In 1995, the platformer Rayman was released to great critical acclaim on the PlayStation. It was the first entry in a hugely successful franchise that also spawned an entirely separate sub-franchise along the way. Rayman had charm, class and above all a tremendous sense of fun. Five years later, the game was still popular enough that the Game Boy Color received a port, called simply Rayman, and that port is now available on the 3DS Virtual Console.
The GBC game hews closely to its source material, but due to the space and technical limitations of the platform some pretty large sacrifices were made. As in the original, Rayman is tasked with defeating the evil Mr. Dark, who has imprisoned the magical creatures known as Electoons and thrown Rayman's homeworld into chaos. In this version of the game, that's all you'll get for plot, however. This will leave those familiar with the original's somewhat more expansive storyline feeling somewhat slighted, especially since this port does away with many characters, locations, levels, and every single boss fight... barring that with Mr. Dark himself.
It makes sense that the Game Boy Color would fail to provide an experience as rich as what players were getting from a PlayStation game, but bear in mind that the eShop already contains Rayman on DSiWare that isn't quite as butchered. Both releases have their associated pros and cons, of course, but that's worth considering when deciding which of the two to buy.
As you guide Rayman along on his abbreviated and simplified journey, you'll mainly be navigating treacherous platforms and obstacles. You begin the game with the ability to punch and jump, and that's about it. As you progress, however, Rayman will learn new moves — some of which are temporary and stage-specific — which will allow you to reach areas you could not reach earlier.
The game controls well enough, but movement feels stiff and sluggish. Similarly, the hit detection can be a little bit strange, with enemies dealing damage even when they clearly don't touch your sprite. Landing on platforms can sometimes be a crapshoot as well, as Rayman sometimes seems to pass through ledges that his feet should have connected with.
Overall, though, the main issue when progressing through the game is figuring out where to go. Most levels are straight forward, but others require you to activate switches that are literally invisible, and hidden throughout the stage. You'll hear a small chime when you trigger one, but even then you won't necessarily know that you just opened a passage somewhere. Additionally, elements that look like they should be part of the background sometimes end up impeding your progress, which is a big problem when you think you can leap from one platform to another, but end up striking a wall that looked to be in the distance and you end up falling to your death.
Graphically, the game isn't all that pretty. It certainly is impressive that Ubisoft managed to retain as much of Rayman's physical bearing as it did, but the game can look a little dry and muddy, as though it's attempting more than it strictly should. Musically there are no issues, as the tracks sound crisp and enthusiastic. One interesting thing to note is that the music actually comes from Rayman's sequel, and not the original game. It would have been nice to have the proper tracks, but these tunes are by no means inferior.
We should bring up a glitch that occurred several times for us, however, which caused the sound effects to turn off at random during gameplay. Since several stages rely on sound effects to let you know that you've hit invisible switches or that you're nearing a cage that needs to be broken, this was a significant problem.
Levels end when you find the exit sign, and along the way you can find bonus stages and free Electoons from their cages. There are seven locations to explore — with one additional, secret location — and that should occupy a newcomer for around three hours. Completionists will be able to revist old stages to collect items and Electoons that they couldn't reach the first time around, which is a nice incentive to play again.
Unfortunately one of the game's original features has been disabled, which allowed two players to exchange data and unlock secrets. It's understandable that this wouldn't be included, but it's still another feature chiseled away from an already slimmed-down experience. Also, be warned that this version of the game does not allow you to continue after you lose all of your lives; it relies on a cumbersome password feature instead, so restore points are a must.
Overall, Rayman's exploits on the Game Boy Color are a fun diversion, but the gutted experience and plentiful gameplay issues prevent it from being a universal recommendation. Those who played this version as children are still likely to enjoy it, but newcomers might do well to consider Rayman's fuller DSiWare port.
Rayman's Game Boy Color port absolutely has its charms, but it also has its share of irritations. Stiff controls, confusing layout and a few trouble glitches mar an otherwise fine experience. It's still a lot of fun, and it offers some incentive to play through it again upon completion, but it's a port that sacrificed a lot of its content in order to make the transition, and that leaves it feeling rather slight.