Rayman 2: The Great Escape review
Can't escape! From tomorrow!
Escape from 2D.
If you owned a fifth generation system back in the day, chances are, that was the only one you owned. If it was the Nintendo 64, then I bet you took a look at the Rayman 2 box and wondered where Rayman 1 was. Well, that was originally going to be released on the Super Nintendo, but that port was cancelled because cartridges just weren't good enough for it when Ubisoft caught a glimpse at what CDs had to offer. Rayman 2, thankfully, didn't suffer that same fate as it was released on anything not manufactured by Sega, and I'm grateful for that because otherwise, I would've had to have waited until its enhanced port on the PS2 before experiencing this game. That would've been a shame because this is a pretty awesome game. It's got personality backing up some excellent design choices and only some minor things and a moderate misstep stop it from kicking a whole lot of ass.
Escape from pirates!
The game starts with Rayman... behind bars. I'm like "wow, so is this going to be some wicked doomship prison break - I mean, this is the GREAT ESCAPE after all". Then Gloxbox gets thrown in and gives Rayman back his powers that he got from a fairy known as Ly. After they break out through a makeshift door Rayman busted open, they both fall off of the ship and into the Glade Of Dreams, separated. From there, Rayman has to find Globox, 1000 yellow Lums (pieces of the world's core) and four magical masks that should hopefully awaken the world's spirit in an effort to kill the pirates. Despite this sounding really cool, there are maybe a few moments where the story actually exists, and its execution isn't much if anything to write about. Where it shines are the characters, which are all animated not only in terms of graphics but also personality. It's very cartoony - Globox is unbelievably dumb at times but he has a heart of gold; conversely, the antagonist, Admiral Razorbeard, is crazy and prone to anger, making for some funny moments with his assistant. So while nothing ultimately special, at least its a lot of fun to go through. That about sums up the whole game, but I'm getting ahead of myself here.
Escape from familiar yet refreshing gameplay.
I'll be honest - it took a while for Rayman 2 to sit right for me. Unlike Banjo-Kazooie or Donkey Kong 64 (which were my top favorite games at the time for what it's worth), Rayman 2 is a very linear game with the simple goal of getting to Point B. Rayman isn't running around huge, open worlds to do certain tasks in order to collect shit; he's just running through, maybe looking around for a few hidden yellow Lums and cages that he'd have missed on the way through. So while there are some little nooks here and there with the off-chance of there being an open area, coming into this expecting 8 flavors of giant worlds is wishful thinking at best and a grand set up for disappointment at worst.
Thankfully, the levels are good more often than not. I mean, you have a few levels that don't really do much, and there's the dreaded water level (I mean, outside of the Great Bay Temple from Majora's Mask, was there ever a good water level in video games), but other than that, there's always something cool on offer. Some levels have pirate ships trying to shoot you and some platforms will break apart, forcing you to be quick on your feet. Lum collecting is a bit trickier here because you don't always have time to collect some on the side. Some levels will have you utilizing your helicopter ability (though sadly, it's more like an umbrella than an actual helicopter) to go huge distances while collecting Lums that are far out. There's one time where you do actually get to fly and holy shit, it's fun to use as you fly through a dangerous area, and then using or working against wind resistance to not get *bleep*ed up makes it much sweeter. Sometimes, you'll get to ride on rockets, and these tend to provide some very exhilarating moments dodging obstacles (except like one or two times when they fidget about and hit rocks, blowing you up and starting you back at where you start riding the rocket). There's usually something cool to do to take your mind off of how linear these levels are, and although I have no problem with linearity, having cool things to do is always a nice thought.
On the surface though, Rayman 2 revolves around running, jumping and firing glowing fist balls. At times, you'll encounter pirates, and... this is where my first problem with the game hits like a punch in the face. The combat in this game... is lame. You'll fight one, maybe two pirates who will shoot a round of three shots before pausing (or reloading, whatever), and you fire back at them. To drag on the fights is invulnerability time - they'll spend a bit of time invincible and you can't do anything about it. The bosses aren't much better. One of them is good as you have to dodge lines of fire and it keeps you on your toes, but the others were *bleep*ing terrible. The last boss is an especially big offender as the only thing climactic about it was how long it took. It got tedious and boring, leaving a weak final impression. It's a real pain in the balls too - the level preceding that was a fun slide inside the big pirate ship itself and a ride on a rocket through the inside of said ship. So in short, the combat is lame. Very lame. Good thing it relies mostly on the platforming.
That leads up to other problems I had with this game. For one thing, the camera suffers from jerky movement syndrome that most Nintendo 64 games do. This is because you need to press the C buttons to use it. When just running through the levels, the camera is fine, but when you have to move it around, you have to press the C left/right buttons a few times just to get it in the right place. It's the kind of thing we take for granted nowadays - what, with our right analogue sticks and fluid camera control, YOU DAMN KIDS! There are a few glitches as well, as Rayman and even a boss may not land in the right place during scripted scenes. That one boss... good thing there are red Lums (health restoration) nearby before you commit suicide to reset that... again and again and again. In one scene, Rayman jumps off a rocket... and will sometimes land into the eternal abyss below instead of jumping through the exit! This is even worse if you play this on an emulator, but even on the N64 itself, it has some whack coding.
Escape from the great graphics.
Rayman 2 was quite the looker back in its day, especially if you put the Expansion Pak inside the N64. Unlike other games that utilized it, Rayman 2 didn't lag like a mother*bleep*er - it ran smoothly and looked pretty damn good. While the textures look flat and a bit blurry by today's standards, they still look decent enough to eat. What really keeps it alive is its colors. It's bright, it's vibrant, and it's just so damn engaging as, when put together with the jungle-y, swampy and volcanic environments, it really has a grip on your balls and drags you in. It's like it wants you to explore its world despite its linearity, and when you take in the cool shit you can do, it kicks ass.
Escape mediocre music.
The music, on the other hand, wasn't very impressive. While it either wanted to be bouncy, intense or epic, it just felt like it existed because quiet is bad. Nothing about it really stood out, though if there's a consolation prize, at least it's not irritating. Another consolation prize is that the rest of the sound design definitely suits the graphics and not be mediocre. The sound effects are cartoony, sounding like exaggerated versions of real life effects. But the voices are the best part. Like Banjo-Kazooie, the characters speak in a sort of garbled language, and since it sounds good, it helps drag you into its world... at least better than bad voice acting (which is found in the majority of games out at the time). So really, it's the music that lets the sound design down.
To escape or to stay?
Rayman 2 is a great platformer that's bogged down a bit by weak combat and especially weak bosses. It's the kind of game that puts in a lot of cool things to give each level a bundle of personality, to make each level a lot of fun to play through. I dare say the reason for all of that was because unlike every other platformer out at the time, this is a linear game that isn't chock full of collectibles in like 32 different segments of a level; it's a game with a Point A and a Point B, and maybe a Point C for some collectibles here and there. Ultimately, this is a pretty damn good game that really needs to be checked out, despite its flaws.
The characters have a great personality and the concept is good. The storytelling is half and half.
Lame combat and lame bosses shouldn't stop the platforming from being good and the little things from being cool.
Besides the jerky camera controls, Rayman controls pretty fluidly.
Damn, this game looks awesome. Still holds up pretty damn well to this day.
Mediocre music lets down the otherwise good sound effects.
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