For a handheld system, PDA developers produce very little in the way of platform games, compared to Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance. On Nintendo’s platform, nearly one in every two titles constitutes as a platform action game or some variant of it. That’s probably because the majority of the publishers there have existing franchises or past platform titles to port from. To them, the Game Boy Advance is seemingly an extension of the console business. By contrast, there are few PDA publishers who have such a luxury. Gameloft scored the Rayman franchise from Ubisoft last year. Rayman Pocket was a good game but not flawless, especially its cumbersome installation routine. Rayman Ultimate, on the other hand, does away with the installation problems and races off from there to become a bigger, better and more entertaining title.
The most noticeable improvement for Rayman Ultimate is the change to use the entire screen. Rayman is now a lot bigger in comparison to his surroundings and there is copious animation, not only for the protagonist but everything from the flora to the fauna. It’s the animation that truly brings the Rayman world alive. Nearly every part of the backdrop sways, giving a natural feeling. While in dark settings, it gives off a preternatural feeling. There’s creativity too and that’s because Rayman Ultimate is based the original Rayman (for the Playstation) levels, which was a landmark title in its own right. Today, when handheld titles are often seen as a compromise ex cathedra, Rayman Ultimate is blatant exception to that rule. It’s a sharp looking title, colorful to make up for the dark screens and functional in its controls.
Instead of mapping buttons or combining stylus with button play, Rayman Ultimate uses a series of virtual buttons along the bottom. In the beginning, you won’t have any skills other than jumping but after the first few levels, you’ll eventually acquire the ability to punch with your gloves. Rayman Ultimate is setup in a free form fashion. After you defeat a certain level, you have the opportunity to go back and play previous ones, using your new skills to unlock previously unreachable areas. Furthermore, the levels open up in a branched manner, so if you fall prey to one particular level, you can always choose another route for the time being. Over sixty levels are included in Rayman Ultimate, with half a dozen distinctive motifs and like most platform titles, there are secrets strewn throughout the game.
Not only does Rayman Ultimate look and play great, it manages to sound great too. A lot of whimsical sound effects are included and an equally charming soundtrack accompanies the entire game. Just as the visuals are meticulously detailed and populated to create a sense of liveliness, so too does the audio portion come through for the game.
Rayman Ultimate lets you start up to three different profiles and it continues to use the checkpoint saving mechanism developed from past platform titles. You finish a level, your game is saved. You cross a checkpoint, your game is saved mid-level. The aforementioned installation problems that plagued its predecessor are completely gone. You only need to put in one registration key on the first start and after that, you won’t ever be bugged for it again. Unfortunately, that also means Rayman Ultimate is now one big file. It takes up eight and a half megabytes, requiring another four (in free space) to get the game running.
The payoff, however, is phenomenal. Seeing my share of platform titles on the Game Boy Advance, I’ve always thought the most innovative ones are the ones that keep it simple. Many franchises that release successive titles over the years merely add things to the original concept: more characters, more weapons, more bosses, more levels. More, however, doesn’t necessarily mean better. It can also mean confusing and often artificially extends the lifetime of a game. There is a sense of care and attention to detail that other developers should really take note. The checkpoints, for example, could easily have been a sign or beacon. How bourgeois, I would say. But here, the checkpoint is a cardboard cutout to which Rayman sticks his head out of to have his picture taken. Rayman still uses traditional conventions but he’s able to work around them and put a creative spin on many canonical platform devices. The classic level where water is filling up from the bottom is solved not by a series of jumping puzzles but by sowing seeds and letting plants grow.
With the exception of the recent Rayman Arena, the entire Rayman franchise has managed to play at a very high level for many releases. Rayman Ultimate doesn’t do any disparagement to its namesake. At $29.95 US, it’s easily one of the top priced games for handhelds but here, you’re getting what you’re paying for – an exuberant, marquee-class title that easily tops itself to become one of the best platform games on handhelds, par excellence.
[07/10] Program Size
[14/15] Learning Curve