Reviewed on PlayStation 1
I noticed that there are quite a lot of systems on my website that do not have reviews yet. Surprisingly one of them is the PlayStation, in which I also had trouble deciding what game to review next. I can name quite a few like the Spyro games, but I wanted to have knowledge of the remakes before getting to them. There are tons of JRPGs as well, but I don’t have the time for them at the moment. So after a bit of brainstorming, I came up with an idea: since this game in particular covers multiple systems, why not make a review about the first Rayman game? Rayman and I have practically grown up together, with coincidentally the first game as well. While my brothers owned the PlayStation, they occasionally let me play on it and the games I did play were usually some racing games or platformers. Surprisingly we didn’t have that many platformers on the PlayStation, so nine out of ten times it came down to Rayman.
The Rayman series was created and published by Ubisoft and made its start in 1995, with it also becoming one of the launch titles for the PlayStation 1. Rayman is a creation by designer Michel Ancel, and based after a drawing from his teenage years. Did you know Rayman was influenced by Russia, Chinese and Celtic fairy tales? I love neat details so this was a pleasant discovery for me. Ancel originally developed the game alone for the Atari ST, and later on moved to the now-cancelled SNES-CD when the team became bigger with more animators. Fun fact: an early build of the SNES Rayman prototype is available online! Of course, the SNES-CD never happened and therefore, focus was shifted to the Atari Jaguar. Surprise surprise, that also never came to fruition and finally we get to the PlayStation 1, which was easier to develop for. It became very successful, even becoming the best-selling PlayStation game ever in the UK, and led to the start of a brand new platformer franchise that would compete with the other big boys! Nowadays the Rayman franchise has met a curse even worse than death—namely the Rabbits—, but back in the day Rayman was very popular and it showed. The original Rayman game was eventually re-released for the Sega Saturn, PC and Gameboy Advance. A 32X and 3DO version were also planned but never happened in the end.
Our hero Rayman was enjoying a peaceful rest, but that wouldn’t last long. The evil Mr Dark edgy McBoy has stolen the Great Protoon, a big red ball of energy that apparently maintains peace and balance in Rayman’s world. I have seen many different incarnations of a god, but this is the first time I’ve seen a red ball god. The Electoons, inhabitants of the world, were also kidnapped by the evil Mr Darkness and put in oversized cages that they totally could not escape from themselves. Electoons and the Great Protoon are obviously designed after electrons and an atom, and Rayman is apparently also made of Electoons which would explain his lack of limbs. This theming is sort of a leftover from the game’s original plot which was very different, namely the game being seen through an actual developer’s eyes who created a world on his computer, and enters this world as the persona of Rayman to battle a virus. Obviously that plot got scratched, but it’s still interesting to know. Back on topic however, the game continues like you would expect it to: Rayman has to find and defeat Mr anti-Light to restore balance to the world. Your usual good vs evil story in a cartoony setting. Must say that the original plot had a much more interesting theme but eh, this is not really a priority for platformer games.
Following the cartoony theme, so is the world Rayman lives in. The inhabitants that are not Electoons all either look like Rayman or have their own unique design. None of them ever return later in the series however, except for Betilla the Fairy who is a prominent character in Rayman Origins. While you have your usual forest level, there are also levels designed with music instruments in mind, or a land full of drawing materials. I’ve stated before that I love seeing unusual themes in platformers, and Rayman delivers on that front. The levels themselves all have unique gimmicks as well, and demand to be replayed over time due to Rayman not being able to go everywhere in a level right from the start without the required abilities. Some levels even mix up the gameplay slightly, like endless flight or a vanilla 2D Shoot-m-up level.
Rayman himself controls fluid. At the start he doesn’t have many abilities yet and is only capable of jumping and grimacing his enemies to death and beyond, but the more you progress through the game, the more abilities you get. One of his trademark abilities is using his hair as a helicopter, allowing him to hover for a short amount of time. Platforming is a key element of Rayman (go figure), so being able to hover will make your life a lot easier. Surprisingly hanging onto ledges and running are also both abilities he learns over time. What are you, a newborn child who knows how to save the world but not know how to run? Pathetic, everyone can be a hero nowadays huh? Another ability he gains over time is the ability to hand onto flying rings and swing from them, which I find pretty fun to use especially when several rings are near each other.
While grimacing is uh.. one way to deal with enemies, Rayman learns his other trademark ability pretty fast: the flying fists of death and destruction & knuckles. Since Rayman has no limbs to deal with, he can throw his fists around like it’s nothing. It’s not too different from the Megabuster from Mega Man in that regard, as it can be charged up as well to travel a longer distance. The only significant difference is that it acts like a boomerang, so if you miss an enemy or he dodges it, you do have another chance to hit him from behind as you can’t attack until the fist has returned. That, and you can influence its return trajectory by jumping or crouching. Several upgrades are found in stages as well and will last until Rayman loses a life, including a faster- and stronger fist. Other than that, the collectables throughout the stages are your usual 1-ups, health items that both restore you and can potentially increase your health up to five, and Tings: small blue bubbles which can be used to enter a bonus stage by finding the Magician located somewhere in a level. These bonus stages are platforming challenges with a time limit, with the reward being a 1-up. Having one hundred Tings at once is, aside from being an accomplishment, also another way to get a 1-up. So many ways to get a 1-up, it almost feels like they’re important huh? obvious foreshadowing is obvious.
