A Nostalgic Revisit: Rayman (1995)

Rayman 1995 is possibly one of the most innovative games I’ve played in my life. It’s so unfortunate that it’s so overlooked today by retro gaming fans as a piece of art, and even more unfortunate that Rayman as a franchise and IP has been so destroyed by spinoffs such as Rayman Legends, Rayman Kart, and especially–dare I even connect the name to New Transcendence in my first review–Rayman Raving Rabbids, which is probably why it gets so overlooked as a game. However, we all know that no matter how bad a franchise gets, there’s nearly nothing can taint the original releases if the games themselves were great games, and it’s especially the case for the magic of the first Rayman game.

The main character himself, Rayman.

Originating from French developers Ludimedia in 1995 who worked for Ubisoft, Rayman was the epitome of ’90s platformer video games. From the pixelated glimmering art, to the childish and elementary style full of wonder, to the innovative and solid gameplay, Rayman truly brought a lot of fantastic elements to the table. Since I’ve played the franchise as a child, I’ve always had a place for it in my heart, especially the first game, but I wanted to know if it could hold up to the current standards that video game fans such as myself have in today’s present, so I decided to find it and give it another play and write about it.

The title screen for Rayman.

Rayman’s first title was released under many versions in 1995, including the Atari Jaguar, the Sony Playstation, and the Sega Saturn, but the main release was for MS-DOS machines, so I decided to stick with a DOS build to play. After all, I originally played it on the household computer, so it felt right to stick with the platform today. Immediately, the game opens up in the familiar UbiSoft intro that feels so alike to the 90s “THX” style bloom theme, and I’m instantly in love. Right after, a pixel animation of Rayman plays of him running around, showing Rayman is a man with no limbs, only a body, head, hands, and feet, all floating around each other to move, which is the basic cartoon premise of every character in the game, including the creatures and inanimate objects. Afterwards, once you press start and create your game, a clip plays of a magician explaining the entire situation, that the antagonist has stolen all of the world’s positive power, but I’ve always skipped it as it’s way too corny, even for the 90s. After all of this, I’m finally ready to jump back into gameplay.

 

The third level of The Dream Forest: The Swamps of Forgetfulness

The player, Rayman, is able to walk around and jump like most games, but the main aspect of the game is you can throw your fist to punch enemies and bring it back like a boomerang. The first levels are real easy, purposely to serve as an introduction, but when I played them, let me say, I was instantly flushed with so much nostalgia. They take on a murky swamp, but the scenery is very beautiful. The enemies are either swampy creatures like piranhas or plants, or humanoid safari looking characters called “Livingstones”, “Antitoons” which are little black bodies running around that recur throughout the game, and Hunters (literal animal hunters). What really gave me nostalgia was the CHECKPOINTS. It’s this shaggy photographer DUDE looking dude that takes your photoboard picture that resembles a surfer. Eventually, you meet the other protagonist, Betilla the Fairy, who gives you the power to hang onto ledges, something really useful for the type of platforming the game has. After a while, you meet Tarayzan, and he gives you a magic bean useful for the rest of the level. Finally, you come across the first boss, Moskito, who I always thought was a pain in the ASS. After you beat him, you end on a pretty positive note though, as Rayman actually cheers him up and I think even gives him a high-five. Afterward, he allows you to fly on his back until the end of the level, where you meet Betilla again, to get the ability to swing from flying hoops in the air. (A mechanic that was utilized efficiently throughout the entire series).

 

The map of The Glade of Dreams, through the binoculars of Mr. Dark

 

Bongo Hills, the start of Band Land

Next up is Band Land, and holy moly guacamole, by this point, the memories are all flooding back. The platforms all look like either snare drums, staff lines, or other various music related stuff. As a kid, the level was always really fun, but as an adult, and a professional musician, I’m really loving the music aspect of the level. In this level, the enemies still consist of Hunters and Antitoons, but on top of the introduction of Evil Eyes that shoot lightning at you and appear through the rest of the game, and various music related enemies, such as Sneezing or Yawning Trumpets, Cymbals, and even Wrong Notes. However, this is where the game expects the player to get more creative. On top of new enemies, there are new music related obstacles and puzzles for the player to really use their wits in order to finish. Not only that, but some of these levels start to get pretty fast paced, making the player really think fast, but hard, and even gives the player a new mechanic to work with, which is the ability to fly with Rayman’s hair like a helicopter. As the levels progress, you eventually make your way up into the air. After a while, you come across great meditating monks that are using their powers to create platforms for Rayman to jump onto. Then, finally, you come across Mr. Sax, the second boss. Once beating him, even he ends on a positive outro and starts to dance with Rayman. It appears Rayman is great at making friends.

