Rayman has always been an odd-ball in gaming, and not just because he has no limbs. Despite being around for nearly 20 years (with an absence during the dark age known as the Rabbids Era) and having several critically acclaimed games under his belt, Rayman isn’t necessarily a well-known name compared to the likes of Mario, Master Chief, or even characters like Crash and Spyro, whose fame has faltered over the years.
While Rayman has certainly gained a lot of recognition with the release of Rayman Origins, I feel the previous games in the series have gone under-appreciated. And with Rayman Legends on the way, now is a good time to look into what made the main games in the Rayman series so good.
The most appealing factor of Rayman is its uniqueness. From its detailed, fantastical artstyle to its whimsical and powerful soundtrack, you get something out of Rayman you won’t find anywhere else. One world could be made of pencils and erasers, the next a dreary mountain where you ride on spaceships. Rayman is practically unpredictable; yes the game has similarities to the Super Nintendo game Plok (attacking with limbs, quirky art style), but play each game for even a small amount of time you’ll see that Rayman is a quality game of its own merits.
Rayman attacks by throwing his fist, which gains more power and distance as you charge it by holding down the Square button. In most side-scrolling platform games you can simply attack minor enemies and kill them with little resistance, but in Rayman many minor enemies will actively dodge, deflect, and counter-attack. This reflects Rayman’s difficulty, which at times reaches agonizing levels. And it’s not like the game gets difficult late into the game. The deceptively easy first world, The Dream Woods, leads to the challenging Band Land, and it just gets more intense as the game progresses. I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never beaten the Playstation version of Rayman without the help of a cheating device. Despite the fact that I can’t get through Band Land without rage-quitting I have to respect Rayman for not pulling any punches and for being a well-designed game that started my favorite franchise. What made Rayman so memorable, in my opinion is not just that it was unique, but also well-designed.
Rayman 2 is probably the most well-known game in the series for a few reasons. First, the game has been released, re-released, ported, and re-mastered on about 10 game systems. Second, the game also marks Rayman’s emergence into the 3D world, and the transition went smoothly.
One of the things that keeps the Rayman series so fresh is that each game is different from the last in terms of tone and gameplay. Where Rayman is a whimsical, quirky side-scrolling platformer, Rayman 2 is an adventure-platformer with a more grounded, dark fantasy tone.
In this game Rayman no longer has his telescopic fist, but instead throws glowing orbs that have ricochet physics that can be put to great use when trying to hit an out of reach object or when swarmed by enemies. What Rayman 2 has that Rayman doesn’t is world building. Rayman was pretty much a collection of random whimsical worlds that, while fun and well designed, had little connection with each other. Rayman 2 has an entire lore of gods, creation myth, and magic, along with a large cast of characters, including the Teensies, the concept of the god Polokus (who may also be the Bubble Dreamer from Rayman Origins), and Globox, Rayman’s best friend. Without Rayman 2, the entire franchise could have been vastly different.
But Rayman 2 isn’t just about the writing. The gameplay is refined, fun, and varied. In one world you’ll be battling hordes of pirates, and in another you’ll be flying and dodging obstacles, and another you’ll be engaging in challenges like a rollercoaster gauntlet. There’s a reason this game is on so many “Top Whatever” lists. And in my opinion, Rayman 2 has aged better than even Super Mario 64 and serves as the strongest game in the Rayman series.
Following Rayman tradition, Rayman 3 is very different from the previous games. To get an idea of the tone for Rayman 3, think a typical Nickelodeon cartoon. Bad stereotypes, weird accents, and impressions galore! Personally, I’m not a fan of the humor in the game. It’s very childish and rather annoying. There is also John Leguizamo voicing Globox. That’s right, Luigi played Globox. You can take that information however you want. The game is also much more linear than Rayman 2, with a series of levels instead of an open world to explore. Despite these flaws, Rayman 3 excels in its gameplay, even more than Rayman 2. Rayman controls very well, almost perfectly smooth, and the combat’s use of timed punches and strafing keeps combat from getting boring. The combat is what I see as the best part of the game. It adapts the strategies of Rayman and brings them into the 3D realm to challenge you in a way Rayman 2 did not.
