When you ponder the platformer the names that usually pop into most minds are the likes of Super Mario Bros., Sonic the Hedgehog or Donkey Kong, but one of the equally big names of the nineties and early noughties was Rayman, Ubisoft's flagship platformer with multiple, much loved adventures on both the home and portable console.
However, since the birth of the Wii, the main concept had been pushed gently to one side to pave the way for a horde of bumbling, slightly crazy creatures called Rabbids. Adopting the Rayman name, these critters introduced fans to a mini-games and eventually had their own story to tell. Whilst a different and well praised experience, the Raving Rabbids series just wasn't quite what fans were used to, and series protagonist Rayman was left without a true game to his abused name.
Whilst there is an episodic prequel due out to please series veterans, Nintendo fans were left waiting until confirmation of the return of Rayman as a 3DS port of the highly praised Dreamcast version of Rayman 2: The Great Escape. Originally released in 1999, the game has already seen countless ports on various different formats, including PlayStation, PlayStation 2, Apple's iPod and even a touch-controlled edition for Nintendo DS. So, can a twelve-year old game be as enjoyable alongside other 3DS games?
The game's story remains untouched from the original, revolving around a devious army of robotic pirates led by the sneaky Admiral Razorbeard. Instead of just looting the seas and guzzling down pints of oil with his fellow crew members, he instead destroys world's core, disabling protagonist Rayman's mystical powers. Defenceless, Rayman and his cowardly chum Globox are captured and locked away deep within a prison ship. Fortunately for the limbless hero, Globox restores one of his powers with the help of a silver lum (a bug-like species), and so he escapes and sets out to restore the spirit of the world, Polokus, save his imprisoned allies and stop Razorbeard in his tracks. Plus eat, sleep and go to the bathroom!
The first thing noticeable about Rayman 3DS is how remarkably similar the game is to the Dreamcast and Nintendo 64 editions. We're immediately invited into a vibrant world painted to the brim with rich, earthy colours; an animated haven for the different creatures, monsters and pirates you'll encounter throughout the game. Whilst the level designs aren’t crammed with atom-level detail, and the landscapes do look occasionally dated and bland, there's a continually strong feeling of care and attention - whether it be an expansive, deep sea, fearsome forests or mysterious labyrinths, there's an impressive sense of style and uniqueness within Rayman's home world, the Glade of Dreams. As you venture into the later environments like The Tomb of the Ancients or The Echoing Caves, you'll encounter bizarre designs that perhaps wouldn't make any sense if placed in your typical platformer, but these designs to feel right up Rayman's creek.
Whilst still easy on the eye, the game hasn't progressed as much as Nintendo's efforts with similar titles from Rayman's generation, like Star Fox 64 3D or The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time 3D. Textures and character models do have that touch of sharpness and slight remodelling, but the overall game doesn't appear to have been refined too much from its predecessors. Granted, the original 1999 game was far from being the ugliest kid on the block, but there doesn't seem to have been too much improvement on the visual side of things. Age does seem to seep through though in certain places - muggy, ugly textures and the occasional blocky glitch reminiscent of the Nintendo 64 days.
Can 3D add that extra layer of depth? Rayman 3D already stands out with its bursts of colour, and with so much going on in certain places, the concept of 3D can be difficult to apply simple fore- and background elements. This makes the effect a bit hit and miss - rather than clearly distinguishing Rayman in the foreground, a sense of distance to the background and enemies lingering in the middle, it can tend to become a bit of a blur, especially during the more heated moments between the limbless wonder and his robotic foes. We had to let our fidgeting fingers tweak the slider to find the perfect level of 3D throughout the game, but for when you do find the right amount plus the right angle to place your peepers, it can be worth the hassle. In general you'd be better off with half 3D or regular standard viewing, which is still visually effective.
A large world is nothing without solid gameplay mechanics to hold it all together. Like the visuals, there aren't too many leaps forward from the original spec. You venture through over twenty varied levels, tackling gun-wielding robot pirates, collecting the bug-like lums and racking your brains over some fiendishly difficult puzzles. If you haven't played one of the previous versions of The Great Escape, you'd be in for some unique surprises in gameplay design - from sliding down a snake, riding down a river of lava upon a large berry, escaping a chasing pirate ship and even the popular barrel riding, there are a handful of superb gameplay sequences that add to the core searching and combat. Challenges and mini-games have been kept intact, some a bit more accessible than before, but still enjoyable and varied nonetheless.
In terms of control, Ubisoft have scrapped the slightly flawed touch-screen mechanics from the DS edition in favour of the far less twiddly circle pad for movement. The four face buttons are used for attack, jumping and swimming, whilst the shoulder buttons offer camera and strafing control. Initially manoeuvring our hero is a little tricky, given you'll need to jump, shoot and move about simultaneously, but there is a smoother learning curve in place in contrast to the original versions. Ubisoft have created an easier opening sequence, and although it is near enough to the original, it does feel as if there is more room to breathe and get used to the setup before leaping into the main bulk of the game.
Camera, the bane of many 3D adventures and platformers, is still an issue in this port as it was in other Rayman 2 outings. Like the Wii's Super Mario Galaxy and other similar platformers, you follow Rayman from the back, in third person. There is a dedicated "look" trigger to enter a first-person perspective, and this generally helps for most situations, however on occasion you're forced into a fixed viewpoint that can't be refocused until moving on from the area. When it requires more precise timing and judging jumps, for example, it still proves troublesome in quite a few situations; a disappointing aspect that could have been refined given the multiple versions that have the same flaws. The camerawork isn't particularly game-breaking, but could have been far more flexible to accommodate. Turning 3D on in these situations on doesn't make things much easier either.
The experience is all sewn together with an aural delight streaming from the 3DS's speakers. Grand, string filled scores draw you into the Rayman universe, complimenting the vivid, unique worlds you'll encounter in The Glade of Dreams. Sound-effects are also put to good use, with the tugging of a rope or the splitter splatter of Rayman's feet brushing along the water - a little overboard at times, but certainly goes well with the action on screen.