I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with Rayman on the original PlayStation. I love him, and he hates me. Released in 1995, the game is a colorful 2D platformer starring the titular Rayman. A weird creature with hands and feet that aren’t attached to his body.
Usually, when I write about a game I will finish it and gather as much information as possible. I’m telling you right now that with Rayman that just isn’t happening. There will be things I don’t know, things I’ll never have seen and an approximate 0.01% chance of me even completing it legitimately. It’s a hard game. Very, very hard. Look up purgatory in the dictionary and you’ll find a picture of Rayman.
Being a 2D platformer you’ll know what to expect. Run and jump your way to the end of each level etc. etc. To start with it’s extremely easy, and also great fun. Rayman still looks lovely today, 2D, bright, cartoony and lovely. It has aged wonderfully, unlike some 3D counterparts. The levels are broken up into different worlds, each with their own themes. Band Land and Picture City were highlights for me. The first has musical instruments that make great sounds as you jump on them, the second is full of stationary. Pens, pencils, and erasers act as obstacles and platforms to save you from a river of black ink that flows below.
The sounds, in general, are fantastic, as is the music. I was starting to think I have a certain nostalgic bias when it comes to sound in games I played as a child. I throw that thought right out the window here. The audio is wonderful. Both the music and sound effects are perfect. Who could help but love reaching the end of a level? Touching the ! board to signal the end of a level prompts a “yeah” from Rayman, accompanied by cheesy music, a dance and a huge flashing smile. Stunning.
Progression gifts our hero extra power-ups. From only being able to run and jump initially we are given plenty of other skills to help our quest including sprinting, punching, gliding and a move that lets him swing from rings. All helpful and all needed to progress. The platforming feels nice as well. I had a great time in the earlier levels, stress-free, making jumps with ease and punching various, wonderfully animated, cartoon enemies into oblivion. Then it begins for real.
This game doesn’t sound hard. “What makes it hard?” I hear you ask. Where do I begin?
To start with Rayman can be hit 3 times and then he’s dead. The number of lives is limited. Oh, and if you start a group of levels you have to finish them, as backing out is only possible on the first level. Even if you click into them by accident you are forced to do them all if you forget to back out at the start. And forget about saving midway through the levels, that’s just not happening in a 23-year-old game. There are checkpoints mid-level (Rayman gets his picture taken in a board, much like my profile picture) but that’s it.
Power-ups can be collected on the way. There’s one that increases punch power and another that increases the number of hits before death. These coupled with the skills Rayman can learn are a necessity. With extra power comes extra difficulty. The permanent upgrades are essential and later level difficulty ramps up considerably, requiring you to master them all.
Let’s pretend for a second that I did master everything. I’m a glorious hero. I have completed every level and killed all the bosses. A true King amongst weird floaty hand people. With me? Good. This brings me to what makes Rayman as hard as nails. Electoons. Sprinkled throughout each level are collectible cages. Usually, 6 per level and every single one in the game needs to be collected. Every. Single. One. And not for 100% competition, no, they are needed to be able to take on the final boss and complete the game. They are an absolute nightmare. Even if you were collecting these as you go along you’ll still need to backtrack when you have the upgrades. Many of the cages prove difficult to get to or are hidden. Sometimes ridiculously well. Expect the pitiful amount of lives in the top left of the screen to reduce rapidly.
It really is a herculean task just to get to the final boss in this game. One I will probably never achieve and one that I definitely won’t achieve legitimately. I say legitimately as there are beautiful, sweet, amazing cheat codes for this game. They can be used to unlock all levels, get all cages and grant an instant 99 lives. I have been trying to complete the game legitimately, without these and I have failed. I’ve used a password in order to try out the more difficult later levels, but there are plenty more levels to play, bosses to fight and cages to get. I’m going to keep at it over the coming months (years) and try to get all the cages, using only the 99 lives cheat. An infinite amount of retries may reduce your opinions of me. They won’t reduce the joy I’ll feel should I ever manage to complete it. Cheats or not.
Despite the difficulty though, I’d still say this game is great fun and holds up well today. It would be easy to recommend to everyone, regardless of gaming ability. It’s a joy to look at and listen to. The early levels start off extremely easy and are really enjoyable to replay, even if they are as far as you can get. Skillful players (or cheaters) will get to experience a nice variety of environments and gameplay. The upgrades add a new dynamic and there are boss fights to be fought and levels that involve flying a mosquito, dodging spikes and fighting enemies the whole time.
I’ve accepted that I will never beat this game, at least not without the use of cheats. If anyone reading has finished Rayman on PlayStation, I applaud you and would offer you a congratulatory handshake. You deserve it. For us mere mortals this game is still great fun and very accessible, even if just replaying earlier levels. I’ve always enjoyed it and always will. Think I’m rubbish, and you can beat it legitimately? Let us know in the comments below! I won’t be mad, I’ll be impressed.