Rise up against the evil pirates enslaving your home world.
PC Release: November 18, 1999
By Ian Coppock
Once again we happen upon a classic video game and a personal favorite of mine. The Rayman series has proven a mainstay in the worlds of 2D and 3D platformers; it was also, arguably, Ubisoft’s flagship franchise until the debut of Assassin’s Creed. Rayman 2 is a game that influenced my love of platformers from an early age, and its zany, beautiful worlds ignited my love of video games in general.
Before we get started in earnest, a word on Rayman, the first game in the series. Rayman was a 1995 2D platformer that wasn’t ported to Windows until the last few years. I tried to play it on my machine, but alas, I failed, so we’re going to skip to Rayman 2. But, it should be noted that the game was a critical and commercial success upon launch, leaving audiences smitten with its bright colors and novel characters.
In stark contrast to its predecessor, Rayman 2 is a fully 3D game with elements of open-world, action-adventure games, and a dark storyline. Rayman and his games are also the flagship product of Michel Ancel, an eccentric video game sorcerer who would go on to design Beyond Good & Evil, as I noted in last week’s review.
Rayman 2 takes place in a world called the Glade of Dreams. The game opens as the Robo-Pirates, a gang of mechanized slavers, takes Rayman hostage aboard their massive flagship. Rayman is imprisoned alongside thousands of his fellow misshapen, weird-looking alien things.
All hope seems lost, until Rayman’s friend Globox (A.K.A. Retarded Frog) arrives and helps him break out of the ship. From there, it’s up to Rayman to save the Glade’s inhabitants and bring down Admiral Razorbeard, the Pirates’ merciless leader.
Not long after breaking free from the pirate ship, Rayman stumbles upon an internment camp and frees its sole captive, a fairy named Ly. Ly charges Rayman with re-awakening Polokus, an ancient creature who created the Glade. If Rayman can bring Polokus all four Masks of Power, the slumbering god will reawaken, and destroy all the pirates in one fell swoop.
Rayman thus sets out on a new journey across the Glade’s many worlds. He’s in for a perilous journey, as the pirates are committed to stopping Polokus’s return. The Masks’ ancient guardians will also not take kindly to his interloping. Rayman is aided in his quest by Globox, whenever the fat bastard isn’t busy getting captured, and a race of big-nosed fairy things called Teensies.
Rayman 2 is set up as a linear set of levels. Most are pretty substantial, taking anywhere from 1-3 hours to complete. Some areas of certain levels will be blocked off until you go back and explore older levels more thoroughly. Once Rayman has collected enough Lums of Power (read: Cocaine Fairy-Balls) he can unlock the next area and progress. You can also find bonus levels off the beaten path that offer gameplay bonuses.
The level design in this game is sprawling and varied. A few levels are lined up into a certain theme, like a swamp, but Rayman will also explore underwater caves, hilly regions, mountains, and the decks of the pirates’ flying ships, to name a few places. These levels rely on a single group of core mechanics, like climbing up old vines, but are arranged in a new fashion every time, keeping things fresh. Not like these days, where the term “variety” means “five minutes without a quick-time event.”
With sprawling level design comes the likelihood that you’ll get turned around. The levels’ main paths are pretty straightforward, but I was annoyed to find some hidden areas that were concealed a little too well. One such path lead to a hidden temple with an extra hour of gameplay! All the Teensies were hiding up there laughing and making jokes at my expense. Little bastards.
The cameras in Rayman 2 can be fickle as hell. You’ll want to murder anyone who had anything to do with cinematography once you’ve made five attempts at climbing a wall obscured by your own camera’s viewpoint. I probably don’t need to explain this in detail, but cameras are at their best when they’re smoothly following the player’s movements, and not when they’re trying to crucify us to paths out of view.
But, I digress. Camera and level design problems don’t happen enough to constitute a deal-breaker. It’s just that when you create a game like this, with big colorful worlds that you can lose yourself in for hours, control over the camera greatly affects immersion. It affects your sense of being in that world.
Control over your character also makes a huge impact on immersion, so let’s take a glance at how Rayman navigates these worlds. Rayman 2 is, as I’ve stated, a third-person platformer, so Rayman spends a great deal of his time hopping between platforms, floating and otherwise. Rayman can also fight the pirates by firing lums from his fists, granting players a shooting mechanic. The pirates you’ll face are usually armed with laser cannons and, of course, pirate hooks.
Rayman 2’s levels also involve some light puzzling, if you can call throwing a glowing ball onto a pedestal puzzling. It’s not much of a mental roadblock but it adds another colorful conundrum to the diversity of Rayman 2‘s level design.
Being an older game, you’ll also be in for plenty of boss fights. Rayman will find himself up against gross monsters as much as the pirates he’s sworn to fight. Some of these boss battles have some innovative mechanics, like racing across platforms, but some are also just good ol’ fashioned brawls. There’s some good game variety to be found here.
As you can tell from these screenshots, Rayman 2‘s visuals haven’t aged well. The character models are embarrassingly polygonal even for a late 90’s game. The fairy’s character model looks like someone took a trapezoid and put it atop an anorexic scarecrow. Razorbeard look like a can opener had sex with a junkyard.
But, though the visuals may cause the graphics whores among you to cringe, I can assure you that the game hasn’t lost its color or sense of scale. I can’t guess how many fuzzy pastels went into coloring this game, but its worlds are impressively vibrant even by modern standards. The levels’ multiple regions and skyboxes are also quite thrilling, helping to grant the sense of a grand adventure.
The narrative itself is a surprisingly dark tale of rising up against fathomless evil. What little dialogue there is is typed up for us to read while the characters talk in gibberish, which was a nice little touch for the sense that we’re in an alien world. Just like with Beyond Good & Evil, it would seem that Michel Ancel had a flair for hiding dark subtexts within brightly colored worlds.
As one might expect, Rayman 2 doesn’t have a lot of character development. Rayman is the heroic, brave, limbless weirdo we all know him to be. Globox is the game’s Chris Farley, a fat sidekick who displays comedy and cowardice in equal measures. That’s really about it; you’ll find Teensies and Globox’s innumerable children but they’re all clones of the same cloth.
It’s at this point that Rayman 2‘s design elements help the narrative stick the landing. Rayman’s lonely struggle against the pirates is reinforced by his hours spent wandering a dark, alien world by himself. A variety of sound designs and morose music create an atmosphere rich with mysticism, almost voodoo. Though Rayman can fight, he’s clearly outnumbered by the pirates, making the game quite difficult in some areas.
Finally, we have the artwork that serves as a reminder that, even though this world is far different from our own, the plights of its characters are a familiar story. It helps to kindle some kindred spirit toward these goofy-looking creatures, Rayman especially. Michel Ancel would go on to take Rayman in another direction, but this game was perhaps his deepest, most narrative-driven journey. For that, I highly recommend you pick it up and play it if you haven’t already.
Rayman 2: The Great Escape is not available on Steam, but you can find a functional copy over at Good Old Games. These guys are hellbent on optimizing really old games for everyone to enjoy, and the copy I bought worked on my Windows 7-laden supermachine like a charm. You can get it for five, six bucks, and should play it. It may surprise you.
You can buy Rayman 2: The Great Escape here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.