Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Rayman (Ubisoft)

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Rayman wants to be a strong classic platformer, and it’s really a shame that the steep difficulty curve will turn off even the most determined of contemporary gamers, because from an aesthetic and game design perspective this game should be appreciated.  Alas Rayman has been ported to console after console and seen commercial success, but I wonder how many people have actually experienced most of what this title has to offer.

During the mid 90s there was no shortage of consoles – both the 16-bit generation and 32-bit generation were coming to be, not to mention CD consoles –  and Rayman was caught right in the thick of it.  Not only that, but thanks to Mario and Sonic, platformers were among the highest in popularity behind fighting games.  The title began life as a brainchild of Ubisoft creative director Michel Ancel (who is also responsible for cult favorite Beyond Good & Evil) and the then struggling developer/publisher bet the house on his creation and won.  Rayman started life on the Super NES as a two-player title based on various cultural fairy tales and eventually it was decided that the game would receive a cartoon makeover with better animation and subsequent move to the Playstation CD add-on for the SNES (read that story here).  When Nintendo announced the cancellation of both the Playstation and Phillips CD projects Ubisoft wanted to move to the Jaguar thanks to its specs and eventually chose the Sony Playstation as the lead console.  As you can see, the game was already bouncing from console to console.

Rayman is known for some unique features upon its 1995 release date – most namely because it was a 2D platformer in a time when 3D polygonal graphics were all the rage and it released on Playstation and Jaguar simultaneously (1 week apart) with differences to both.  The Saturn and PC ports would come in 1996 and be identical to the PS1 version.  Lead character Rayman has no limbs – his head, hands, and feet float around his body – which was a design decision due to hardware limitations and not actually part of any plot.  Visually the title is gorgeous with bright colors (up to 65,000 at one time) and made good use of the hardware at the time, not to mention smooth 60 frames per second animation throughout.   Thanks to the CD format, the Playstation version contains a vibrant red book audio (similar to music CDs) format that will play on a CD player if you have the original disc.  Wikipedia cites similarities to Treasure’s Dynamite Headdy, a Genesis title that released in 1994, but I feel the comparison was only made in hindsight and I’ve read nothing to remotely connect the two.

Rayman’s gameplay appears to be a traditional platformer, but once you start getting into the second world (most people refer to as the “music level”), the game’s difficulty ramps up at an immense rate.  You are consistently trying to dodge pits and obstacles you will only know about if you’ve already died from, it was nearly impossible to “twitch” your way through most obstacles.  As a result, you were forced to memorize most levels; think of it as the R-Type of platformers. In addition, the length of the levels grow as well, probably due to the changes to different platforms and media during development. Rayman also has limited lives (3) and continues (3) after which a game over requires you to start over completely.  This is a bit confusing when you first start out because the game has password and save features, but neither of those allow you to continue beyond the initial lives and continues – there are cheat codes, but you have to know to use them before a game over.  It all comes off, especially today, as an awkward combination of 16-bit and 32-bit game design (which it most likely is).  This is also a collect-a-thon game, requiring you to collect all six caged Electoons in order to move on to the final stages, which can be a blessing to completionists like me and a curse to bare bones players.  Having said that, these are all minor setbacks that in no way eclipse the solid gameplay, decent level design, wonderous worlds, and boss battles that remained in my memory through nostalgic goggles.  Come to the game prepared and take it in stride (this can be easier thanks to the massive amount of portable ports) and there should be no reason for you to not eventually beat it.

Different Versions

The original version is technically available on the Atari Jaguar, which is most likely similar to the version we would have gotten on SNES Playstation or the canceled 32x version.  It has a few differences from the Sony Playstation version including the removal of Mr. Stone’s Peaks level and Space Mama’s area and battle are also absent.  Rayman cannot shrink like he does in the other versions and the level Erasure Plains has been changed to a new level entirely.  This version does contain the game Pong as a hidden minigame and contains glowing and smoke effects on Mr. Skops’ lava level.  As expected, the audio is considerably weaker because it is compressed onto a cartridge and could not take advantage of the red book audio.  It is one of the few games that demonstrate both the abilities and value of the Atari Jaguar and every collector I’ve spoken to says it’s a must buy if you own the system.  Unfortunately the Jaguar version is quite rare and sells for $50+ online, which is about 5-10 times higher than the many other versions you can find.

On the PC, Rayman had plenty of expansions that demonstrated a versatility in the concept well ahead of its time: endless level design.  While the original PC version was a mere PS1 port, the 1997 Rayman Gold also included level development tools and contained 24 new levels and the need to collect 100 tings to complete each level.  The included development tool, Rayman Designer, allowed players to create levels and share them on the Internet, which wasn’t popular at the time.  Rayman Forever hit in 1998 and included both Rayman Gold and 40 new user-designed levels to further extend the experience although at the expense of part of the soundtrack, which most fans of the series do not consider a worthwhile trade-off.  Rayman 100 Niveaux was the final release and contained 60 newer levels (entitled the 60 “Niveaux” levels that were only released previously in France as the super rare Rayman Collector) and the 40 user levels, however it does not contain the contents of Rayman or the extra 24 Gold levels.

Rayman Advance was the first true portable port that made the game easier for various reasons and was close to the same as the PS1 version save for the obvious downgrade in the soundtrack.  The game was also available on Gameboy color – although it only used the plot of the original, level design was from the sequel – and digital downloads on PSP (via PSOne collection) and on DS/3DS via DSiWare.  The PSOne version has the unaltered gameplay and  soundtrack (because it’s basically a rip of the original ISO) whereas the DSiWare version has been made even easier than Advance and features downgraded looping audio and appears to be based on the PC version.  In addition, Good Ole Games released Rayman Forever on its site, adjusting the programming of the PC version to support Windows platforms – DOSbox is required to play the original versions of these DOS-based games.  Both Forever on GOG and the PSOne version are $5.99 whereas the DSiWare version will set you back $7.99.

While the original is important and significant for many reasons, Rayman’s next outing would update it to 3D polygons, a step back for the art design, but was much more approachable.  It held up so well, in fact, that Ubisoft and Nintendo decided to use it as a 3DS launch title.

Written by Fred Rojas

April 17, 2012 at 12:00 pm

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