By the Nine this game is hard.
When I was a youngling, I had an original Playstation. It “kicked the can” just within warranty and was replaced with the, new at the time, PS One. One of the games that hooked me back then was 1995’s Rayman. It’s one of only a few I remember fondly, despite it being incredibly difficult.
Some 20 something years on, I’ve downloaded it onto my PS Vita, after spending those years listening to the soundtrack and still loving it. Every track brought back memories of intense colour, smooth graphics (for ’95) or the feeling of finally beating “that one level.”
So, how does it play now, as a learned gamer with a lot more skill and patience than I had back then?
After some minor adjustments to the screen size, to make it easier to play, the game loads beautifully. Everything is as I remember it; from the publisher/developer screens, to the jazzy start screen of the game itself. It is worth noting this was a Ubisoft game!
Of course, before we get to play, we see an introduction to the world of Rayman. After all, this is the very first time we get to meet the limbless wonder, and it is in this little, very colourful, sequence where we find out why it is we’re even playing this game.
Intro video found on Youtube at (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihCMx-V6F90).
To sum it up, we have to find, and free, lots of cute things. Of course, it won’t be easy, and we have obstacles in our path to make our life difficult. Let’s get cracking!
Rayman, at least on the Playstation, gave you two choices when it came to saving your progress. The standard-by-then memory card, or passwords. Most sane people would opt for the memory card – writing awkward passwords down (not even memorable words, but a jumble of letters, numbers and symbols) was unlikely to keep your progress safe as a kid. The only positive side to the password option was the potential for cheat codes.
More on those, later.
So, we finally get to level one.
The most nostalgic of the levels, for me, considering how often I would return there through my journey to grind for level ups. This is a colourful, musical and not too challenging land of plants, berries and lots of lush green grass: Pink Plant Woods.
It is here we are introduced to the key concepts of Rayman – platforming, Tings and rescuing Electoons from their cages.
Tings are little blue crystal orbs that Rayman must collect – 100 of them changes into a life, a precious commodity in this game.
The Electoons are pink little creatures trapped in cages, which you must find and open. Each level in the game contains 6 of these cages, and to get to the last level of the game you must find all of them. A quick check online reveals there are 102 cages you have to find to truly finish the game.
So we we work our way Pink Plant woods, and suddenly find ourselves face to face with a floating witch-fairy.
This is Betilla; the kind soul who will increase Rayman’s powers through the game.
In this case, she gives him the power of punching. Punching will become a huge part of the game, and now we *could* go back and smash all the cages we found in Pink Plant Woods. On finishing the level, we are given the option to move to proceed to the next stage or go back to a previous stage, or just go and save.
This process goes on: accessing new levels, smashing cages and occasionally finding ourselves with a new power or two. Until we reach a new land – Bongo Hills, located in Band Land.
Band Land is one of my favourite levels in any game I’ve ever played. Not only do you have the beautiful background music playing, but many of the obstacles and platforming elements within the level are also musically minded.
Bongo drums act as temporary platforms and play as you walk over them, walking drums act as trampolines and trumpets help blow Rayman across large distances. Narrowing it down further, “Allegro Presto” is, without a doubt, my favourite Rayman level.
This particular one sees Rayman whizzing down musical staves collecting Tings and dodging obstacles at speed and within seconds of loading it up for the first time in years, my muscle memory kicked in and I was prepared to jump and dodge my way through entire the level.
Despite all this nostalgia, I was never under the illusion that my skill and experience at games were the reason this game was so hard. You get 5 continues to cover the whole game (a continue triggers when you lose all your lives, whether that’s the 4 you’ve managed to rack up from collecting Tings and Rayman shaped trophies, or the 99 you gained from putting in a cheat) and once you use those, that’s it.
No more Mr Limbless.
On top of this is the general difficulty most of the levels present. The reason for this difficulty? The game was never play tested. The result? Levels with almost impossible jumps, timed levels that you can only just make if you practice them and bosses which are infuriatingly hard to beat.
I mentioned previously that using the password system to save allowed you the chance to punch in cheats. If you want to complete the game without spending months of your life practicing and grinding for lives, cheats are the only way to win.
You could shortcut your way, open up all the levels and work your way through collecting all the Electoons. Or you could just give yourself 99 lives and see how far you can get without having to worry about grinding. Either way no-one I knew as a child, with this game, could get very far without cheats.
Khin, if it’s so hard to beat, why do you love it so?
Nostalgia goggles help, young padawan. Even 20+ years on, I still love the music, the flow of the levels and the bright, eye-popping colours that were crisp and clear on the PS1.
To this day I find myself humming snippets of the music to myself. Everything fits in the levels, other than the extreme difficulty spikes.
Of course, there are thing I would change, and as a kid it was a game I was never realistically going to complete. Today, on my Vita, I have a chance. Hell, I’ve beaten more levels in the week or so of having the game than I did in the years I’ve owned it on PS1.
Without those nostalgia goggles, it’s still a game that sticks out to those who are even remotely aware of it. Whilst many platformers were going 3D on the PS1 (think Spyro, Crash Bandicoot or Croc), Rayman stuck with 2D and boosted the music and graphics to make a stunning and charming game to challenge yourself with. With it’s availability on the PS Store, the kids that played only the first few levels can now try to beat it properly, and truly appreciate what it was trying to do.
Today we know Rayman, not as the Limbless Wonder but, for the party style games Rayman’s Raving Rabbids has presented, as well as the highly-defined Rayman Origins, released not so long ago. He is a mascot long forgotten, until recently, and I hope he returns to form, like so long ago.
Do I recommend the original Rayman?
Yes, if only to hear how the soundtrack and level’s sound effects work together, so well. Prepare yourself to be frustrated though; don’t go throwing that Vita or controller out the window.
Khinjarsi owns none of the images above, and all are linked to where they came from. She last played Rayman probably minutes ago, before putting her Vita down out of frustration at plummeting to her death for the millionth time.