Thursday, February 9, 2012

Review: Not an essential purchase, but for some fun platforming nostalgia, Rayman 3D fits the bill

It seems today like a far gone era, but there was a time when the 3D platformer stood up there with the most popular and exciting genres in the industry. After Super Mario 64's impactful debut, much of the 32-128 bit console wars were spent watching classic platforming franchises leaving their 2 dimensions behind and venturing into full 3D gameplay. Rayman 2 was one such game, an example of a 3D platformer at the height of 3D platforming, and though it shows some age today, and while the implementation of the 3DS' features are rather hit or miss, this is still a fun way to experience (or re-experience) one of 3D platforming's greats, especially as the genre continues to head back in a more 2D direction.

What was striking about Rayman 2 at the time of its release (especially if you happened to snag the Dreamcast version) were the visuals. With art direction that's both colorful and yet slightly gloomy at the same time, with such oddly charming characters, and with a high level of detail on almost everything, Rayman 2 may not be taking advantage of the 3DS' hardware capabilities but I can hardly tell; the game still looks great. The stereoscopic 3D capabilities of the handheld give the varied worlds you traverse through an extra bit of flair, even aside from the occasional headache you'll get from the game's converted-to-3D-visuals (when the camera occasionally gets stuck on objects, for example, the 3D goes haywire). The controls remain simple and accessible, with no added use of the touch screen except as a display, but that's alright. Rayman 2 existed without gimmicks and that hasn't changed with this port.

At its heart, this is pretty simple platforming, with you running, jumping, hovering, and hitting switches to clear one level at a time as you venture across an island map, unlocking the next one as you go. Throughout the levels there are the traditional Rayman "Lums" that you collect; glowing items that trigger bonus stages at the ends of the levels if you collect them all, though I can't for the life of me figure out what the bonus stages actually do for you. Having a certain amount of Lums is also a requirement at various points to progress through the game. Rayman will learn various new moves as you go, though these can feel under-utilized and don't do much to shake up the lack of variety in the combat system. The platforming itself is solid though, with Rayman's hovering feeling great and the developers' decision to focus less on the "pit deaths" common in 3D platformers helping to keep frustration to a minimum. What will occasionally test your patience however are various flying segments; when Rayman hops on a rocket of some kind and shoots through certain parts of levels while you guide him around obstacles. These parts actually benefit from the system's 3D, as it allows these environmental hazards to pop out more and helps you to see them further in advance. So while I found myself cursing these parts on occasion, the variety they add to the gameplay is I think a nice tradeoff.

A couple little things that certainly don't ruin the experience but are still worth pointing out; the sound quality in this version is pretty weird, with the often-impressive musical score coming from the 3DS' speakers with an almost tin can-like effect, clearly having not been optimized for them. The "save" system doesn't actually save your progress mid-level, just the Lums you collect, which they could have been more clear about, and you have to select a language each time you boot it up, which is a little annoying. Similarly, they start you back at the beginning of the map each time you load your file instead of putting you at the entrance to the level you left off at. Again, not major problems but just slight issues that I wish were resolved for this version, since they really didn't do much else new with it. This is definitely a bare-bones port, but it's a bare-bones port of a great game, and the lack of 3D platformers in today's marketplace makes it feel all the more special. Rayman 2 was fun and charming, something that's still the case today. While the combat feels dated and the stereoscopic 3D can sometimes be a little messy, this is, all in all, a solid port and not a bad purchase.

Verdict: Back when Rayman 2 was first released, it was seen as a triumph of platforming and a big step forward for the genre. These days, it (like many other once-great 3D platformers from then that you go back and play) feels more like visiting an old friend; one who nowadays you may not always quite see eye-to-eye with, but who you can still enjoy hanging out with and reminiscing with about the past.

Graphics: The Dreamcast was a strong and very distinct system technically and for that reason, this game's visuals still hold up today despite no noticeable improvements. Stereoscopic 3D helps the pretty environments pop even though it can occasionally feel glitchy. Some slowdown.

Gameplay: Great example of fun and simple 3D platforming through well-paced levels. A lengthy main quest, a couple cool bosses, and variety that keeps things fresh. Occasional camera problems.

Sound: The "Rayman voice acting" in the characters' own weird language is in full effect here, which you either love or hate, but this isn't a game where you'll be sitting watching tons of cutscenes, so it's not a big deal. The soundtrack's impressive, though its sound quality takes a noticeable hit when coming from the 3DS' speakers.

Replay Value: Plenty of Lums to collect, but all in all, not a ton else to do. At roughly 8.5 hours to complete the main game, though, it isn't bad.

Overall: 7/10

(My reviews go on a .5 scale)

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