It's a shame about Ray, man.
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Hmm. As much as we've enjoyed Rayman's intermittent appearances on handheld formats over the years, there was always a good reason for that. Take Rayman Advance. Ubisoft hit the ground running with a brilliantly realised port that still stands out as one of the finest platformers for the GBA, not only pushing the technical capabilities but managing to hold our attention with dozens of fiendishly designed levels. And however formulaic Rayman 3 on GBA was, the design nous in some of the more challenging levels had us coming back for more almost despite ourselves - plus had the added novelty value of being one of the very first GameCube link titles.
And so we had relatively high hopes regarding the prospect of the limbless wonder's appearance on the DS. Although we suspected there would be more than a hint of shovelware about it, after Super Mario 64 DS we were nevertheless hopeful for a similar selection of novelties to supplement the package and tempt our flexible friend into yet more action.
Dig for victory
How wrong could we have been? Rayman DS is the most blatant example of shovelware as we've seen for a long time. In simple, cynical terms, all Ubisoft (and conversion house DC Studios) has done here is take Rayman 2 - a six-year-old game that's well past its sell by date - dusted it off, and produced a direct, borderline lazy port of it and slapped a full price tag on it. The punters deserve a lot more than that.
The thing is, however much we have fond memories of Rayman 2 on the Dreamcast from back in the days when 3D platforming was still relatively new and Sega's machine was giving us an early glimpse into the kind of lush graphics we take for granted now, this port is barely up to the (sub)standard that the eventual PSone conversion offered and with a fairly broken control system and camera issues to contend with you're left with a tired looking game that with so many added irritants struggles to sustain your interest for long.
Whereas Super Mario 64 suffered from similar camera/control issues that left the player begging for an analogue stick, Nintendo's seminal classic at least had the decency to distract the user with a bunch of unlockables mini-games, multiplayer novelties and new playable characters. Rayman DS may have three mini-games to seek out, but overall adds virtually nothing new whatsoever to the mix, and is barely even playable using the touch screen. Using the D-pad is acceptable, but you're left constantly falling off narrow ledges because of the inability to creep along them. Hitting any direction using digital control sends the limbless one straight into a sprint of death, and so half of the time you're simply not in full, accurate control the way the designers intended - and once the game starts upping the ante the frustration factor really kicks in.
Give us 2D
And much like some of the less palatable truths of Super Mario 64 DS, the texture-free visuals commit all manner of once-tolerable graphical sins that once again expose the DS' architectural inferiority when dealing with 3D environments. For a game that visually set the benchmark for platformers in its era, it's disappointing to witness another DS title with hideously unattractive lowest of the low res texturing (even from a distance), and an often muddy, dark, dull look full of greens and browns. Honestly, some kind of innovative, touch-based 2D version would have been infinitely preferable to this. If ever there was a case for why 2D gaming should live on, here's the case in point right here.
And if you're still not convinced how much of a cheap and dirty port this really is, Ubisoft has completely ignored the use of the second screen, with the touch screen given over to the controls. No handy overhead map here, folks. It's the fact that the entire purpose of releasing this game has been to extract the maximum profit for the minimum effort that sticks in our craw, and it's not something we generally associate with the usually proud efforts of Ubi.
But if you can maybe, somehow, someway overlook all of these pressing issues, what lies at the heart of the package is a reasonably decent platformer, but no more. It wasn't even regarded as amazing at the time, being of the solid seven or eight out of ten stock that didn't excite many people to buy it at full price. Given that Jak, Ratchet, and Sly didn't even exist when this came out means it suffers even more by comparison, and merely reminds you of the sort of basic kleptomaniacal fodder that kept us happy back then. If you need reminding, the premise is the same here as it ever was: collect 'Lums' (1000 of the blowing buggers) in 45 areas across 19 levels.
Save your money
There's still a very small part of us that can't help but still be slightly impressed by the appearance of a 3D platformer on a handheld, but given the control issues it's not a happy marriage. If you find yourself really hankering after the chance to replay through Rayman 2 again then you can probably track down Rayman Revolution on the PS2 for pennies these days, but really, there are much better things to buy on the DS, and many better handheld Rayman games compatible with the DS for that matter.