Creeping Jesus, have you heard the news? The original Rayman is available on the Apple App Store. My rabid infatuation for this glorious game is almost unhealthy; I have played it over 50 times – the platformer’s warped caverns and twisted enemies are all mapped out in my head like I’m some savage cartographer yearning to sweep the seabed for some heathen Aztec gold. Boasting a palette of over 65,000 colours, the vivid, brilliant imagery will always have me remember how awed, frightened, and bamboozled I was at the sheer sight of the game’s vast world. And now, generations of Apple freaks and oblivious millennials will get a taste of platforming in a time where games didn’t hold your hand, but left you in some condemned factory with more perverted avenues than a council estate located in Silent Hill, all while being hounded by a small army of Weeping Angels waiting at every corner like your unfriendly neighbourhood child molester.
But let’s not dwell on such savage imagery; verbosity is somewhat therapeutic for me, but that’s a story best left told during some alcohol-fuelled rant. You heard me correctly before: Rayman might be platforming royalty, but as with all great platformers, it can be a real pain in the arse like if you were the new prison bitch in Pentonville. A general platformer tends to lay out a standard path for you to tread, and you’ve no real choice other than to follow the Yellow Brick Road. A great platformer will chew up the road along with you, spit you out in the middle of nowhere, and make you explore every corner of the map like a bastard searching for its parents. Hark back to Super Metroid – that game had more secrets than a minister locked in a fierce ibogaine addiction, and there was no clear cut way of knowing exactly what you had to do and at what point. At least Rayman offers a tutorial when you unlock new powers; Super Metroid doesn’t even do that. Hell, the game gives you a brief, silent demonstration and leaves the rest up to you – it’s like telling a baby to walk right off the bat, then jump, fly-kick, and subsequently blow up the planet. But it worked. Gamers weren’t so oblivious; they’d figure out this shit and plod on with the genocide.
Rayman wasn’t so heavy as Super Metroid, though. Rayman’s world is kept in balance by the Great Plotoon, which was guarded by PG-rated Betilla the Fairy. Suddenly, the bastion of originality, Mr. Dark, steals the Great Plotoon – to nobody’s surprise – and defeats Betilla. The Electoons – creatures who used to gravitate around the Great Plotoon that coincidentally look like the pink Nerds candy – lose their natural stability and scatter all over the world. Every Electoon is then locked in giant cages like a portable Guantanamo, and it’s up to Rayman to senselessly beat the living dogshit out of all 102 cages within the game and free the little bastards. The plot is standard for a kid’s game, but this sure as shit doesn’t play like a kid’s game.
In the very first level of the very first stage, you start out with the most basic of scenarios: walk left, jump up, touch the signboard, the level is done. Textbook platforming, along with a cheery lagoon backdrop accompanied by the ultimate gambol soundtrack. The second level throws a curveball, however. There’s already areas you cannot reach, cages you cannot interact with, enemies you cannot bitchslap. The game is already teaching you that you’re going to be doing more backtracking than the Pharaoh in the Book of Exodus. Nothing too difficult; this is commonplace for a series like Metroid. Before you proceed to the next level, Betilla appears from nowhere and grants you the power of domestic abuse – the limbless hero can now punch with his telescopic fist.
This is your one and only attack in the entire game.
Now in the third and final level of the stage, you can fight back. You can break cages. You’re ready for the rest of the game. Of course, your powers don’t stop there. The more you progress, past the forests and the land of sentient musical instruments, you learn to hang off ledges, grab some really big rings and some really nice things with your fist, learn to sprint like it’s some kind of accomplished action, and also use your hair as a freaking helicopter. But this is where the game stops catering to child demographic and starts treating the player like an adult. The happy frolicking soundtrack disappears and is replaced by the tribal beating of drums, all while lightning roars and thunder booms as if the end of days is upon you; the beautiful forests and fields of violins are replaced by cold, blue, harsh mountains in the dark of night and the dank, perilous caves that are the home of a mammoth, monstrous scorpion. Feral, twisted enemies lurk in the darkest recesses of these godforsaken lands, and pretty much everything is more or less likely to kill you.
The game’s unrelenting image of demise doesn’t cap there, for it is strengthened by a difficulty that spikes higher and harder than a repressed virgin’s hard-on in a strip club. You see, Rayman doesn’t really make this clear, but you can’t actually finish the game unless you have freed all 102 Electoons cages.
To breach Mr. Dark’s diabetes-laden stronghold of Candy Château, you need to have freed every Electoon. This sounds simple enough, if only the Electoons weren’t hidden more secretly than the truth behind John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Jesus, what a reference. That’s the only car ride that’s worse than the one with Skull Face in MGSV. Anyway – this is where the game’s exploration element really comes into play. There are some areas in this game where the Electoon cages are so well hidden, you are physically unable to find them unless you take a blind leap of faith off of the side of some dark, treacherous canyon that leads down to Satan’s bondage shed. Sometimes, a leap of faith isn’t even required; you just need to look hard enough. But sometimes, looking hard enough means more than just searching every nook and cranny of your room like you’re a forensic detective looking for that giant batch of heroin hidden behind the wall that’s covered by the Elvira, Mistress of the Dark pinup.
Rayman employs trigger points in 90% of its levels. When you waltz into a trigger point, an audio cue will sound, and something, somewhere, will have appeared into Rayman’s plane of existence. It could be a cage, an enemy, a cloud platform, or even a giant sentient ball of spikes. Still yet, a trigger point may often create another trigger point, leading to a wild goose chase that more often than not leads to an extra life as opposed to an Electoon cage. The most brutal example of this is in the Blue Mountains scenario, within the bastard stage of The Hard Rocks. Three levels of rage-inducing winding roads, over 9000 trigger points, and enemies that JUST WON’T DIE.
Rayman isn’t just your run-of-the-mill platformer from the mid-90s. It’s a test of steady balance and precise timing. It’s a gauntlet of perseverance and exploration that’s stretched to great limits. It’s a platformer that harkens back to a different era of gaming which shaped the hardened adult players of the present. It’s a gorgeous game with huge worlds, brilliant colours, and fantastical enemies that dwell in all manner of places, from the laps of floating monks to the inn of an Eat At Joe’s; from the canvas of a Bob Ross original to the coldest peak of the mountain where Zarathustra retired to his dreams for years. It’s a fucking challenge-and-a-half that would make Samus Aran crack even the most miniscule of smiles behind that fluorescent visor. It’s the game that started me on the gamer’s path.
And I love it to bits.