 

Rayman platforming about the level Allegro Presto

 

The first level in Blue Mountains, Twilight Gulch

The third world consists of a mountainous area called “Blue Mountains”. The art for this world is nothing short of extremely beautiful. There are polar lights going on in the very starry background, and all of the foreground is just as gorgeous mountain terrain with vague patches of snow. I’m really not exaggerating when I say the scenes are something you would see in a dream. Mists and stars and pillars with celestial designs carved into them. It’s how I remember Rayman 2, but just really twilight and night-oriented. Just real mystical. You fight off Stone Men and Stone Dogs while avoiding sharp and volcanic rocks, and within the first level, you’re chased by the third area’s boss, Mr Stone. After a while, the levels start to imply a colder setting and the background skies go from dark to lighter. You meet The Musician, who lives in a house with his family, along with two pet birds, but is crying because his guitar has been crushed by a rock, so in order to help, Rayman apparently carves a guitar out of a rock with his fists (No, I’m not joking), and gives it to him. The Musician then gives the player the ability to use Rayman’s helicopter ability in an unlimited fashion, but only for that level. The more you use your helicopter power, the faster you go, but the harder it is to control, but if you go too slow, you’ll glide down and die. The original Flappy Bird, everyone. However, it’s a lot trickier, as there are a lot of precision moves that have to be done, and a lot of trial and error, lots of dying. The second stage of the level consists of a big stone slab “roof” being dragged down by two stone boulders attached with rope, and you have to use your helicopter hair to slice the ropes and drop the boulders so it stops dragging you down. Sadly after that, you lose the unlimited helicopter power, and shit gets real again. Eventually, the next two stages start to get a lot snowy, and the lighter skies of the background implies you’re in a different atmosphere because you’re so high up. Like I said, the artwork is beautiful. Finally you come across Mr. Stone, who can only be hurt by a giant stack of rocks in the center. When you take him down, again, this boss gets up and dances, making friends with Rayman. It seems this devteam has a thing for dancing or something.

 

The beautiful Eraser Plains

Rayman moves on to Picture City which is based off of art and painting and drawing. The platforms are erasers and floating pencils that move up and down in wave formation, wooden planks and chalk, boxes of thumbtacks, bouncy Yin Yang orbs, and lots of other really lovely art related platforming devices. The background in the first level consists of loads of pastels, purple mountains, pink, yellow, and green clouds, the second and later levels revolving around the wood of a desk, with lots of hearts and stars carved into the wood, with paint covered rags, chalk, and pens in the foreground as decorations. In these levels, the giant pencils you were jumping on are now above you, with the points facing downward, so you have to quickly run past the wave they make. The pencils were so embedded into my memory I nearly teared up with joy. Within the first level, you’re apprehended by the boss, a woman dressed as a Viking holding a rolling-pin that shoots daggers, which you can use to bounce on the handles to attack, but not before taking out her pirate henchmen, on a theater stage that resembles being out at sea. (It’s really bizarre). I have to admit though, the entire thing plays out like an elegant performance,┬ásomething I’m sure the devs were trying to achieve, and done well.

Pencil Pentathlon, the second level of Picture City.

The second stage has a beautiful background of ink lakes, paintbrush, spray can, and easel mountains, and as you proceed up, the background reveals the project desk wood background was actually the sky of this map. During the second level of this stage, you’ll receive the unlimited helicopter power back, giving you the ability to fly wherever you please again, but only for that level, which leads you to the pain-in-the-ass third stage involving a maze of the eraser bounce platforms and catapulting through hazards like a circus act. Finally after this level, you move onto the concluding level with the earlier viking boss of Picture City, now a space drama ballerina named, I’m not even joking you, “Space Mama”. Now the stage is set on what looks like the moon, or a different planet. The whole thing is just ridiculous. However, this one is a lot more tedious than the previously mentioned stage, and it’s not nearly as a breeze, it was actually quite hard for me. After you finish, you can probably imagine what happens. She dances. Classic Rayman plot twist, what a monument. After all of this, it’s time to move onto the final world, The Caves of Skops.

