Full Review: Ubisoft's unique limbless hero returns in his much anticipated sequel.
Perhaps the most famous European videogame mascot ever, Rayman, the limbless hero from our crazy French brethren over at Ubi Soft, has made his long awaited return to the three dimensional platform genre. Rayman 3 doesn't seek to redefine the genre, but like Super Mario Sunshine before it, merely refine the incredible mechanics that were established last generation. Again, much like Nintendo's hit title from last summer, Rayman 3 succeeds at what it seeks out to do, for better or for worse.
Rayman 3 will quickly go down as a love-it-or-hate-it title, and will probably even divide long standing fans of the series. The game strays from the open exploration and limited action sequences of the previous title and instead focuses on an almost puzzle-like experience comprised of combat, power ups, and timed challenges. Rayman 2's content was almost entirely exploration-driven, and even the combat mechanics felt like they were thrown in without much thought to furthering gameplay. That game more than made up for its lack of hands on action by providing players with lush, organic, and simply breathtaking graphics to gape over and ingenious obstacles to overcome.
Aside from the graphics (which are more gorgeous than ever) Rayman 3 is almost exactly the opposite. While the environments you will be exploring are no less endearing and imaginative as before, they are, in all honesty, not all that different either. Consequently, the actual exploration is not quite as fresh or as satisfying as it once was. Furthermore, gameplay that was primarily comprised of environmental challenges now focuses on overcoming battle sequences with the evil Hoodlums (caped Dark Lums, get it!?) and acquiring colored power up cans. The combat itself is much more intuitive, even going so far as to allow Rayman to control his flying fists during flight, a crucial skill given the Hoodlum's tendencies to avoid or even deflect direct assaults. These cans will empower Rayman with a variety of dramatic features, such as the ability to smash barriers, shoot whirlwind fists, extend electrified claws, and even turn his helicopter-like hair hovering ability into an outright flight mechanism. These powers will even come into play when fighting Hoodlums and their bosses, of course.
The catch? These abilities expire after a set time, which can range from ten to thirty seconds. The stages, in fact, are designed with these power ups in mind, providing Rayman with increasingly complicated and challenging scenarios requiring him to battle Hoodlums for some ability, and then utilizing that power in order to overcome some sort of barrier or obstacle, all within the set time limit of course. Another addition to the gameplay is the score counter and its combo multiplier rules.
Every major action in the game, from acquiring crystals and Lums, to smacking Hoodlums will add to Rayman's score. Once Rayman completes one of these simple actions, a combo bonus will appear beneath the score counter. If Rayman can complete another action (of any sort, from fighting to collecting) before the combo bonus indicator fades, that action will add to the bonus and extend the combo. Furthermore, completing these actions while empowered by abilities will add multipliers for the duration of the powers! By intelligently ?chaining? together combat, puzzle, and collecting sequences, you will be able to earn ridiculous amounts of points, consequently unlocking a slew of features, such as new areas, multiplayer games, videos, and eventually stages which may be downloaded to the GBA version.
Of course, you can replay stages, and at least half of the fun is had by attempting to beat your own scores and finding more successful chain possibilities. This clever (and addicting) addition to the gameplay further demonstrates Ubi Soft's dramatic shift away from paced exploration and their new focus on action and platforming. Thankfully, they have not completely forgotten their roots, however, as by allowing the replaying of stages, they also invite more cautious gamers to explore to their heart's content, and even provide extra secret hidden collectibles for those intrepid enough to seek them out. Hardcore point fiends will also quickly learn to incorporate these special hidden bonuses to their best chains, earning an even more insane amount of points.
Aside from arriving a couple of weeks before the Playstation 2 and Xbox versions of the game, Rayman 3 for the GameCube also features a couple of exclusive link up opportunities for those who own a Gameboy Advance and/or the GBA version of the title. Perhaps the most publicized feature, completing the GameCube game with enough points will allow you to download almost a dozen new stages to the GBA adventure, provides many incentives for fans of the handheld incarnation to check out the console-based title as well. Rayman 3 is also home to perhaps the cleverest cooperative GBA ? GCN link up since Zelda's Tingle Tuner was announced.
In a certain multiplayer game, one player plays a Tetris-like game on the Gameboy Advance, which has that player laying out pieces, essentially fitting together a track. This track is dynamically represented on screen, and is home to a shoe-riding Rayman, who must them proceed to race on this track from beginning to end. The key is to avoid obstacles and pits and get to the finish first, of course. This requires a skilled companion deftly handling the GBA and its puzzle game in order to succeed. Add in four players, two building tracks and two racing them, and you have a formula for a highly unique, successful, and addictive instance of a Gameboy Advance and GameCube link up which simply cannot be beat!
Ubi Soft is home to some of the most talented graphical artists and programming masters to be found amongst the ?Western' game developers. They do not disappoint with Rayman 3, crafting a rock solid engine which spouts out truly lovely worlds running at rock solid frame rates. The only real ?problem' is that the worlds, though darker and more sinister than ever, look and feel too similar. The game once again begins in a lush (and amazing) forest area, which eventually proceeds into swamps and mountains, and even more civilized areas. That's not to say that the game doesn't have its fair share of unique areas and remarkable Raymanian architecture, but it really isn't different enough from its predecessor to distinguish itself in any significant graphical category.
Luckily, the soundtrack and sound effects that accompany to otherwise remarkable Rayman 3 experiences succeed well in keeping a gamer's ears engaged as well. Hoodlum Havoc features a wide range of music, including some classic-sounding themes for the fans, which all do an excellent job of imbuing the entire experience with that quality that only a professional synergy of art and sound can do. Likewise, the accompanying sound and environmental effects are well realized and executed. Sadly, Ubi Soft decided to not only incorporate real life voice acting during the story-driven cut scenes (which the PS2 version of Rayman 2 did as well, in all honesty), but also remove the option of the classic Raymanian gibberish which many found so unique and endearing, unlike that same PS2-based predecessor. Though they did secure big-name talent to fill this immense gap, the generally stilted and/or over-acted performances merely serve to drive home the sad lack of a more fantasy-based language.
It's a pity, really. In some ways, Rayman 3 ? Hoodlum Havoc represents a return to classic gameplay, only refined into the third dimension. Yet, because it is such a dramatic departure from the previous game, and undeniably not nearly as genre defining, it will most likely fail to attain the critical acclaim and widespread appeal of its predecessor. It's perhaps a bit unfair of us to expect another Super Mario 64 or Rayman 2 from this generation's Super Mario Sunshine or Rayman 3. Despite its shortcomings, perceived or otherwise, Rayman 3 ? Hoodlum Havoc for the Nintendo GameCube is probably one of the greatest platformer games you'll play this year, and deserves a place in any genre-fan's collection.