Just like its predecessors, each new level provides something different. You’ll find yourself piloting a large mech-like contraption, leaping to platforms on a cart, or piloting a gunship. There are even temporary power-ups such as a stronger fist, chained fists used to swing across gaps and stun enemies, and a hurricane punch to whittle down obstacles. Some of these power-ups are a bit situational, but it’s still exciting whenever you get one. These various things keep the game moving at a fast pace. Yet this fast pace is a bit of a double-edged sword for the game, as it is almost criminally short. You can probably breeze through the game in about six hours or less. While definitely the underacheiver of the series, Rayman 3 is still a solid game worth playing with a variety of gameplay that should keep you entertained, even if it’s just for a brief time.
Many of you reading are probably familiar with the Rabbids. For those of you who aren’t, Ubisoft released a mini-game based party game for the Wii called Rayman Raving Rabbids. Soon, the Rabbids became more popular than Rayman and his relevance in the games whittled until he was completely removed by the fourth game, Rabbids Go Home, which isn’t a party game, but a comedic Katamari Damacy-esque game. While not very challenging, the game is simple fun.
For the rest of the Rabbids series, if you’ve played one you’ve pretty much played the others. While the first Rabbids game was fairly fun and made good use of the Wii’s motion controls, once you get to the third, and then fifth game in the same console generation the experience becomes stagnant.
The Rabbids titles, excluding Go Home, broke the unspoken rule of the Rayman series, which is changing the gameplay formula to make each game seem like a fresh experience. Despite the Rabbids titles attempting to incorporate peripherals such as the Wii Balance Board and the Kinect, each game feels too similar to the last, and soon it’s Mario Party all over again. That’s the reason the Rabbids are seen as a dark spot in the Rayman franchise; too much of the same released to quickly.
But from the darkness came the light in the form of Rayman Origins. This game is a return to form for the series, and even marks the return of Rayman’s creator Michel Ancel. This can be seen in the level design, which takes cues from Rayman, and the inclusion of Rayman 2 characters, which makes sense considering Ancel worked on those two games and not the third.
There have been a lot of comparisons to the New Super Mario Bros. series, which is also a platformer that can host up to four players with two stock characters thrown into the mix. But whereas NSMB is usually more about slow, methodical platforming, Origins takes cues from Sonic and Super Meat Boy.
You’re encouraged to go fast and keep up the pace, using wall-jumps and quick strikes to plow through enemies and obstacles. It’s also the first Rayman game to have a multiplayer campaign. I can honestly say Origins is one of my favorite games. It’s pure fun, and gets pretty challenging mid-game, and then downright sadistic by the end game, taking a better difficulty curve than Rayman as I mentioned earlier.
I said before that Rayman 2 is the best game in the series, but Origins takes the cake as the most enjoyable. A beautiful yet simplistic, cartoony artstyle, exciting music that matches the game’s fast pace, and enough challenges, unlockables, and levels to keep you entertained for hours.
If there’s one lesson to take away from the Rayman franchise it’s that change is good. Changing up the play style keeps a series from becoming stagnant. It’s what I feel has kept this underdog in the spotlight. I think many franchises today should take this to heart and not be afraid of change. If the game is good, people will play it, even if it’s different.
Rayman is one of my favorite gaming series. I’m not sure what exactly has made this series above all others stick with me (besides all the praise I’ve given it) but I like it enough to even try to follow the lore of the series, which has more retcons that DC Comics. Rayman Legends is on the way, and if you’ve downloaded the Rayman Challenges App for the Wii U it plays almost exactly like Origins. Yes, the graphics have changed, and for the better in my opinion, and we seem to be venturing into a previously unseen Medieval Era based world. But besides the inclusion of playing as Murphy using the Wii U pad and a rhythm based level available from the demo, Legends and Origins play almost exactly the same, based on the demos at least. While I’m all for another Origins styled game, I’m worried that Ubisoft may try to hold onto this formula too long and cause the series to grow stagnant, falling into the trap the Rabbids fell into. But for now, it’s just nice to see Rayman and his pals back in the spotlight where they belong.