 

Parkour through pencils in Picture City.

 

Rayman swinging from a hoop in Crystal Palace

The last and final world is The Caves of Skops. The music is just as awesome as the rest of the soundtrack, and the level art is just as beautiful. There are giant stalagmites that look like budding flowers, some that are so huge they look like they have walkways spiraling upwards. I’m going to be honest though, within the first level of this world, Ludimedia just decided to throw in everything you might have previously thought was bullshit about the game. And I’m saying that in a completely positive way. It was so challenging to me I was having a blast as early as the first obstacle. The fact that it was 100% my fault since the game is put together so well made me laugh with joy. Regardless, I was having a pretty difficult time with these levels, but ironically I got through a lot of them accidentally missing the checkpoint and managing to survive until the exit. It really made me wonder how as a kid I managed to get through the game. One thing that actually was frustrating were the new enemies the game introduces, they’re absolutely relentless and I even remember hating them as a kid. Especially the god damn spiders. They smile a smug laugh at you before annoying the hell out of you. But if I thought anything else in this game was unfair, I must’ve forgotten about the level after the first, because it’s seriously a “Darkness” level.

After you turn Joe’s power back on, he lets you use his buoys to pass.

An alien named Joe who owns a restaurant is sad because his sign isn’t getting any power, so Rayman decides to help by going into the caves it’s plugged into, with Joe’s alien firefly friend. By holding it in his hand… The hand he uses to swing and fight and everything else….. Some honesty is due, this stage was not fun compared to how hard it was. In fact, after it pulled up, I also remembered hating it as a kid. I do, however, really enjoy how much this last level introduces though, even including the obnoxious enemies. The new platforms, smug bastard enemies, and at this point it’s really a match of reflexes. The third stage and fourth stage brings back something really nostalgic: The god damn Flying Saucer. This is a UFO-looking platform that takes you flying around wherever it’s wired to. The UFO sticks around for two of the stages and it’s really great. It was one of the things I remember most in Rayman, and I was so full of happiness to play it again. However, right after this, the game goes back to being frustrating, so that fun doesn’t last. Although, the stage is extremely vivid. It’s an underwater sea in a cavern. Possibly a lagoon. The player is made to jump on buoys while the fish in the water either try to push him forward (or backward), or try to snap at him and knock him off. The whole level, as difficult as it is, was so different that as a child I always thought it was a dream. Thankfully, the level after, the final level of The Caves of Skops and the last normal level, goes back to being fun, amusing, and just challenging enough. Then, immediately after the first stage, you’re confronted with the boss, Mr. Skops himself, who’s so hard it’s as if the game was making sure you were paying attention during the earlier parts of the game. Finally, you’re faced with Mr. Skops in a battle to deflect his own attacks against him. It’s rather simple, but it’s a lot harder than it sounds. After you beat him, you’re not going to guess what happens. No, Mr. Skops doesn’t dance! Unbelievable! He takes a nap! Either that, or he died. Oh well. After this, a cutscene activates showing Betilla has been captured and put into Mr. Dark’s hourglass. The only way to rescue her is to literally find all of the Electoons scattered around the world, making you really explore every corner of the map, sometimes in a really ridiculous way. I’m going to tell the truth, as a child, I never got past this, but for the sake of this review, I went and 100%’d Rayman just to get to the final level, which brings us to Candy Chateau.

 

The final boss, Mr. Skops.

 

You heard me, “Dark Rayman”.

