Reviewed: April 8, 2003
Released: March 18, 2003
Rayman has been around for a long time. As I sit here and write this review it is exactly three years “to the day” that I wrote a similar glowing review for Rayman 2: The Great Escape for the Dreamcast. As “freaky” as that coincidence is in and of itself, what doesn’t surprise me is the level of quality that Ubisoft once again brings to the platform genre with Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc.
I had a sneaking suspicion of just how good this title was going to be when I saw some early demos at the E3 show last May, and the end result is nothing short of spectacular. Having just come off a five-week marathon session of VEXX - arguably the hardest platform game ever made – I was more than ready to sit back and relax with the kid (and reviewer) friendly limbless hero, Rayman.
Don’t get me wrong. Hoodlum Havoc is certainly no walk in the park…day at the beach…or any other colloquialism you might be inclined to use when describing this deceptively challenging game. At first glance, whether it be the cute characters on the box or the cute characters in the rolling demo or the…yes, they’re still cute…characters in the opening movie, Rayman 3 looks to simply be the next Sonic or Mario-killer, but there is a level of darkness to this title including some quirky and irreverent humor that borders dangerously close to the Teen side of the E rating.
Naturally, with three years of dev-time and a whole new crop of next gen hardware (yes, Rayman 3 released on all major platforms including the GBA) you would expect something special. And while Ubisoft has certainly upped the ante in graphics, sound, and conceptual design, they have stuck with the tried and true gameplay model of the original games. After all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Hoodlum Havoc’s story is the classic bout of good versus evil. This time the evil is a Black Lum name Andre – Rayman veterans will remember “lums” as those collectibles that come in assorted colors and bestow various benefits. Andre is bent on world domination and his plans include imprisoning all the cute Teensies inside cages then using the energy from the Heart of the World to reproduce himself.
Before this bizarre cloning experiment can get underway Andre accidentally (or perhaps intentionally) gets stuck inside Globox, your bumbling oaf and best friend. The rest of the game basically has you escorting your friend to various sages in order to get the evil lum out of your friend. Naturally, each sage is at the end of a lengthy set of creative levels that share a common world theme.
Even though Rayman 3 dangerously approaches the “adventure game” category there is still enough jumping, fighting, and item collecting to keep it in the platform genre. Control is superior with variable speed analog control and the face buttons handling jumping, attacking, and a first-person look mode. Especially nice and often useful is a 10x variable zoom that you can increase or decrease using the left and right triggers.
Fighting is done with a single button either at close range for physical combat or at a distance to rapid-fire your boomerang-like fists. A target-lock feature makes ranged attacks a breeze. You can hold down the fire button to spin-up your attack and do extra damage. The longer the wind-up the more damage, but if you get hit while spinning up you lose your momentum and have to start all over again. The attack button also handles any augmented fire modes you may have acquired through the numerous multi-colored cans of laundry detergent. Using these cans changes your attire and your attack for a limited time.
Rayman interacts with his environment seamlessly. He sticks to climbable walls and goes up and down ladders with the greatest of ease. He monkey swings across nets or textured ceilings and if you accidentally fall off a ledge you will normally grab and can pull yourself back up. Some might call this “easy” or “kid-friendly”, but I think it’s a smart design that promotes fun over frustration.
It’s pretty hard to die in this game. There is an abundance of Red Lums (healing) and they spawn about every minute so you can just hang around and get healed at will. Nothing short of a boss battle will even come close to draining your entire life meter. The game auto-saves frequently, so you never have to replay too much of any one section if you do manage to die.
Power-ups are numerous, strategically placed, and almost always necessary to progressing through the level. Most of these are earned by freeing the Teensies from their cages. You might be able to shoot a Vortex, which is great for Hoodlums on stilts or to spin-down a corkscrew platform. There is a Heavy Metal Fist that does extra damage and knocks down doors. Things that normally require a wind-up attack (like the numerous piggy banks) can now be destroyed with a normal hit.
The LockJaw power-up serves two purposes. It grapples enemies and shocks them, but it can also be used to navigate floating rings that stretch across the sky or over deep chasms. Simply lock-on and fire then swing until the next ring locks-on and repeat. You’ll be swinging better than Tarzan in no time. The Shock Rocket is a guided missile that you fire from first-person mode then steer until it hits the target. These have a limited time of travel so you often have to find the best route to your target to avoid a premature detonation.
