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Rayman DS

Review By:  Cameron G.M.

Developer:  Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher:  Ubisoft
# of Players:  1-4
Genre:  Platform
ESRB:  Everyone
Online:  No
Accessories:  N/A
Date Posted:  7-11-05

I cannot compare Rayman DS to any of his older adventures: I haven’t played them. In one respect this is a good thing, because most criticisms aimed towards the game compare it to its N64, Playstation, and Dreamcast incarnations, but on the other hand that leaves me able to compare it to the only really comparable game I’ve played on this system: Super Mario 64 DS.

You play as Rayman, a little dude whose body, legs, and arms all float separately from each other. At the beginning of the game you are informed that not only have pirates captured you, but also these same pirates have shattered the heart of the world into a thousand yellow “lums”. Whatever the hell those are. The premise of the game is about par for the course for the entire experience in that it’s light-hearted, goofy, and generally just fun.

Newcomers to the Rayman universe will probably be reminded of titles like Banjo Kazooie or maybe Conker’s Bad Fur Day because the humor is surreal and goofy in much the same way. The first time you meet the Teenies, who are small worm-like people that do little but argue and dance around, is an experience. However, the semi-dark and almost oppressive feel that most areas of the game give off genuinely offsets the light-hearted tone of the adventure. That’s a relatively minor complaint but it does affect the experience overall.

The way the game plays is intuitive – for the most part. Rayman’s auto-targeting energy balls are fun to use; he can jump and do a sort of hover-ish, helicoptery thing with the best of them. You can upgrade his abilities as the game progresses, and using these upgrades you can reach new areas to explore. For the most part, everything you do in the game feels fairly intuitive, particularly when you lock onto and strafe around an enemy. Definitely a good thing.

Unfortunately, the biggest problems with Rayman’s controls involve two of the most basic parts of it: actually moving around and controlling the camera. In Mario 64 you can use either the D-Pad or the Touch Screen to move around, and the same holds true in Rayman, but where Mario allows you to control the speed of your movement with precision using the touch screen or using a button on the D-Pad, Rayman does not give this luxury. The touch screen interface isn’t sensitive enough to accurately control the speed with which Rayman moves, and the D-pad is only capable of making him move at full speed, with a delay between your pressing and Rayman actually running. Ugh.

The camera’s actually a bigger problem than movement, for me: the damn thing wanders everywhere at the most inopportune times, and instead of giving you a way to adjust it, maybe with the touch screen (ala Mario, again), Ubisoft has seen fit to present you with no less than three buttons devoted to centering the camera behind Rayman while he looks around or stands there or whatever. Not only is that an inefficient use of buttons, a grave enough sin by itself, but it also feels utterly unintuitive. Assigning two buttons to rotating the camera at a fixed speed, and maybe one to center it would have worked just as well. The camera sometimes manages to get in the way of actual gameplay, which is a fault I can’t place on many games – I’m the kind of person who never has problems with cameras, no matter how wonky, simply because I can work around them. In Rayman this sometimes is not the case.

Aurally, the game is something of a treat – the music is appropriately trippy and lighthearted where it needs to be, and in general evokes an emotion appropriate for the situation. The garbled language used for spoken dialogue is appropriately cute and vaguely reminiscent of various other adventure games, though that shouldn’t exactly come as a surprise. That said, sound effects are rather unvaried and genuinely bland in places – especially when you consider how much of this crap you’re going to be doing over and over again to collect a thousand yellow lums. Overall it’s good, but for some reason the entire experience manages to feel somehow dated.

Now, one major way in which Rayman DS deviates from nearly every other portable adventure game ever made is its saving system. Most offer you some way to save whenever you like, or at the least every once in a short while. That is not the case here: you only save by getting to the end of the massive world you’re in, and this is not as easy as it sounds. This game’s levels are massive, cavernous if you will, and literally chock full of different things for you to do. Normally it would be difficult to criticize a game for a point like that, but when it comes down to choosing between saving your progress and getting to dinner on time, Rayman himself starts looking like less of a priority. When you die on the same challenge over and over and over again – and it will happen, more than once – you’ll maybe want nothing more than the ability to get off for a while and mull over a solution on in your head. This simply is not possible, and that is bad.

That said, though, sometimes the worlds being so huge is definitely to their benefit – beating them is very satisfying, and rarely if ever will you find a game that offers a sense of scale more vast and cohesive. Each world feels more or less right, particularly for the way the story is set up. However, I get the feeling that each world was supposed to be somehow cheerier, maybe less dark – because sometimes dark they are, with muddy textures and odd colors making for an entirely different experience than if the tone had been as light for the level design as it was for the characters and art and music.

The characters are all probably the most outstanding part of Rayman: each of them possesses their own brand of humor, and all of them are beautifully constructed and (by comparison) lavishly detailed. Designs are creative and often very original, on top of always being fun to look at. Some of them are impressive if only because they’re so freaking weird, but they’re still impressive.

I guess what you get out of Rayman will be determined by what you want in the game. If you want a huge adventure filled with interesting humor, funky music, and some earnestly great level design, this is where it’s at. But if what you’re looking for is more in the vein of a great handheld experience, with graphics tailored to the platform, an interface that makes sense, and a save system that caters to the fact that you’re really playing on the go...I’m gonna have to say this is not, in fact, where it is at.    

Highs:

  • Extremely interesting character design

  • Huge worlds with many activities to be carried out

  • Quirky sense of humor

  • Nice music

Lows:

  • Poor camera

  • Basically unused touch-screen interface

  • Sluggish controls in a game dependent on accurate running and jumping and walking and creeping, what’s up with that

  • Save system that doesn’t make sense on a handheld

  • Huge worlds can actually be detrimental if you don’t want to be playing the game for very long

  • Graphics sometimes get muddy and make the game seem darker than it really is

  • A thousand lums is a LOT of lums

Final Verdict:

Overall, Rayman DS is something of a disappointing experience. The worst part is that so much of it is done right that you know the game could have been great if given a little more polish, but the biggest problems present themselves early and never go away. This game is like a quilt made from really fine pieces but put together with razor wire: it still cuts the bejesus out of you. There is enjoyment to be had here, and for some people I imagine there’s quite a lot of it, but it simply cannot compare to many other adventure games with which more care was taken.

Overall Score: 6.5

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