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With Rayman: Origins and Rayman: Legends so critically lauded, it might be worth having a look back at the Rayman’s real Origins, just to see how much things have changed over time. As it happens, the changes are slight, but extremely noticeable.
In a bizarre fantasy land that looks like a pretty standardized acid trip, the mysterious Mr. Dark has stolen the Great Protoon. This energy force maintains balance and harmony in the land. It’s sudden disappearance causes chaos to run rampant and for all the Electoons to scatter across the land. Enter Rayman, as he attempts to find all of the Electoons and defeat Mr. Dark.
Let’s get one thing straight, Rayman was one of the very first games on the PlayStation, so it’s a pretty old school platformer.
For those of you that don’t know, that means that the story is very easy to disregard and forget. It also means that it is hard as balls and will guarantee a lot of frustration for modern gamers. If you thought Rayman: Origins was tough, then you may as well leave this game behind, because this game does not want you to complete it.
I honestly cannot remember the last time I played a game so massively unforgiving and punishing. With only five different worlds, and roughly three levels per world, it sounds like an absolute cake walk. The kind of idyllic kids game which can be viewed as a guilty pleasure and will probably be completed in a single afternoon (Croc: Legend of the Gobbos is one of my favorite examples of these).
I mean just look at some of the screenshots, how can such a colourful, simplified and basic looking game possibly provide a challenge?
Oh so very easily…. Rayman takes you through one or two quite average levels, fooling you into thinking you’ll have it wrapped up before tea. Then it takes aforementioned tea, throws it to the ground and laughs manically as you fall into a pit of spikes for the 37th consecutive time. For you see, Rayman is extremely difficult for a number of reasons. It is one of those games that relishes pits and spike traps, which are the bane of every platform game. We can handle enemies, but pits? They’re the pits (ba-dum PISH!).
Oh, and the enemies in this game – they have a very nasty habit. Rather than idly walking back and forth a designated stretch of level, like in most games, they appear out of thin air when you walk close enough to ‘their’ territory. So very often you will find yourself running along when suddenly BAM! A scorpion made of rock falls before you and you walk right into it. This kind of layout means that completing most levels is very much a case of trial and error. On top of this, you are given a very bare arsenal of techniques and moves to fight these guys off. It is a very poor design choice to only grant your character the ability to attack two levels in.
Even worse, other moves that are fairly standard in most games are only gained much further down the line. Moves like hanging from ledges, or the double-jump (glide) move. And it is the work of a sick and demented game designer that forces you to walk until the very last world, where you gain the running ability. It is only because of the intense difficulty of the game that these awful design choices are felt.
The real kicker though, and this is a direct product of age rather than anything else, is the save system. Or rather, the password system. You are given the option to use either a memory card or passwords to keep track of your progress, but if you opt for the memory card, you won’t get anywhere. Here’s why: You see, you are only given five continues, and there is no way to earn more in the game. There are five lives to a continue. You can gain more of these, but they are extremely hard to reach/find. Every time you save a game or receive a password, it isn’t just recording how far you’ve gotten, it is also recording how many lives you’ve spent in the process. So, when it’s game over, you go back to your last password or saved game. With however many lives you had at that point, which probably wasn’t an awful lot.
Therefore, despite being given the option to save/use passwords, you genuinely only have 25 lives, give or take, in which to clear the game. The entirety of which can be spent all too easily in two or three levels, or even one cruel boss level. The boss levels, because they are still trial and error, range from simple to downright unfair. One boss in particular, the rock creature, actually requires you to take at least three hits in order to beat him, and this is excluding all of his other regular attacks. When five pieces of health are the most you can have at anyone point (and this is with a power-up), you can’t help but feel a bit short-changed.
In the end, I found the only way to beat the game was to simply cheat. I used a code that gave me 99 lives and then played through. In total, I had to use this cheat four times to beat the game. Or, rather, to get to the second last level. Because, as it turns out, the Electoons, the little caged creatures that you collect during the game, are far more essential to beating the game than it has you believe. Because they are so tricky to find, it is easy to assume that they are included primarily for replayability. That, by collecting them all, they will give you extra abilities or a secret ending.
You cannot even fight the last boss until you have collected every single one of these elusive little rats. To put this into context, that’s like asking a player to collect every single Dog Tag in a Metal Gear Solid game before being allowed to fight Metal Gear. Or having collected every individual coin in a Super Mario game before allowing you to fight Bowser. It’s a cheap move, and a real kick in the crotch for anyone who has invested so much time into the game. And so, internet cheats came to the rescue once again.
Who Rayman is actually aimed at is a total mystery. It looks like it is aimed at a young audience, with all of its massive-eyed characters, colourful levels and elaborate animations. But younger gamers will give up after they’ve lost their first few lives, which will not take long.
And older gamers will probably be put off by its cutesy presentation. It really is only the NES generation of avid gamers that will be able to appreciate it, but not much because, getting past the difficulty level, Rayman is still only just above average.
It’s biggest achievement is in its level design. While only a few stages are genuinely beautiful, they are all consistently pretty. The graphics are never a let down at any point. Each level is divided into separate stages, and the end of these stages are marked with wooden signs with exclamation points on them. Occasionally there are checkpoints in the shape of cardboard cutouts that you can get your photograph taken with halfway through a stage. So, despite the intense difficulty, at least players are never too far off from the next checkpoint.
And there are some genuinely clever uses of physics that make for some tricky, but occasionally satisfying, levels as well. One I remember liking in particular saw Rayman on a massive slippery slope, sliding down, then up, then down, at top speeds, dodging spikes and enemies all the while. Another level sees him being given the temporary ability to fly using his hair as a helicopter, which was a genuinely fun slice of variety pie. Stages like these are pretty common, so the levels are varied if nothing else. And swinging from hooks (once you gain the ability) is a lot of fun, if you are able to master it.
It’s strange to have such ambiguous feelings towards Rayman,because there is an excellent game here, buried deep beneath all the difficulty issues. But still, they cannot be ignored because they definitely sully the entire experience, and would ruin it completely if it were not for the internet. It was only by cheating I could properly enjoy Rayman. It felt like one of those next to impossible games you would find in arcades, designed very specifically to separate kids from their hard-earned cash. Usually when these games are ported for home consoles however, unlimited continues (or a reasonable number at least) are an option. If played the way the game designers expect you to, Rayman is essentially unplayable. With online passwords, it is a decent experience. Challenging and fun, but with very little sense of achievement because you are constantly reminded that YOU ARE CHEATING!