Some games fall into a category I call “mystical”. These games inspire the imagination and there seems to be more to the world than what you can see at face value. One of exemplary game series are that of the character Rayman. Just look at Rayman himself, he has no arms or legs, so his body parts just float! When I first played the demo for the Dreamcast version of Rayman 2 at nine years old, I knew it was something special. Though strangely, I didn’t really play Rayman 2 until this year. Perhaps it’s because when I rented Rayman 1 many years ago, I was put off by the crushing difficulty. Thankfully that’s not the case with the second one.
First of all, Rayman 2 plays almost exactly how you’d expect a 3D platformer to… almost. Coming from something like Super Mario 64, you’ll definitely notice Rayman is floatier. Jumps are higher and you descend slower. Descent can be slowed even more using Rayman’s helicopter hair. Instead of punching, Rayman can shoot balls of energy out of his hand. This is fairly imprecise, but the game has auto-aim for you, but this can get in the way when you need to aim at multiple targets, which is thankfully not very often. Later on you can charge it up, which is only really useful when you can get a full charge, which can be hard in the middle of combat. The helicopter and charge must be unlocked and are not present at the beginning of the game.
Levels are fairly linear, but there is some exploration and secrets to be had here. At least one level wraps around back on itself, which causes you to go around in circles unless you’re really paying attention. Seriously, it drops you off facing the wrong way! That’s just frustrating. Several of the levels feature a larger variety of gameplay: Water skiing, riding a sentient rocket, infinite flight with Rayman’s helicopter hair – Just to name a few. There is lot of collecting, in the form of differently colored fairy things called Lums. Several points will stop you if you don’t have enough yellow Lums, so make sure to collect as much as possible. Occasionally there’s a puzzle or two, but these are rarely more than putting a colored sphere on the correctly colored pedestal.
The Dreamcast version of the game is simply amazing to behold for a game of the time. The environments all have that mystical quality to them, helped by the excellent textures. The textures are not quite as excellent in the N64 and PS1 versions, from what I’ve seen having not played them. The Dreamcast version overall looks much smoother, and is the one I’d recommend. Character models are fairly low-poly, but this is easily forgiven due to the time period and the cartoony nature of the characters.
The music, to be honest, isn’t really much to write home about. They fit into the setting of the game and are pretty mystical themselves, but I couldn’t see myself listening to them outside the game. I have no idea if the music is changed in any of the versions, but I have a feeling the simplicity of the music is thanks to the N64.
Story wise, Rayman features a pretty standard setup of good versus evil. This time, the big baddies are a group of robot pirates, which is a pretty creative enemy. Rayman starts the game captured, makes his escape with the help of his friend Globox, and sets out to stop the evil Razorbeard and save all of his friends, including the Lums. Cutscenes appear every now and again, and are fairly well done. They don’t feature ‘real’ voice acting, but Rayman and co speak in a pseudo-language, which reminds me a bit of “Simlish” from The Sim’s series of games. I like the cutscenes, they have a sort of cartoony charm to them. I especially love how when Razorbeard eats one of the Lums in one cutscene, the global HUD counter for them goes down by one.
So what’s the deal with Rayman 2? I’d say if you can find the Dreamcast version, get it! There is a PC version available on GOG.com, but it has terrible controls: Gamepad support is awful, and the keyboard controls aren’t rebindable.