Version tested: PlayStation 3
The PSone is legendary for being the first games console to accrue a library of over sixty squintillion games, most of them utter bish. Even so, the percentage that made up the cream of the crop still represents some of the finest games of their era, forever caught between the simplicity of the 16-bit days and the "ooh, look, we can do 3D!" thrill of the new.
With that in mind, the latest four titles to pirouette gracefully into a download tutu for the PlayStation Store are a curious bunch. Now that more third-party publishers are offering their old wares, the quality is definitely taking a dip. We've got two from Ubisoft and two from EA to peruse, and while one from each is a worthy option for the still-reasonable GBP 3.49 (EUR 4.40) that Sony are charging, the remaining two are the sort of sloppy seconds that you'd probably pass up even if you found the original discs for 50p at a car boot sale.
- Publisher: Ubisoft
- Developer: Ubisoft
- Price: GBP 3.49
Maybe it's his creepy Moomin-like demeanour but, despite Ubisoft's best efforts, their beloved limb-deficient mascot has never really taken root in the gaming consciousness the way they seemed to hope. Despite numerous spin-offs aimed at turning him from mere platform-jumper to Mario-challenging gaming icon over the years, it's rather telling that the most successful games to bear his name these days have sidelined the armless one in favour of raving rabbids.
Like many heroes of his generation, ol' Rayman rather lost his way when the 3D world came a-knocking, but this welcome opportunity to turn the clock back to his very first 2D appearance reveals a charming and addictive little platformer that, had it arrived on the SNES, could possibly have given that fat plumber a run for his money.
Instead, it bounced from Jaguar to Saturn before finally landing on the PlayStation. The style, however, reminds me most of the old Amiga platformers that used to pour out of Europe - whimsical characters, Smurf-esque touches and enough parallax scrolling to make an ST choke.
There's really little here to surprise a seasoned platform player. You collect blue things, confusingly called Tings, which makes you sound a bit like a rasta if you're explaining it to someone. Rayman can attack by winding up his disembodied fist and letting it fly across the level. There are secret bonus areas where you have to collect tings against a time limit. The aim is to rescue as many Electoons as you can find, imprisoned as they are in cages by the fiendish Mr Dark. The game cannily lets you progress without finding them all, but the game can only be completed by going back and doing the job properly.
It's cleverly designed, as you'd expect from Michel Ancel (he of subsequent Beyond Good & Evil and King Kong fame), with secrets and rewards hiding in all the right places. The major complaint I'd level against it is the respawning bad guys, who pop back all too soon and make repeated exploration something of a grind. Apart from that minor nuisance, Rayman is about as polished a platform game as you're likely to find for the price.
Command & Conquer: Red Alert
- Publisher: Electronic Arts
- Developer: Westwood
- Price: GBP 3.49
With work on Red Alert 3 mysteriously halted for the PS3, the addition of this game to the PlayStation Store seems rather cruel. Still, for those who downloaded and enjoyed the original PSone port of Command & Conquer, this prequel offers more of the same and a little bit more besides.
It's set in an alternate universe where the course of history was changed forever when Albert Einstein travelled back in time and erased Hitler from existence. Without Nazi Germany to weaken his forces, Stalin proceeds to conquer Europe - with a little help from a certain Kane and his Brotherhood of Nod. Factor in the infamously cheesy C&C live action cut-scenes used to spin this wild yarn, and you've got something that's more entertaining than it really should be.
In gameplay terms, there's not much here that isn't already on offer in the previous game. New vehicles and new maps, obviously, but it's pretty much business as usual. The most notable changes are a more intriguing balancing act between units, forcing you to do more than just sling everything at the enemy, and a skirmish mode which offers 16 maps designed for fast, aggressive play outside of the objective-driven story missions. The big feature which made PlayStation owners sit up and bark - hard-wired linked multiplayer - obviously doesn't work on the new hardware, what with the internets and all that.
Still, it's another basic yet surprisingly effective slice of early RTS action and if you lovingly scooped the guts out of Command & Conquer and slurped them up like a greedy sow, you'll be equally satiated by this offering.