The final power-up is the Throttle Copter that enhances Rayman’s natural ability to use his hair to jump and glide. With this power-up Rayman can actually get some lift and reach previously inaccessible areas. All power-ups have a limited duration that is noted by a clever ticking clock in the corner of the screen. To make things more challenging many of the cans are placed at the outer limits of the timer in regards to where they need to be used.
The level design in Rayman 3 is truly inspired, ranging from wondrous outdoor levels to sinister indoor areas. There are plenty of jumping puzzles, which normally might send gamers screaming into the hills, but these puzzles are more fun than frustrating. Even when you fall there is a ladder nearby to get you back to the start and some of the lengthier jumping puzzles with actually create a new shortcut when you get so far into them, so if you fall during the second half you can attempt it again from a midpoint.
One of my favorite jumping puzzles, more so because of the cleverness of the design rather than because I was any good at it, was a series of room with platforms that were only visible in mirrored floors or walls. You could only see the reflections of the platforms, so you had to jump into empty space and monitor your progress in the mirror – reversing your movement commands of course.
The levels and worlds themselves are fairly conventional. You have your ice world, your lava world, your forest, your desert, your underwater levels, you get the picture. Things get more original and totally “funk-a-delic” during the travel sequences between each world. These are a cross between a snowboarding game and a bad acid trip. Rayman is sliding, skating, surfing, or grinding on these rails that hover over an abyss that is cycling all sorts of crazy patterns and colors like some sort of super-disco lightshow.
These levels are lengthy and will have you jumping from rail to rail (usually three across) and you need to pick the best path that offers the most collectibles. Of course, the penalty for falling is only a small point deduction and then you get to start pretty far back on the course, so you can always explore multiple routes and try to collect 100% of all the items. Rayman will automatically jump at the end of each rail, so you only need steer him to the next closest rail, but you do have the option to jump and switch rails at any time, which can often prove strategic and beneficial.
Rayman 3 breaks free from the current trend of hub-designed world portals. This game is presented in a linear fashion that plays out according to the story. Since you are graded on your collecting skills and the number of cages smashed you have the ability to go back and replay any level at any time simply by cycling to that level in the menu screen. This comes in very handy as I discovered early in the game. I had just finished the Land of the Livid Dead and had come up one cage short. Even though I had already started the next level I was able to temporarily exit that stage and return to the previous world to find my missing cage. The only bad thing about this system is that you must replay the world from the beginning, which kind of sucks if your missing cage is in the final levels of that world.
Smashing all the cages is certainly easier than getting a 100% collection score. The Teensies inside the cages usually give you an item that is necessary to continue further into the level, so when you appear to be stuck chances are a cage is nearby. Just listen for those faint cries of “Help!” Finding and collecting 100% of the pick-ups is a much greater challenge, since most of the larger stashes of green, red, and yellow gems are cleverly hidden. Only the keenest and most observant gamers (or those with a good walkthrough) will ever get a perfect score on all the levels.
No platform game would be complete without boss battles, and Rayman 3 brings some of the most creative bosses you have ever seen to the table. None are terribly difficult but they all offer their own unique challenges that may require a few attempts to learn the patterns and exploit their weaknesses.
One of the early bosses is a Hoodlum in a giant pair of stilts. You have to run around and step on three randomly lit buttons to spawn a Shock Rocket then shoot that rocket at the tiny Hoodlum in the giant pair of stilts. Of course once the power-up appears the Hoodlum will try to stomp on it and make you start over. If you do manage to beat him to the power-up he will then flee giving you only a couple of seconds to fire before he gets out of range. Once you defeat this boss you get to put on the pair of stilts and go on an arena rampage stomping on Hoodlums complete with an arena announcer doing a play-by-play commentary.
Rayman has always set the standard when it comes to graphics, even back in 2000 on the Dreamcast. Hoodlum Havoc breaks new ground in visuals. The colors are rich and vibrant and those with HDTV will find the 480p support will have this game leaping off your screen.
Character design is as charming as ever. Rayman is still his adorable limbless self, and Globox and Murfy are back along with several new characters, and we can’t overlook the evil Hoodlums that are funny and sinister at the same time. Each is designed with ample polygons then textured and animated with meticulous care. Some of the idle animations are worth putting the controller down for a while and just watching.
Special effects have never been better. Don’t even get me started on those psychedelic rail-slide levels. Those are worthy of their own game. There are shadows, smoke, particle effects, colored lighting, and some of the best reflective surfaces I’ve seen in a game. I’m not talking about water, but highly polished floors that reflect the ceiling giving some rooms an expansive feel. The mirrored rooms I mentioned earlier have a subtle level of realism. The mirrors look and act like real mirrors – not too perfect, slightly distorted and a bit grainy.
