Prince of Persia isn't the only Ubisoft franchise getting a darker makeover.
When Rayman 2 made its debut in 1999, it was widely acclaimed for its zany world and its quality linear platforming. I have fond memories of Rayman 2 on the Dreamcast, so I welcomed the chance to revisit an old favorite on the Nintendo DS. Unfortunately, high hopes can plummet, and this port disappoints on multiple levels by magnifying the original's faults while introducing a slew of its own.
Rayman 2's biggest strength—at least on the Dreamcast—was its presentation, and overall, the personality remains in the port. Rayman's cartoon world of crooked architecture is filled with equally odd characters: The limbless hero can use his hair as helicopter blades; his best buddy Globox is a frog-like buffoon with dozens of children; and the wise Teensies are downright senile. Rayman's enemies are evil robotic space pirates bent on enslaving the world's inhabitants, led by the ill-tempered Razorbeard. The story is hardly complex, but it has the charming, epic feel its sequel on the GameCube lacked.
Everything else has been compromised.
Do you remember the times of the original GBA screen? Do you miss the era of constant adjustment for the best lighting? If you do, you'll love Rayman DS! Yes, you can now relive the excitement of straining your eyes to make out platforms and the joy of uncertainty. Best off all, there's a brand new dimension to blindly wander through—and you don't even have to turn off the system's back-lighting!
Indeed, while Rayman DS presents impressive textures and models for the handheld, severely subdued colors transform the game's fascinating decorations into a brownish blur of ambiguity during daylight hours. The same amount of ambient lighting that would cause Super Mario 64 DS to appear less vibrant renders Rayman DS unplayable. If a barrel falls toward Rayman while he's climbing a wall, players will not know when or even if to dodge. When the limbless hero is crossing a narrow bridge he'll magically disappear when the player discovers he's wandered too far to the left. The DS may have a touch screen, but that doesn't mean gamers can play by brail!
Speaking of the touch screen, it's worthless if you like using your right hand for analog control in Super Mario 64 DS. Nintendo showed developers how the D-pad could be used as four face buttons in their flagship launch title, but apparently CDStudios didn't bother to notice. This means that right-handed gamers uncomfortable with the thumb stylus will need to buy a felt glove if they want analog control.
Most players will resort to digital controls—a poor substitute for the console versions' analog sensitivity. Even touch screen users will not escape from the game's most perplexing control decision, though: it takes roughly twenty milliseconds for Rayman to acknowledge directional input. The delay is restricted to presses (not releases) of the D-pad and touch screen. Curiously, Rayman does not suffer from this retardation while holding an object, sliding down slopes or riding a rocket. It seems the lag was deliberately implemented—possibly to accommodate unintended, brief tapping of the touch screen. By incorporating the lag in the D-pad controls and failing to change the direction Rayman faces immediately, Ubisoft has thrown out all potential justifications. The game is playable with the D-pad, since the game aims Rayman's energy balls (thrown from his armless hands) automatically when in the proximity of targets. The levels were designed around analog input, though, and the downgrade in precision subtly manifests itself in clumsiness and frustration.
The poor DS controls make Rayman 2 seem antiquated, but it really is a fantastic platformer. Unfortunately, the best levels are stashed in Rayman 2's latter half, and players may give up on this sloppy port beforehand. Those new to the Rayman series may be surprised at the scarcity of enemies. Rayman will run into the occasional pirate to outwit or shoot down, and the final battle is climactic, but environments are the game's real obstacles. Rayman's energy ball attack is more commonly used to hit switches, swing across pits, or break cages.
The level design is paced much like that of a Super Mario game, focused on well-placed jumps and avoiding danger. In other sections, Rayman is either riding some sort of vehicle or sliding down a slope. While some of these brisk parts of the game are enjoyable challenges (especially the last level), most are bang-your-head hard. These portions tend to have poor camera angles, unpredictable physics, and cheap surprises—all of which encourage minor mistakes that force the player to retry. These issues were in the console versions, too, but this port's smaller screen and significant setbacks amplify aggravation tenfold. The most frustrating section in the DS game doesn't even exist on the Dreamcast! I am unfamiliar with the N64 version, but this area was likely replaced when tweaking the Dreamcast edition and then ignored for this conversion. Difficulty can be good, but not when invoked through mediocre controls and half-hearted balancing.
At Game Developer Conference 2004 Michael Perry of Maxis called "port" a four-letter word, and he may as well have been referring to Rayman DS. The developers made little effort to adapt Rayman 2 for the handheld, transforming a brilliant game into a mushy blur. This version does retain some the classic's best moments, but players will have to sift through a lot of sour ones to reach them. Only DS owners unfamiliar with Rayman 2 and desperate for a platformer should pick this up, even at a discount.
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