and a more natural sense of progression since the game is about saving this green natural world from evil machine pirates. A young player's level of immersion is something I have long since forgotten and can no longer judge.
The overworld of Revolution is also relaxing, colourful with hills, forests, rivers, fairy shrines, and pirate ships flying around. All the levels are believably linked to this green valley. It is actually the sort of thing you would expect from a 3D platformer since Mario and Banjo were doing this at the time.
Maybe I love the grandfather version with no walking between levels since it means immediate focus being on the environments and their gameplay, both of which I found myself in a better position to appreciate this time around. Yes, there is still odd jittery collision detection, Raymans jump is hard to predict, the combat and enemies are over simple, the game does get somewhat brutal in its punishments later on and having to bounce a ball/plum around lava while you’re on it does get frustrating. I have never played Rayman 1 past the third level but internet gamers have informed me the difficulty is more than reigned in with this entry.
My scale of comparison on my first playthrough was between Mario 64 and Sonic adventure which I now see was an odd scale to judge the genre on back then, or ever.
Soon you are thrown into this French adventure in an oddball land where fairies help you tackle a mechanical pirate who is flying ships around and kidnapping everyone of color and a happy outlook including Rayman himself! With Globox kidnapped and the land of tiny animals under threat I knew this was on the right track. With a pirate ship amidst a dark murky water and fresh prisoners for its dark cells promised something very different since the opening cutscene resembled the darkest boss lairs of the others platformers I had experienced. Globox having swallowed the key for Rayman to break out also resembled my favorite prison escape films.
The first ship's levels are amazing. I remember the first stages of intelligence kindling inside my mind on the first barrel toss puzzle.
The simple timing of tossing a barrel up, firing at an enemy and then re-catching the barrel was intuitive in new ways for me. Mario was too perfect and elaborate in its almost Disney-esque design, dreamed up by some wizards in their magical kingdom, and Sonic was awkward when you were not expected to focus on speed. Rayman 2 was the dark delve through tall forests, swamps, cobwebs and airships people were craving. By ‘people’ I mean me as a boy who had yet to experience Jak 2.
It made me realise there was specific design behind all of these and while keeping it simple they produced in a way that can only be described as joyful. I assume so since the feeling seems to flow out of the game is glee, joy and warmth (yes, even the swamp level).
Rayman takes joy in simply jumping between rock platforms on a river while you try to keep up with an airship. You race along wooden bridges as they creak, wobble before they collapse under you (other times they explode from cannon fire).
In one incredible early section you drop from a huge height and use the glide ability to stall your fall so you can stop to fight pirates and get treasure. This whole time you were falling past some huge metal polluting pipe which stuck out from a green cliff of nature.
The game gives you a missile with legs you have to direct toward its target UNTIL they get given wings which the game prepared you for by setting alight the fuse on barrels which then turns them into projectile missiles and you go shooting off clinging to their underside, this is delightful despite making for some frustrating segments.
I laugh now but my fingers still twitch to this day.
Much like the later age designs from Ancel such as Beyond Good and Evil and King Kong and Rayman origins/legends the game can often be frustrating when the later stages come down hard on the difficulty and there is a sense of overloaded with ideas that do not always work, not to mention the carefree nature that does not see any age group restricted from their interesting worlds which seem ready to tackle any idea/angle. Where age has dulled some of the game's mechanics, the ideas and creativity behind the levels and especially the chase moments where an enemy pursues you or just when the level is falling apart, are still a joy to play.
Like later Rayman games when it gets tough, rather than just take a breather, I simply replayed it about 30 times until every pitfall was memorized and I was just doing it out of memory of my own made up rhythm. Not my favourite way to play but it’s not my first time and it gets us to the credits.
The voice acting leaves a lot to be desired (if your version even has it), the font is immature, and Rayman needed a few more upgrades to realise his full potential but combat was something new in this 3D landscape they were building in and I’m just grateful the game chose not to focus on them. I did not love the later plane stages, I remember a younger me doing loop de loops just in order to turn around and, if the gods of digital physics would allow, then the shots may land on the big bad enemy who’s a wide enough target. There are also swinging fairies which you depend on the game accepting that you were close enough to latch onto and these can easily go wrong if the camera isn’t behaving.
The biggest realization when you are older is how little you understood was even going on in the game. I remembered pirates and stuff but Globox and the Mask god Polokus was a faint ether image which memory has discarded. The game's themes of machine versus nature are reflected often in the environment and you do see destruction of nature happening. The main baddie is called Razorblade, someone Azur always tells you fears you and reminds you is the enemy when you die, which was often in my case. After a while of this, you do start to feel and believe Rayman is this badass revolutionary and it feels pretty neat.
As a young boy who disliked spiders, there’s a whole level dedicated to cementing that into fear.
Something sorta like this^.
In another there is a mini-boss. This one eyed creature scampered towards me from behind, sought out Raymans health from that dark corner, then from the camera's blindspot, then from where there should have been a wall. He was doing very well. With every swipe he was gone, clinging to the edges of my screen, always appearing behind something and out of sight. I jumped, I spun and then I got mad and started swinging fireballs madly everywhere I went. They bounced all round and landed on nothing despite hitting everywhere. He appeared and I moved and he sprang away and I dived around the next pillar of rock as we spun in this epic ballet, I knew it would have to come to an end but I no longer held hate for the poor cyclops, he never seemed to be anything but playing inside this hollow cave with his tree stump which the level screen had foreshadowed to me, meant as a warning, I now saw was a prophecy. I stopped Rayman, spun around and I ran toward the screen and my dance partner followed out into the open and then I turned and fired and soon after he was dead.
Ancel was a prodigy and when he came out firing on all cylinders with this and then the ambitious BG&E, he should have been honored as such. A rising star but the (not)great sales figures changed his course and while he always emitted positive energy that told us about how he was hard at work on the next game, the world of gaming moved on. Even if his efforts involved birthing the Rabbids scourge, there is still a great deal to admire about his design in the games he produced. Even if he is later outed as another evil member of Ubisoft at least his work reflected and resonated with innocence.
I played the first level of Rayman 3, despite me not even knowing it was a different designer and that is how I would have described the game; ‘different’. It was not bad just not what Rayman 2 fans were hoping for. Combat was improved but it now took centre stage and platforming was made a minor piece of gameplay since platformer gameplay now required some form of gunplay… twas the style at the time. While Jack and Daxter and Ratchet and Clank threw in more guns, bombs and vehicles, Rayman was at his best when trying to keep on bouncing, smiling with the fairies and maybe that was why he was left behind.
I often get nostalgic for a time when any genre was still a rage among industry audiences, and everyone was trying to outdo one another. 2D indies games have done good things for this market in recent times.
His later 2D outings even introduced singing and musical sections in a platforming way, look them up on Youtube since they are a wonder to behold. I personally think his intentions, world and simplicity has aged rather well, even if the world around him has not perfectly (intentionally applies to both the game and its creator). I even think if everyone revisited Rayman they would be reminded of a more simple and less serious time where our heroes needed to be put through creative scenarios after another to test their timing, navigation and perseverance(heart).
I think we would all be able to enjoy Rayman after we come to games from a crazy and divided world which demands complexity be applied to reflect it along with money bought sheen because there is little of that here by modern standards. It is like breaking through dark clouds to see the bright open orange sky high above that we had forgotten was there. Mr. Ancel may be responsible for this project but I want to take the chance to thank him and his team for ensuring their love went out with the game and is still bootable in these later times. He may have left and the days of joyous Rayman jumping could be gone (under his oversight, Ubisoft now rules that corner) but what they gave is still here, has a few cobwebs and cracks but it is ringing true.