Originally released in 1995, Rayman is a video game that spawned one of Ubisoft’s most beloved franchises. In a way, the character is to Ubisoft as Capcom is to Mega Man; it’s their flagship series consisting of platformers that have gained cult followings since their releases. How can anyone not love it? It’s got phenomenal cartoon-like graphics, an equally phenomenal soundtrack that players would want to listen to time and time again, and flexible yet simple gameplay mechanics that make the experience as a whole a joy to play.
The structure is not unlike that of the Mario titles; you pick a level from the world map, then you proceed to venture through various obstacles and enemies in levels themes ranging from wondrous grasslands to areas made of drawing tools. The worlds are arguably more surreal than that of Nintendo’s ex-plumber, but the lively nature of the atmosphere makes them feel like you’re playing a Saturday morning cartoon show. Rayman himself controls as responsively as you’d expect him to as well. He can throw his fists at his enemies for reliable combat, hang onto edges in case you fail to land right on them, and run at satisfying speeds.
Let me tell you something, though. My first experiences with the Rayman series are actually through the handheld games starting with Rayman 3 on the Game Boy Advance. Along with it, I picked up Rayman Advance, a faithful port of the console Rayman game. As impressive as it was however, I hardly ever came back to play it again. This also happened when I bought and played the original Rayman on the Playstation. Yet Rayman 3 never failed to deliver a good time whenever I decided to replay it over again.
So why is that? Easy: Rayman 3 wasn’t so ungodly brutal and demanding.
Rayman is one of those games I really want to love but I can’t because of a couple of crucial game design flaws that ruin the entire thing for me. It’s a lot of fun to play but it’s not fun at all to play through. This is because this game makes Mega Man look like a cakewalk during much of the later stages. The game may not kick your butt at the beginning but only because it’s saving the torture for later – for moments when you have to awkwardly crawl using shoulder buttons or fight bosses with patterns that expect your reflexes to be like that of a bug’s. And just when you think you’ve conquered it all, you then realize these things matter.
Yep! Imagine playing Super Mario World, except you have to find all the Yoshi coins in every single level to get the chance to fight Bowser at all. That’s the Electoons in Rayman and they are why I don’t bother coming back to this game. It’s awful enough to try and reach the evil Mr. Dark by just beating all the levels but you can’t actually do that unless you find all the Electoons in each and every stage on the map. Worst of all, to my knowledge, none of the ports and remakes of this game ever seem to have removed this massively steep requirement. None except the Game Boy Color version, that is.
This little version of the game was released in 2000, five years after the original and several months after Rayman 2 came to be. It’s easy to see this as the inferior version of Rayman. After all, its music tries to emulate Rayman 2‘s score in 8-Bit but uses instruments as wrongly as the Game Boy version of Mega Man II. The levels aren’t as elaborate nor as varied as they were before. You know what Rayman on the Game Boy Color did right, though? It made Electoon rescuing an optional goal. This alone is why I prefer playing this Rayman over the “real” Rayman.
Because there is no map, all levels play out in a set order and there is no backtracking to a previously beaten one. While this makes the affair more linear, that also means there’s no way the stupid Electoon goal could have been implemented in this version. Thank God for that!
GBC Rayman isn’t too shabby of an effort on its own, too. In fact, it’s an impressive piece of software for the system’s capabilities. As soon as you boot it up, you get to watch an FMV intro of Rayman presenting the Ubisoft and game logos. Yes – Full Motion Video on Game Boy Color! Granted, it’s heavily compressed but how many other games utilize such a technique on the hardware? Just look at it! The graphics in general do a great job of replicating the cartoon-y style the original flirts with. Rayman’s animations are remarkably fluid and the sprite art that’s seen after certain levels feels like a reward for the progress being made.
The only gripe I have with playing through GBC Rayman is that it doesn’t have a save battery. You know what that means: Passwords! Either play through the game in one sitting or you better write down these things somewhere. Fortunately, the Game Boy Color version of Rayman 2 ditches passwords in favor of actual saves. As much as I’d want to save discussions of it for an eventual Rayman 2 Retro Flashback, this game is pretty much the first GBC Rayman except with new level layouts. Still, I should write about the rest of the handheld lineup someday. They are interesting installments for sure.
Yeah, I know I basically gave up on talking about the original Rayman halfway through this writing. Don’t get me wrong, I love this series to death; I own much of these titles from its early glory days to the modern glory days that consist of Rayman Origins and Rayman Legends. I can happily replay almost any game in the series because it contains fun, imaginative games that challenge me just right. The original Rayman, sadly, is one of those entries I don’t see myself revisiting.