The most creative, beautiful, and addictive Nintendo 64 game this year will most likely be another sleeper hit (thank a heavy set gorilla for that one). Rayman 2 is what every 3D 'adventure' game should strive to be; more platformer than treasure hunt. With lovable characters, 'old school' gameplay, challenging levels, and a well executed story, this is simply a must have for every N64 owner.
Normally I wouldn't start a review with graphics because I don't think eye candy alone makes a game great. In this case, it's too hard to ignore the hard work; Ubi Soft went out of their way to bring stunning landscapes, marvelous characters, and aesthetics that can appeal even (dare I say) the most jaded of gamers. I could take pages just describing the intricacies of Rayman himself; the limb deficient wonder has so many moods, facial expressions, mannerisms, etc. As for every other character, they too are worth so many words; Globox, Razorbeard, even enemy drones are created with so much life and thought put into them that it's hard to believe this is all being done on a cartridge. The environs have just as much detail as the inhabitants of each stage; instead of rigid, realistic structures and surfaces, each area almost has a life of it's own. Structures curve and wind within itself; tunnels and rooms are round, bending, and almost lifelike; and the textures used on every surface are far from the conventional treatment we're used to seeing in games.
Where other developers are using hardware to produce realistic graphics, Ubi Soft turns the other way and lets the imagination run wild. As Rayman travels through lush forests, take a good look around; chances are you'll see mushrooms hopping around and stacking on top of one another, butterflies laying quietly in the grass, and many other intricacies. On the technical side, Rayman 2 is impressive as well; no clipping, polys are almost seemless (once in a blue moon did I see things break up), character models are detailed in a fluid cartoonish feel, and the Expansion Pak brings this all in hi-res, with a decent frame rate to boot. The only other N64 games I could compare this game to are DK64 and Zelda, but even they tried to be quasi-realistic in one way or another. In my opinion, Rayman 2 smashes the others just on the basis that it tries to be different from what we've come to expect in 3D quests.
Rayman 2's story stars a cast of silly looking beings set in a perilous scene. Razorbeard, captain of a robotic pirate force, has invaded Rayman's home and are taking the inhabitants by force. Intent on selling them for slaves, Razorbeard must be stopped. Enter Rayman, the 'great warrior' of the planet. During a skirmish against the pirates, Rayman and his friend Globox are soon overpowered, and Rayman tells Globox to escape. Captured, it seems that all hope is lost for our hero, but fortunately Globox returns to break our hero loose. There's a tiny problem though; when Razorbeard began his villainy, the heart and spirit of the world was shattered into 1000 Lums and scattered along the land. The Lums are what gives Rayman his power, so unfortunately he's almost helpless from the start of the game. Soon, he realizes that he'll need help in saving his friends, and begins a search for 4 masks that will reawaken the creator of all things, Polochus. During the journey many cutscenes are shown, and this is where the game grabbed me. All of the characters talk in their own language, something which I liked a lot. When someone talks, you can hear the tension, joy, anger, or sadness in their voice. In fact, the story may seem kind of silly, but as it played out, I began to care a lot for these guys. Rayman indeed has the persona of a 'great warrior': brave, courageous, and a true friend to all good things. Ly the fairy is soft-spoken but always wise, Globox is kindhearted but easy to scare, and Razorbeard is a short tempered midget. The personality of this game and the story work so much in tandem; if one was present while the other was absent, it wouldn't feel the same.
The gameplay is done very well, so much so that I would call it the only 'true' 3D platformer out there. Rayman 2 delivers with the hardest leaps, bounds, and platforms to grace a 3D game. To tackle this task, Rayman can run, jump, throw energy balls (what about his hands?), heave heavy barrels, swing from rings, use his mop-top as a helicopter, climb vines, scale cliffs, and list goes on and on. Controls are handled easy; A is jump, B is shoot, and the C-buttons handle the camera. Z button centers on an enemy so that side strafing is possible, making fights a breeze. Robo-Pirates are the smartest of adversaries, constantly gun-fighting and dodging until the very end. There's a wide variety of them too, from drilling types and flame-throwing misfits, to run-of-the-mill gun toting fiends. There are other enemies too, and even the occasional boss that hampers Rayman's quest. Enemy encounters in the game are slim though, as the game tests your reflexes through strenuous obstacles over anything else. Going from jump to jump, carrying and tossing items over huge chasms, avoiding pitfalls, piranha infested water, and more. I couldn't complain about the lack of enemies, because I was too busy taking on the level itself!
To break up the possibility of monotony, Ubi Soft threw in little puzzles and challenges to keep players thinking. On top of that, some levels like to deviate from the platforming aspect entirely. Riding atop legged rockets, running from a nightmarish ghoul, water skiing without skis, taking a nasty ride on a railed chair of doom, and I could keep going. I haven't kept count, but am sure that there's about 20 levels, each unique from the rest. To add replay value, there are 1000 Lums that can be collected and 80 captured friends to save, but the main goal is to get from start to finish. My only complaints are that some levels are too long for their own good, and since saving can only be done after a level, this can wear one's patience thin. Plus, the camera, while it behaves well for the most part,
can sometimes get stuck and would not want to go where I needed it. That problem was a rarity though, and if you're like me, it would be frustrating, but worth it.
The music is very inspired, but at the same time, the weakest part of the game. The melodies that ring forth always fit the area Rayman's in, or the situation he faces. The composition isn't bad either, but what makes the music so ho-hum is that there is so little of it; for the most part nothing plays. I guess the developers were trying to muster all they could out of the N64 cart, and came short when it came to music. It's forgivable though, because the boinks, crashes, thuds, and all other sounds are on the spot. Plus, the aforementioned 'voice acting' is worth whatever shortcomings the game's soundtrack has. I heard the Dreamcast game will have more intense music though, thanks to the 128-bit wonder.
Speaking of the Dreamcast, here's a question to wrap things up: should you get this or wait for the DC incarnation? For those who have only a N64 or DC, just pick up the game for the respective system. If you own both, I guess the DC version would be in order; better graphics, better music, the story will remain the same, more levels will be added, and multiplayer action will be there. Being one of the best games of 1999, I can't see how you could go wrong either way. Then again, you could always buy both. ;)
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