N64 Nostalgia: Rayman 2: The Great Escape

Rayman’s a bit of an underappreciated figure these days. Notwithstanding his acclaimed comebacks in Rayman Origins and Legends, he seems to have dropped off the map again now, with a dearth of new content starring the limbless hero.

I would like to take a bit of time to praise the Rayman series, particularly the entry I spent the most time with in my youth. (I should like to return again to the Rayman series to look at my favourite as an adult, but that will have to wait.) My first Rayman game was the first sequel, Rayman 2: The Great Escape for N64.

rayman 2 the great escape pal n64 box

I enjoyed this one a lot when I was young – it was my favourite platformer on the console, even surpassing Super Mario 64 and Banjo Kazooie – and replaying it years later as an adult it is easy to see why I felt that way. It’s a very accessible and engaging 3D game with a distinctive gameplay style for the time. I say distinctive because, unlike many 3D platformers at the time, Rayman 2’s levels are linear.

As a young lad that straightforwardness made Rayman 2 stand out, coupled with the relative lack of difficulty (with the exception of some frustrating sections involving explosive barrels) made this an epic adventure as opposed to an epic challenge. As a result this is one of the very few games I ever willingly replayed multiple times as a child – most other games were too big of an undertaking.

It wasn’t until many years later that I learned the first Rayman game was 2D – it came as a shock given how accomplished Rayman 2 was for the time. Like Super Mario 64, Rayman 2 is an impressive feat for a developer’s first foray into three dimensional game design.

rayman 2 1

There’s plenty of variety in the levels. Rayman’s trademark move, the helicopter glide (rotating his hair to slow his fall), is put to use in windy levels that let him float upwards; we ride on plums across deadly substances by firing backwards; there’s swinging and climbing mechanics, water ski levels, riding explosive ground- and airbourne rockets, slide levels (ala Mario 64)… and that’s just off the top of my head!

The original Rayman was a visually impressive 2D game with colourful sprites and detailed animation. Rayman 2, being a polygonal 3D game, is rather different. It retains the distinctive Euro-charm, but has a muted colour palette and a darker sensibility. That’s not to say that Rayman 2 is creepy or outright bleak, but there is an altogether more mysterious and serious vibe to it.

Rayman’s Music Land and villain, Mr Dark

 

Rayman 2’s mysterious allies in the Glade of Dreams: Polokus and Ly the Fairy

 

Suffice to say Rayman 2’s final level does not reprise the original game’s climax in Candy Chateau.

Another big difference in this game is combat. In the original (and the more recent Rayman 2D reboots), Rayman fought primarily with his fists. In Rayman 2, our hero has the ability to shoot light projectiles out of his fists. There’s also an Ocarina of Time inspired form of Z-targeting, that lets you lock onto enemies and strafe to avoid fire. (Rayman 2 came out post-Ocarina, in 1999, which perhaps explains some of its strengths.) It is an unusual choice for a 3D platformer – these days I expect the weapon would be a gun of some sort – but it works. The balls of light have uses beyond combat too, such as flipping switches.

rayman 2 combat

Rayman 2 is a very good game. Ubisoft know that, and they’ve always known it, which is why it’s been re-released many times over the years, most recently on the 3DS in 2011. Now that HD gaming has fully encompassed handhelds on mobile and Switch, it’s unlikely we’ll see another port for some time – it’s the end of an era.

That said, I’ve never bought or played any of the re-releases. Despite owning a Dreamcast, I’ve never gotten around to trying what is apparently one of the definitive versions of this fine game. For its defects on the N64 – and there are some, such as a stuttering framerate – all my nostalgia is bound up with this version, the original console release. Nostalgia… it’s a glade of dreams alright.

 

4 comments

  1. Matt

    I love that game. It has got a pretty great combination of action and platforming, one that makes it stand out among other major platformers of the era.

    • veryverygaming

      Yep! I also like that balance too and you’re right it stands out for the time. I only wonder why it isn’t talked about more. I’m wondering if it was because it was a relatively late N64 game (1999)? Ubisoft never committing to Rayman as a fully fledged series? Or perhaps Rayman wasn’t that popular outside of the UK/Europe? Apparently the original Rayman was the best selling PS1 game ever in the UK, but in other regions it wasn’t so successful.

      • Matt

        Yeah, that’s a good question, and I don’t know the answer for it either. But maybe Ubisoft could try to give the game a popularity boost by producing an HD remaster of the game. It would be quite timely to do so right now, since we are in the midst of an era of 90s nostalgia.

  2. moresleepneeded

    I have not played this game, but I have played the first Ray-Man game on the Sega Saturn. I was interested to read that one of the good aspects of the game was that it was linear, unlike other 3D platformers from around the same time. One of the things I remember about the first game was that it was a 2D side-scrolling game (unlike most other games at the time, which seemed to enjoy demonstrating a capability to create 3D games), although the graphics were of a high quality and the backgrounds were very detailed. I was surprised to read that this game was very easy, considering the high difficulty I encountered while playing the first Ray-Man game. I always found it strange that such a difficult game was presented in a such a light way, with colourful environments and cheerful music.
    What was the darker sensibilities displayed in the game? How did the linear level structure fit with the 3D graphics? How was this game better than Super Mario 64 or Banjo Kazooie? It is interesting that that was the feeling considering that those two games are so popular and critically acclaimed.

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