Originally appearing on the ill-fated Atari Jaguar, Rayman was a really gorgeous-looking but difficult platform game that was well received enough to end up being ported over to the Playstation and Saturn, where it also did quite well, for a 2D game. I didn't really care for it too much, in terms of the tough gameplay and simple story, but the graphics were the best I'd seen in a game of this type.Ubi Soft seemed to be working on the sequel since the early days of the N64, and as beautiful as the screenshots that would pop up from time to time in game magazines were, I wasn't actually looking forward to the same sort of gameplay. Now the N64 gets the sequel, Rayman 2, The Great Escape, and even though the story is still a bit slim, the gameplay has changed completely, and everything is in glorious 3D. Now, I'm not the most easily impressed, but this game is without a doubt, one of the best I've played this year!
First of all, if you don't have an Expansion Pak yet, run and get one NOW! Rayman 2 takes advantage of it to the fullest, with the richest use of color I've seen on the system. The worlds you run, jump, and battle the evil robot pirates who've kidnapped your pals in are even more beautiful than the land of Hyrule in the N64's Zelda, although getting from one place to another is more a matter of platforming skills than actual exploration. Many of the areas are contained by walls of foliage, trees or cliffs , which means a lot of detail, and no pop-up or glitching at all! Just running around the first few levels will put a smile on your face, and have you dying to see what's around the next bend. The game is a bit sparse on enemies, but this not only gives the developers more chance to show off their fantastic art and level designs, but to give players a chance to learn and use all the skills our hero gains throughout his adventure.
The game controls like a dream, with a helpul, whispering fairy of sorts to help you out, in terms of hints- most of them are clear, but there are occasional, subtle clues that have you looking around an area for the best way to accomplish a certain task. Rayman runs, jumps, swims, climbs and swings better than Lara Croft on her best day, and if Eidos' offices ever blow up or sink into the earth, Ubi Soft should definitely take over the Tomb Raider franchise. Every game should control this perfectly! Another great thing is the seamless presentation of the events in the game- Rayman 2 is like an interactive animated movie, and any developer who wants to create a platformer should study this game carefully, especially the way each scene creates the perfect mood for the next. There are dozens of little touches that complete the illusion that you're in another world, such as the little mushrooms that stack up out of your way as you pass, only to reassemble themselves once you're out of the way, the rocket that chases after you in one level, and stops to rest every now and then, and your pal Globox's little crying children, to name a few. The game also uses its many cinemas excellently, segueing into the gameplay so well, that a few times I was looking at the screen waiting for the "movie" to end, and the gameplay to begin! Another great thing is the character design- it's hard to tell just what some of the creatures are in the game, but each one has such personality, and is animated so fluidly, that you'll run up to the friendly ones to check them out!
The game camera is excellent, and does what it should, with very little problems. It seems to always point in the right direction (i.e. where you need to go next) and only gets hung up on some high angle shots, but all you have to do is take a few steps forward, and that's that. I loved the way that the camera would pull back, or move in depending on what you need to do in the game, as well as the camera controls (using the "C" buttons ). You always feel as if you're in control, and for this type of game, control is key! Especially in the great boss battles, where you can actually strafe while shooting, Doom-style! This sure beats the usual dullness of butt-bouncing your enemies, like too many other games! Some of the moves are a bit tricky to pull off, but you'll never die because of poor collision or edge detection, or really cheap, back- shooting enemies! The game isn't all that easy, though- Rayman 2 demands superior platform skills, and rewards your efforts with even more amazing levels. The game is quite long, but not boring at all after a few hours (like Jet Force Gemini)- as I said earlier, you'll want to keep on playing, just to see what's next!
To go along with the wondrous visuals, is a super soundtrack, with a light, jazzy feel, and sound effects that immerse the player in an ocean of ambience- those lucky enough to have a home theater will want to crank it up, or put on your best quality headphones, and "feel" the game as you play. Try this too: find a safe spot and let Rayman idle, then put your headphones on and close your eyes... it feels as if you're in an enchanted forest! That is until Rayman starts making like Air Jordan, and bounces his body around like a basketball! It's really hard to find anything wrong with this game, and to me, at least, this year has been the best for Nintendo, as far as quality software for the N64. Rayman 2: The Great Escape is also the most non-violent game i've played in a while, which makes it a perfect gift for those parents concerned about what their kids play; although I'll leave it up to you to explain the story to the little ones...
I can't say anything else, except this: BUY THIS GAME. Rayman is a really cool character, even though I still can't figure out what the heck he is, and the game will keep your attention for hours on end! Just remember to do other important things, like walk the dog, water the plants, pay your bills, et cetera, and you'll be just fine!
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