I love Rayman. Since the day I booted up the original Rayman on my old Compaq Presario many moons ago, I had a weird fascination with the strange fellow.
I first wandered into the world of Rayman in my younger years, naturally – wandering into a CompUSA I found a copy of the MS-DOS release of the original Rayman, waiting for me in the bargain bin, lonely and sad. I had never heard of the game, yet I was intrigued by the box art – this strange cartoony-looking fellow, with a full set of appendages, sans the limbs to hold them all together? What is this blasphemy!?
We’ve all played as a character who can fly, but how many protagonists can boast six separate flying body parts, all of which somehow stay together to roughly form a human shape? You don’t have to say it – I’m making some pretty good points here.
At the time, I was primarily obsessed with games like Duke Nukem, DOOM, Quake, and other 3D first-person shooters, as well as the SNES and the plethora of platformers you’d find on there.
Even looking back now, the level of detail poured into every frame of that game oozed the love that was put into it by Ubisoft at the time.
Everything had an animation. And it looked so gorgeous compared to the bleak, grim environments of the shooters I was more into, that it brought me back to the first time I played Donkey Kong Country on my SNES and just made young-me happy to sit there and play it for hours.
I forgot about the limbless hero for a bit, as you tend to forget about everything five minutes after you’re done with it when you’re young. It wasn’t until the release of Rayman 2: The Great Escape for the Nintendo 64 that Rayman himself was thrust back into my life. Naturally, being that the mid-late 90s were the time of making everything 3D, particularly on the N64, this was now a 3D platformer. And while the series was changed up significantly from its predecessor, boy, it still played great. To date it remains one of my favorite games of all time, not only for the mechanics that were well-dialed in considering the time, but also for the incredible soundtrack that I can still replay from start to finish in my head at will.
A while back, I got to thinking about titles I’d love to see announced at the upcoming E3 convention, and for whatever reason, Rayman popped into my head. I had an absolute blast with Rayman Legends, a perfect gem of a game done right, but I craved something more… three-dimensional. After all, it has been some time since 1999 when Rayman 2 came out.
A twitter friend replied and informed me of a Rayman 3, and after a quick trip to Wikipedia, I confirmed that I had not done by due diligence – in fact there are several follow-up releases to my 1999 love interest. Needless to say, I had to have it. One eBay trip, $15, and four days later, I had the PlayStation 2 copy in my hands!
Right away the charm of Rayman is evident, from the peppy intro track to the.. voice acting!? Holy cow, now this was something new. I will say that I certainly miss the Sims-esque jumbled mess of speech found in Rayman 2, but it’s still neat to have voices attached to the characters. Though legend has it that a certain version of Rayman 2 actually had real voice acting on it, I have never been fortunate enough to play that one! Although I imagine at the time, it would have been but a turn-off.
Rayman 3 looks and feels just like its predecessor, something I was concerned would not be the case. Fortunately, I’m proud to say that if you’ve played 2, you’ll be right at home on 3. Jumping around and activating your hair helicopter feels great and it retains the feeling of character control when Rayman is airborne, which naturally is key in 3D platformers where depth perception can suffer.
One of the trade-offs with the move to 3D during this era was that you squeezed so much juice out of the limited console power output, that you ultimately had to make sacrifices on things like shadows and anti-aliasing. This in turn single-handedly made an entire era of games age very poorly, and a lot of those games happened to be 3D platformers. Rayman 3 actually looked pretty great on my 4K TV, but it’s worth noting that I was using the Component cable hookup and 16:9 picture ratio.
Nope, “muddy graphics” didn’t ruin this bad boy, as it’s still perfectly playable! However, you’ll have to battle with arguably the toughest boss ever created – the floating third-person camera.
This thing can really be a pain in the neck. It was not uncommon while traversing through one of the many vertical, narrow corridors that the camera would have me looking at the back of a wall, Rayman not anywhere in sight. I frequently lost lives to this and had to restart entire sections because of this as well. While that can easily chip away at a players’ drive to keep pushing onward, the moments that did let me feel 100% in control of Rayman more than made up for it.
For instance, boss fights. Rayman 3 is home to a good ten or so bosses, and all of them have their own unique skillsets and moves, with Rayman required to use his own arsenal of moves to bring them down.
I have a question. Why do bosses hang out in rooms that contain all of the required equipment to destroy them? If you’re allergic to cranberries and can’t swim, you should probably avoid swimming laps through the bogs, ya feel me?
While none of the bosses are particularly challenging, with the exception of the three-phase final boss which can be a bit tricky (thanks again, camera angles), they’re good fun and satisfying to bring down with Rayman’s special moves.
On that topic, Rayman has tons of special moves: there are five abilities available throughout his journey, scattered around levels in the form of floating cans. These power-ups grant Rayman a special ability for a short period of time. For example, swinging from floating rings or shooting a vortex of wind. These are all introduced fairly early on in the game and are usually unlocked by freeing Teensies from their cages, who will leave behind cans as they disappear into a fine mist. These special moves are introduced to you as you progress into the game, and they each add potential layers of complexity to enemies and obstacles.
Of course, being that this is a Rayman game, you have the usual enemies that lurk within the universe. There are tons of bad guys to throw your fists at in glorious Rayman fashion, mini-bosses throughout just about each level, and boss fights at the end of each zone. Not only does each enemy have their own set of seemingly choreographed moves that can be tough to avoid, but they all have different weaknesses and attack styles you must incorporate to take them down without having your own health chipped away. Usually for the tougher bad guys, a certain special move is required to finish them off, in the form of generally one or two of the special moves that you obtain throughout the levels, not unlike the main bosses.
One thing about Rayman 3 that changed up the formula I remember is how freeing the Teensies from the cages became less of a side-quest, and more of a requirement for level progression.
Most of the power-ups that Rayman needed to proceed through the level were gated behind a Teensies cage, which felt a little cheap, as there was generally not much searching to do. What usually happened is that, following a rescue, the Teensies would leave a parting gift in the form of a special power-up required to move forward in the level. Finding all of the cages was a blast in Rayman 2 was a lot of fun, and you would have to listen for the little chirp sound they made, but here it was fairly easy to find most of them. One of the most gratifying moments of playing Rayman Legends was simply seeking out all of the Teensies, and this was taken away a bit in Rayman 3.
In true Rayman fashion, this installment likes to throw a lot of wrenches at you, and after each (or most) worlds, there’s a weird skiing level that really pushes the boundaries of the Playstation 2’s graphical processing unit, and also your sanity. There are things to collect in Rayman 3 and, well, these mini-games really exist to collect them, and offer little else except a bit of frustration. While the point of nabbing these collectibles is probably made clear at some point, I never cared much for grabbing everything I could get my hands on. From what I understand, collecting all of them will earn you a Smile Stamp and generally increase your score in the top left of the screen, and if you earn a Stamp in each of the nine worlds, you can unlock bonus levels, movies, and mini-games. I’m not one for bonus content but I know most appreciate the content.
All in all, Rayman 3 takes what I remembered and loved about the predecessor and modernizes it a bit, while still staying true to that wonderful 1999 title I enjoyed on the N64 as a kid. Most of the frustrations of the 3D plane are still ever-present, and the lack of an excellent soundtrack that complemented Rayman 2 takes away a bit from my mental score, but it was definitely a fun look back at a great series from the early 2000s. If you’re nostalgic like me for Rayman 2 or want something that’s a small commitment and generally a great time, look no further than Rayman 3.