Back when the Game Boy Advance hit the scene in summer of 2001, Ubi Soft was there at the ready with a conversion of one of its first real console hits: Rayman
, dubbed Rayman Advance
for the then just-released handheld system. If anything, the title did a great job showing off strengths of the new 2D hardware by pulling off an accurate port of a very capable console platformer. For the launch of the Nintendo DS platformer, Ubisoft is, once again, ready with a Rayman
title, this time a conversion of its immensely successful Rayman 2
console design. Unlike the company's GBA port, however, Rayman DS
instead demonstrates the system's weaknesses with a flawed conversion of a half-decade old production. The DS conversion is structured on a solid game design foundation, but on the new handheld the game fails to impress like it did on the PlayStation, Nintendo 64, and Sega Dreamcast more than five years ago.
Back during the original's release in 1999, it was almost unanimous with every game reviewer that Ubisoft's Rayman 2 was one of the finest, most unique 3D platformers since the release of Super Mario 64. The game's lush imagery and clever level designs and challenge all gelled together in the production to create one heck of a platform experience across all systems it was developed for. So at the very least it made a whole lot of sense for Ubisoft to revive this production for those who may not have experienced it during the game's original run. Even better, it would be the first portable rendition.
Rayman DS is entirely and directly based on Rayman 2, which means you're getting the same story and forty levels of platform action from the console on the Nintendo DS. The original game's success is attributed to its creativity and versatility in its design; in one level you're bouncing up a series of platforms, the next hovering down a near bottomless pit using Rayman's helicopter move. In another, you're waterskiing off the back of a giant snake, followed by a fast-paced trip zipping on an active rocket. It's a platformer that emphasizes action as well as problem solving, and the sheer amount of variety in the game's dozens of levels keeps the adventure feeling fresh all the way to the end.
But the translation didn't go all that smoothly, and the final product pokes a lot of holes in the game design, and the experience is reduced significantly on the Nintendo DS. Its DS conversion definitely didn't go by the book as well as Nintendo's own Super Mario 64 DS. Even though Mario had its fair amount of criticisms going from console to handheld, the conversion was genuinely a success. Rayman DS, however, doesn't quite reach the same quality, which is more than likely attributed to far less time in development, with a developer not quite as familiar with the system hardware.
Like Mario, Rayman DS doesn't have the luxury of an analog stick because, obviously, the Nintendo DS doesn't have one to offer. Ubisoft's original design, just like Nintendo's own, revolved around the ability to slowly walk or quickly sprint around the levels utilizing the console's sensitive controller. Rayman DS' compromise is similar to what Nintendo offered gamers in Super Mario 64 DS: a touch-screen "virtual" controller that detects movement as if the thumb's resting on an analog stick.
Ubisoft's development team went in a slightly different direction, however: instead of Mario's touch screen control that keeps track of your thumb as it drifts across the screen, Ubisoft's idea was to position the controller in a fixed location on the screen. Players can set the stick's location pretty much anywhere on the screen and in two different sensitivity sizes, but it doesn't follow Nintendo's established "virtual analog" formula. And whether you've already plowed through Mario 64 DS or are new to 3D platforming on the handheld, the result: incredibly awkward control. The touchscreen just doesn't make a good analog stick because it doesn't offer the same tight, tactile feedback that a physical controller can.
We could forgive the sluggish and sloppy analog control if the development team managed to offer a tighter D-pad experience. But moving Rayman using the system's directional pad is surprisingly weak as well. Using the D-pad, Rayman runs through the level in an all-out sprint since the control is all-or-nothing. But there's clearly a micro-second delay between pressing in a direction and seeing the results on-screen, which makes it extremely awkward to control Rayman in this fashion. And since much of the game requires intricate, precise control to aim or sneak around, the D-pad just doesn't work half the time. Annoyingly, Expect to swap back and forth between D-pad and touch-screen frequently throughout the course of Rayman DS
Rayman 2's imagery, definitely one of the game's original selling points, has also taken a significant hit in the conversion to the Nintendo DS. What was once lush and vibrant ends up surprisingly dark and muddy on the LCD screen. Though the game still animates well on the handheld hardware. The graphic engine clearly isn't pushing the same level of effects that even the original PlayStation One edition did five years ago. The framerate's certainly livable most of the time, but there are portions where the game will chug noticably during the action. And the DS hardware's lack of any sort of filtering abilities is certainly made known during the gameplay, since the low resolution textures get extremely blocky, even when the camera sits at a comfortable distance from the objects. The game has definitely lost a lot of its visual appeal in the translation.
The Rayman 2 design also wasn't made "handheld friendly" in the conversion to the Nintendo DS system, only offering a save point at the end of an entire world. Rayman DS isn't a cakewalk; some levels are absolutely massive, and you can literally be stuck for several minutes in a single challenge...so it's a downer that you can't record your progress (the rescued Lums and Ting collectibles) when you need to turn the system off. The game does support the Nintendo DS' sleep mode by shutting down vital systems when closing the system, but you're still at the whim of the programming limiting you when you can save your progress.
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