My local Blockbuster is actually carrying GBA games for rental! This was very surprising to me as I live in the boonies. In anycase, this turn of events has allowed me to write up some Rayman Advance impressions.
When I first put Rayman Advance in my GBA, I was greeted by some nice looking company logos and such, and everything seemed to be in good order. That's when the music started playing. If you've been reading PGC for the last few weeks, you probably know that music is very important to me. I've been playing guitar and drums for nearly eight years now, and the music in a game can have a really big effect on my opinion of it. Unfortunately for Rayman Advance, that effect is not a good one.
For now, I'll skip the music though. Let's talk about the game itself. The gameplay is actually very well conceived, and I'm sure it was a great game on the PlayStation (though I've never played it before now). It's still a pretty good game on the GBA, but I think it has a few problems. The main problem is that, UbiSoft didn't shrink the graphics down to handheld size. The GBA's resolution is quite a bit lower than a TVs resolution. So, instead of making the art a little less detailed, they used the same trick that Nintendo used in Super Mario Advance. Instead of centering Rayman in the middle of the screen, the put him on the far left of the screen. If you turn around, the screen quickly pans so that you're on the far right. If you duck or press up, the screen moves accordingly to help you see what would be visible if you were playing the PSX version. The problem is that Rayman is at least twice as big as Mario. This technique cuased some minor problems in Super Mario Advance, and I think it's worse here. You can't see what's behind you! Rayman moves a little slower though, so in the end I suppose it basically works, but it annoys me. Castlevania didn't have any problems of this kind as it's characters were built from the ground up for the GBA. I hope developers stop using this "trick" to squeeze console ports onto the handheld screen.
Anyway, even with this problem, the game still plays and controls well most of the time. Rayman is animated beautifully. Because he has no limbs connecting his hands, feet and head to his body, these appendages can be moved around by the animators without requiring additional art in the GBA's memory. This allows a very detailed level of animation and it's used to good effect. Apparently, this leaves a lot of room for the enemies because they are also very big and well drawn. As Mike Orlando mentions in his impressions, Rayman can gain a bunch of additional moves as he progresses through the game and the ones I found worked well enough. I could grab onto ledges and I could "throw" my fist at enemies.
You may be wondering why my impressions have a basically negative tone so far. The reason is that I simply don't like this game. I'm not saying it's bad, but I don't like it. As I was playing Rayman, I simply couldn't shake a sense of boredom. Maybe I was just in a weird mood, but the truth is, I just wasn't very interested in playing Rayman. I know the music was part of it. The compositions I heard sounded random and meaningless although not exactly bad. This was complicated because UbiSoft apparently used the embedded Game Boy Color sound chip to do parts of Rayman's music. I may be wrong, but I really hope this won't be a habit among GBA developers. I don't want to play GBA games with GBC quality music. Meanwhile, the game seemed to give me the same impression as the music. A bunch of random quirkiness that was well drawn and put together, but ultimately it appeared meaningless to me. I can at least say that the graphics were bright. Even levels that had a dark theme were easily visible in a way that will make you forget the dark passages of Castlevania.
Technically, the game looked good, and it played good, but it didn't sound too good. Mike seemed to like the game quite a bit, and you may like it as well, but I can't say that I like Rayman all that much. I think next time I got to Blockbuster, I'll pick up Chu Chu Rocket.