The levels are huge with no fogging and not one instance of pop-up. One of the arctic levels had me perched high on a cliff and I could see the entire level below me with distant objects suitably blurred to give proper depth perception. Another “wow” moment was when I stepped out onto a ledge high above a waterfall that spilled into a river far below. There was mist coming off the falls, and the tree canopy above was swaying in the breeze. The level of realism is quite a contrast considering the vibrant color palette and comical art design. It’s like a painting come to life.
I don’t even know where to begin when we delve into the wonderful audio portion of this title. I guess the music is a good place to start since the first thing you hear is the kickin’ tune, “Madder”, from Groove Armada. This is one of the few (if not only) times I’ve ever heard a licensed song in a platform title. The hip-hop, funky, rap, techno mix suits the opening movie perfectly and really sets the stage and attitude for the upcoming game.
The rest of the music is equally as strong and eclectic, especially in those trippy rail-sliding sequences. I found it highly amusing that Globox was voicing my very thought during those levels when he said, “This is good music…what album is this?” and when the level was over he cries out in a distressed voice, “Where’s the music…bring back the music!”
John Leguizamo (Ice Age) voices the loveable Globox who is always getting into trouble and always keeping you on your toes. Billy West (Ren & Stimpy, Bugs Bunny, and the Red M&M) is the incredible voice actor behind the hilarious voice of Murfy. Murfy walks you through the first few levels of the game reading from the “manual” and making plenty of wisecracks along the way. I challenge you not to laugh aloud during any given conversation in this game.
Even funnier are some of the random bits of speech found throughout the game. The pure evilness of the Knaarens’ voices will send shivers down your spine as you hear them chant, “Brains…. brains…” while stalking you through the cavernous underground then just as fast will have you bust out laughing when they say, “Make him write bad checks” in the same evil tone.
The Teensies have some of the funniest comments in the game. When freed you will hear them say a variety of witty phrases. One has to run off and “Play with his hamster” while another has to “Take the kids to soccer practice”. And of course we can’t overlook Andre, the Black Lum who threatens to eat Globox’s arteries if he doesn’t get some plum juice. There is also plenty of pop-culture references including several Spiderman quips, a nod to Zelda, and several others.
All of this great sound, music and speech is presented in a wonderful Dolby Digital mix that is absolutely essential to the gameplay. I can’t even imagine playing this game in standard stereo and being able to locate the caged Teensies. Often, the only tool you have is your ears and the precise nature of the directional sound. I can think of at least four Teensies that I would have never found without following the sounds of their cries for help.
Rayman 3 took me about 12 hours to finish but I am nowhere close to getting a perfect score. I did manage to smash every cage and rescue every last Teensie, but that is a much more attainable goal that finding all the “stuff” stashed in the concealed corners of this game. For those who are up to the task, your efforts will be rewarded with an impressive library of mini-games and a collection of hilarious short-films that show the Hoodlums torturing various creatures that are supposed to be Rayman.
Some of the mini-games are nearly as good as the main game and will keep you playing at least another 10 hours or more. This may even become your next favorite party game, as each game is quite short and you only get one life. There is a 2D Rayman that returns the franchise to its side-scrolling Jaguar roots, and another game puts you into a large mansion in a first-person shooter. Another game has you perched in a tower that you must defend from all four sides while another game has you jumping across popping balloons that span a bottomless abyss of swirling vapor. Perhaps one of my favorites is Missile Command where you pilot a Shock Rocket through a seemingly endless passage animated with psychedelic patterns and textures.
There are easily twice as many more mini-games available and they are all just as creative and fun to play. You unlock them gradually by earning points during the main game. Exploiting the new point-combo system will help you unlock more of them faster, and these make a great diversion when you need to take a break from the bid adventure.
Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc is one of those platform games that doesn’t try to reinvent the genre, but merely improve upon it. Rayman is certainly one of the most charming and fun platform heroes around right now, and Ubisoft has managed to create a challenging vehicle for you to enjoy his diverse range of abilities.
Creative levels, a wonderful supporting cast, and even a surprisingly, albeit simple story puts Hoodlum Havoc at the top of the platform genre. With a robust main game and an ample supply of mini-games, there is more than enough content to keep you coming back for more Rayman goodness for months to come. It’s not evolutionary or even revolutionary, but Rayman 3 is one of the best platform games you can play on your Xbox.