Every land usually has three to four stages, each housing a total of six captured Electoons in cages. While the game might want you to believe they act as a completion bonus.. they don’t. That’s a lie. You can’t beat the game without collecting all of them. Fortunately, any stage can be replayed as much as you want. The only thing absent would be the boss battles, with each land having one. I find bosses overall to be fun except the very last ones because you’re practically forced to take a few hits with an already limited health bar. They all have their own patterns which they expand on further the more damage is done. I’m not really too fond of some enemies in stages however, but I’ll give the game credit for not rehashing previous monsters and instead having them all unique with their own patterns. But while the bosses and enemies are all unique, there is a reason for them to be disliked.
This game is unfairly difficult, at least the PlayStation 1 version. The game was never tested outside of the development team and as a result, there are many levels which contain downright messy obstacles or platforms. Especially in the latter half, there are a lot of hanging rings that just automatically crash you into a set of spikes or a wall, causing you to fall down automatically. The same goes for enemies of which some have an absolutely ridiculous placement. They loved placing them near edges, and since Rayman has a huge knockback—which was an issue in the 8-bit and 16-bit days and should have stayed there—, you’ll meet death more often than not. Invincibility frames are also very short so you will die quite a lot. And the game-over screen is one you’ll see often since even the slightest of mistakes will be the end of you. There are bottomless pits everywhere, and combined with the knockback.. you can guess where I’m going with this. But that isn’t even the worst part of it all.
Do NOT play the game with the save system unless you are an absolute masochist. You’re given five continues at the start of the game, and three lives each continue with more to be found in stages. Now if I asked you the question what the functionality is of the continues, would it be either:
A. Makes you able to continue a stage until you’re out of continues.
B. Gives you continues till you reach a save point.
If you answered A, you’re kind of on the good path but still wrong I suppose? It’s far worse than that however; the continues you’re given is all you will have throughout the entire game. If you’re out of continues well.. your save file has become useless. There is absolutely no way to gain new continues without using cheats and passwords. This would have been a neat reward from the bonus stages instead of 1-ups if you ask me but you get my point. This is a brutal punch in the face, especially in a game where one single mistake can mean the end. And no, I’m not just being a weakling. Without the intention of bragging, I’d say I’m pretty much an expert at Platformers to the point where I speedrun them and do no-damage runs. I wasn’t able to do that in this game, as I actually quit in the final world due to frustration. I wouldn’t have beaten the game anyway since I need to collect all Electoons. Ignoring the Electoons give you a decently-challenging Platformer, though the easy deaths are still there. Which really is a shame, because I was truly enjoying this game when it didn’t throw cheap deaths at me. You can expect the game to take around 12 hours. I would say less but then again, I didn’t bother with the Electoons.
Presentation-wise this game it top notch however. Graphics look cartoony and hold up very well in this day and age, and I can see that being the case for the foreseeable future. The game runs smooth as well, and I can’t even remember there being framerate drops either. This made the platforming itself good at least, not counting the level design. The same can be said about the soundtrack, which sounds good and befitting of the world themes. I really like quite a lot of them, and I had to think for some time which to put on here as well. I originally went with Harmony, but it’s a song early in the game most people know, so instead have Deep in the Caves, a song most people who quit early probably haven’t heard.
Rayman is a game with a glorious presentation and interesting history. The character himself is fun to control in this world full of varying and original themes. Unfortunately it’s held back by its almost disgustingly unfair difficulty that requires a lot of trial and error with only a set amount of lives. Rings tend to just not work in the latter half of the game, and the massive knockback that often means death will cause more frustration than actual fun. Therefore it is hard for me to recommend this game.. at least the PlayStation 1 version. And I really hate saying that because while the platforming is brutal, there is still fun to be had. If it just got a bit more testing before release, this game would have been perfectly fine. But unless you’re fine with using cheats and passwords, I would advise checking out any of the later versions (see paragraph below). And with that, here if my final verdict for Rayman:
There are many different versions of Rayman, and almost all of them are a better alternative—or at least, easier. The Sega Saturn version is pretty much the same, so that’s not really the version I’d recommend. I’d definitely recommend getting the PC version however—if you’re able to. Features such as a level editor and actual new levels were introduced, as well as more continues and making some parts easier. There’s also a slightly watered-down GBA version which is a direct port of the PC version but hey, more health and lives are always welcome. Finally, there’s a version for the Gameboy Colour which is quite different.. more on that soon. Was that a spoiler? That definitely was a spoiler.