After you’ve collected all one hundred electoons, you’re able to make your way to the final level, Candy Chateau. Like I said, I’ve actually never gotten to Candy Chateau as a kid, and I don’t think any of my family had either, so I especially needed to find out what kind of secrets it held. This also obviously has a bunch of spoilers, so if you’d like to save the ending for yourself, I would skip over to the next paragraph. In Candy Chateau, there’s only one level, Mr. Dark’s Dare, but it has a lot of gameplay for the final stage, it’s amazing. The first stage of the level consists of a snowboarding level. You’re on a spoon gliding down chocolate mountains covered in frosting, jumping over gaps and green candy goo. It’s very quick, very challenging, and very fun, so right off the bat, I was already having a pretty great time. The background consists of teapot mountains with their own faces, huge dishes and ice cream spoons, and a bunch of other food related stuff, and occasionally Rayman wooshes past huge bowls of ice cream and sherbet (that even have tiny little houses on top of them, this game is beautiful). The following stage, Mr. Dark himself casts a spell that creates an evil clone of Rayman, literally named “Bad Rayman”. But really, this level is AWESOME. I’ve been saying the game was so well constructed, now I ESPECIALLY mean this level. Bad Rayman doesn’t follow you in a chase, but rather, he mimics your every move, after a few seconds. It sounds like a pain, but really, he mimics EVERYTHING, if you run, he runs too, if you hesitate, HE will also hesitate. That means if you mess up, so does he. The coding, the idea, and the gameplay is just so genius. I want to say this stage made going around and finding the 100 Electoons worth it.

The second stage of Mr. Dark’s Dare in Candy Chateau.

The next and final stage after this was really fucky though, although really fun. Mr. Dark casts a spell on you inverting the controls. I’m not joking, they actually pull a switcheroo on your controls. After a while, you get used to it, but damn if I call bullshit! After a while, the game introduces some pretty unique enemies, all related to clowns. There’s a clown that drops bombs onto you, a clown that shoots bubbles at you, and clowns that stun Rayman by pounding the ground with mallets. The background starts turning even more surreal and intricate with giant hands jutting out of the ground holding paintbrushes and ice cream, monkeys wearing sunglasses laying in the frosting underneath giant paper umbrellas, and giant lollipop trees poking up throughout the ground. After a while, your walking turns normal, but still, I can’t get over the fact that they really pulled that. Next, Mr. Dark casts a spell on you that makes Rayman run nonstop, having him maneuver obstacles and gaps without stopping. Then, by the end of the stage, Mr. Dark takes away Rayman’s punching power, leaving him stranded without an attack before the boss battle. Finally, it’s time to face Mr. Dark, but Rayman doesn’t have his punching ability. Mr. Dark holds Rayman’s punching fist up on a rope, teasing Rayman, before shooting fireballs at him, trapping him in walls of fire, even telling him “You’re Doomed, Rayman”. He then starts to close in the flames on Rayman, as the electoons Rayman saved start flying in, bringing him his fist back. Then, Mr. Dark brings in a combination of every boss Rayman faced earlier, with a fused up monster consisting Skops as the head and arm and Mr. Stone’s torso and legs who throws his Skops claw at you. Then, two Space Mamas on either side of the screen, (I guess Mr. Dark cloned Space Mama?). As a final form, a combination of Moskito, Space Mama, and Mr. Sax shows up, Rayman shrinks, and you’re constantly catapulted from the ground when the final boss tries to jump on you, which is the only way to get a punch in. After beating the boss, a mystical feeling cutscene filled with fireworks and cheering plays, and the game rolls to credits.

 

The concluding battle with Mr. Dark and his creations.

 

As a conclusion to wondering how Rayman holds up to video games today, I say in terms of platformers, it definitely feels old, but it’s one of the most solid 2D platforming games I’ve ever played, even today. The theme’s are fantastically friendly and childish, aimed at children but made for adults, making the game a nice break to play, and it’s just overall so pleasing in so many ways. The art, the music, and the gameplay are all really marvelous, especially when you consider the fact this game was made in 1995. Compared to games like Astal and Ristar, which came out in the same year, had roughly the same styles, and even indirectly competed with each other in sales, this game comes out as my favorite, not even since it came from my childhood, but just because it plays so much more fun in every aspect, and is even on caliber with the huge, most familiar titles of that time such as Mario and Sonic. While the games that competed with Rayman are definitely fun, they all seem to be missing the smoothness, ambition, and perfectionism of the first Rayman game. If I were to rate this game in the standards of today, I would rate it a 7/10. As for any readers that want to play it, I would HIGHLY suggest going for it. It would definitely be worth it.