Escape From Old Hat
As you may recall, Rayman appeared on 16-bit and 32-bit formats respectively a year or two back. It mildly impressed the gaming journalists who critically analysed it, but the public remained unconvinced; it sold fairly well, but its crude difficulty levels left it impenetrable and untouchable to the majority. Rayman 2 has been completely overhauled though - it's in true 3D for starters, and its previously hardcore puzzles are now taxing, but nothing frustrating. Thanks greatly to this; the game is very accessible, both to young and old. Instead of simply rehashing an old platform title in a different guise, Rayman 2 borrows the odd bit here and there, but the best sections have been put together by the creative geniuses at Ubisoft, and it all melds them all together into one seamless classic. Despite being developed in the West, Rayman 2 features the over-the-top madness approach of its Nipponese competitors in abundance. Each of the non-player-characters (NPCs) that you meet is Manga-like in appearance and full of quirky tales and one-liners. The way that you read the subtitles while the characters spiel unintelligible gibberish is one such Japanesey touch that adds to the experience. Larger than life characters like the hefty "Globox" and the colourful "Teensies" set the story alight and compel you to continue, in much the same way as Mario 64 did when Nintendo unveiled it. Again in true Japanese platform style, the artwork is exquisitely rendered, from shimmering waterfalls to rocky outcrops, it all looks beautiful and your jaw will definitely hit the ground on occasion. I had to pinch myself at times to remind myself that this was a console game, not a high-end PC title. In fact, the genre is basically there, right now. You view all this spectacular scenery from a camera positioned Tomb Raider-style just above and behind our hero. Unlike the aforementioned adventure title though, Rayman 2's camera moves and positions itself perfectly to view the action and rarely needs adjustment, although that thoughtful option is still easily accessible via the Dreamcast's X and Y buttons. Accessible is probably the best word to describe Rayman 2's control system on the whole. It's flawlessly executed for the most part, although Rayman's swimming mechanics are a bit irksome. On the whole though, controlling Rayman is simple and instantaneous; there's no half-second pause between cause and effect, which is present in other, lesser platform titles, and the game makes wonderful use of the whole Dreamcast controller. New abilities and options are presented to you via a cunning in-game tutorial interface. Whenever you see a "magical stone", you walk up to and jump on it and a little green flying chappy appears from nowhere, glimmering with magical dust and instructs you on a new technique or gives you a valuable clue on how to complete a particular puzzle. Even hours into the game, I found my useful companion revealing movements and techniques that I would never have figured upon! The puzzles are never conceptually challenging, thanks to clearly defined graphics. You can always either see what the solution is and it's the physical task of achieving it that requires thought, or you can ascertain how you're going to be tested in order to complete it. Usually your charming chum in the air will offer a hint for success too. Some puzzles trigger in-game cutscenes and pre-defined action sequences, such a bouncing down river rapids in a barrel or racing away from an approaching pirate ship, and thanks to the responsive control system, split second decisions are possible, and necessary in order to succeed. The soundtrack is another area that impressed me. From raging torrents of rock to accompany the action sequences to the soothing ambience of your more benign surroundings, everything fits in perfectly. Sound effects too, are precise and at time coquettish. I really enjoyed them and even turned down my customary Stereo-gaming-accompaniment in order to hear them better. In fact, there's very little of Rayman 2 that I found disagreeable. It's over fairly quickly, a quite insignificant 11 or 12 hours should suffice, which is nothing by today's standards, but you only notice it because you're so desperately scrabbling through the thing that time really does fly past you.
Ubisoft could have chosen a very different route with Rayman 2. They could quite easily have just created a Mario-a-like 3D platformer and shovelled it onto store shelves with a broad grin, ready to rake in the money, but they haven't, they've done their homework and found what makes the genre tick, then melded it all together, throwing in their own innovative design ideas and approaches, and squeezed Rayman 2 out of it all. It's not just one thing that sets it apart either, every department has done their job. There are even Dreamcast-exclusive sub-games to be found within the mayhem - there's just so much to do and see, it really does make you wonder what all these other games developers have been wasting their time doing while this has been in production. One last thing that I would like to say, and this is for those of you out there who might criticize console gaming as a kiddies alternative to the real thing, and who might argue that there's no skill in the creation of a console game; if you don't think console game development is a creditable artform, take a spin in Rayman's world and think again.
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