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.
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.
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 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.