For those of you who missed out on the PS1/N64 generation of the late 1990s, Rayman was actually quite a big deal. Viewed by many well recognized gaming institutions as one of the ‘Greatest games of all time’, Rayman 2: The Great Escape received many plaudits for its innovative level design and gameplay features. Though a good few years have passed since those heady days of the late 1990s, Rayman has now (for better or for worse) found a home on the DS, but the question must be asked: does he still cut the mustard?
As far as platformers go, the story of Rayman DS is fairly straightforward. Rayman – a strange blob with disembodied hands, feet and head – has been captured by evil robot pirates who are threatening to take over the world. At the start of the game Rayman escapes the pirates and learns in short order that he must travel through a series of different worlds to gain the four masks of Polokus and so allow Polokus to help bring an end to the pirate threat. In the course of all this, our strangely disembodied friend must also rescue his friend Globox, a friend who was instrumental in Rayman’s original escape from the pirate ship.
With us so far? Good.
As wacky as the storyline is, it doesn’t do that great a job at hiding the fact that Rayman DS follows many of the conventions of its genre - including the requirement to travel through different worlds and collect various items. You can only progress through levels once you’ve collected enough of this "stuff" and in the case of Rayman DS, the "stuff" in question takes the form of shiny floating shards of the world’s core called Lums.
For all the prevalence of generic elements in the game’s core mechanics, Rayman DS does a very good job of creating and presenting a bright, vivid and charming world that certainly has an awful lot of character about it. The graphics clearly haven’t had much adjustment since the game was originally launched back on the N64, but on the DS this doesn’t seem to matter too much. The game world is displayed in vibrant colour and can’t really be faulted for its presentation on a portable console.
However, the similarity to the N64 original is Rayman 2's biggest issue. While it was clearly an excellent game back in the day – a game full of an originality and inventiveness that seems so sorely lacking in many games nowadays - Rayman DS is pretty much a direct port. Now ports are fine from one similar console to another, but when porting a game from a console you play on your television to a console you hold in your hand – a console that has a touch screen – some additional thought is required on the part of the developers. In the case of Rayman DS, this thought seems very much lacking.
The first thing to mention is the controls. To say they’re not very good is perhaps a bit of an understatement. For one the default control - the D-pad - makes it very difficult to move diagonally. You actually have to press on the thumb pad quite hard to get any diagonal movement from your on-screen avatar. Most players will no doubt try to use the "virtual" touch screen thumb pad that the game offers as an alternative method of control. The only problem here is that it's very laggy and unresponsive without the stylus.
It is fortunate indeed that this reviewer is left-handed and as such was at something of an advantage in the playing-Rayman DS stakes as it meant control with the stylus while using the A, B and R buttons was just about manageable. How a right-handed person is supposed to play this game effectively really is a mystery. And even if you are fortunate enough to be able to control Rayman to a reasonable level, the small size of the screen and laggy controls have a tendency to make jumping challenges extremely frustrating. This is of course assuming you can even get to the jumping challenge in the first place - the inconsistent controls make performing even the most basic of actions a real struggle.
And this isn’t even to mention the awful camera angle. Forced camera perspective changes combined with sudden shifts in the control perspective mean that there are certain points where Rayman is almost guaranteed to fall off the edge of the world without some sort of prescience on the part of the player, or failing that, many retries of sections that quickly ramp up in difficulty after the first boss battle.
Perseverance here really is the key, for without it, you’d be inclined to put the game down after the first hour. If you do persevere however, the game can be rewarding. The story is well played-out and if you don’t find yourself getting too stressed with the controls you can sit back and fully appreciate the achievement that Rayman DS has made in bringing one of the old-school classics over onto the portable format. The sound is good – if limited by today’s standards – and as far as the gaming experience itself goes, there is plenty to do in terms of collecting Lums and those pesky pirate cages. Difficulty-wise the portable format does prove to be a massive limitation to the enjoyment of Rayman DS. What might normally be an average-skill difficulty on a television with a console controller soon becomes a difficult problem with the DS and its aforementioned control issues. All in all, the potential was there, but the delivery falls well short.
Rayman 2 was without doubt a great game in its day. With innovative level design and an interesting variation of challenges all set in a charming, at times quite humorous game-world, the formula is there to make a portable classic. Unfortunately, as a port from the N64, Rayman DS just doesn’t quite cut it. All the ingredients are there to make an excellent game, but it’s in the delivery that Rayman DS falls way short. At times frustrating and at others unplayable, it’s truly sad to see one of gaming’s true greats fall so low.