Sunday, 17 May 2015

Video Game Review: Rayman (Game Boy Color Version)

As amazing as this might sound to some people, one of my first ever exposures to video games in general was through the Game Boy Color. I had seen Game Boys around, I'd played on the original PlayStation a few times and I faintly remember playing The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis and the Hercules tie-in game on PC, but the first video game system I ever owned was the Game Boy Color. On that system, I distinctly remember playing three games regularly in my early childhood: Pokémon Yellow (which I still possess a working copy of, if you can believe that!), Sabrina: The Animated Series: Zapped! (which I mostly played because my sister was awful at it and she kept getting me to play it for it...although I will admit that I ended up taking a liking to it and ended up playing it a lot myself even once I'd got to the point when I was able to beat it in one sitting!) and Rayman.

With the benefit of hindsight, the companies that made of games have gone on to become some of my favorite companies in the gaming scene. Game Freak still holds a place in my heart for the Pokémon games (which I've not played since the release of Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen, although I fully intend to rectify that when I can), I was recently stunned to learn that the developers of Sabrina: The Animated Series: Zapped! are the same developers who would go on to create the Shantae games (WayForward Technologies, if you're curious), all three of which are games that I discovered very recently and hold in very high regard, and Ubisoft Montpellier, while still part of Ubisoft, has been very good at avoiding a lot of the behavior that Ubisoft in general has become known for in recent times and is also the provider of some excellent games that seem to result in Ubisoft Montpellier being the only part of Ubisoft that has a focus on producing high quality games over...well, whatever Ubisoft is focusing on today.

Yet we're going to have to throw that praise for Ubisoft Montpellier out of the window for now, because the division of Ubisoft that created the Game Boy Color port of Rayman is actually Ubisoft Milan. Like with the Montpellier branch of Ubisoft, Rayman was the first game of the company (although they only ported the game), but, unlike Ubisoft Montpellier, there's not really been a killer game unique to the Milan branch. It has developed (or, at least, co-developed) various Tom Clancy games, the PS2 and Microsoft Windows versions of Rayman M (Ubisoft Montpellier being in charge of the Gamecube and Xbox versions of the game) and most of the Just Dance games, alongside working on a few Assassin's Creed games (not Assassin's Creed: Unity, though), but there's been no game that the company has done on its own which has been an attempt to start up a franchise.

Now, to be fair, this is not necessarily a bad sign: many companies out there are known for making games in other series and nothing else, but have done such good jobs with them that it's hard to fault them for their hard work. However, you would be forgiven for suspecting that Ubisoft Milan is not the part of Ubisoft where making a new IP is a high priority.

Anyway, let's get started with this review!

One of the things that I do have to stress from the start is that, for a game on the Game Boy Color and adapting the art style of a VERY colourful game on a far more powerful console, Rayman actually looks pretty good. It's not a flawless representation of the artwork in the console version of the game, but you can recognise the first three stages and the fifth stage of the console version of the game in various stages in the Game Boy Color version of the game with little difficulty. Stages four and six don't make appearances in the Game Boy Color version, but that's still more than I was expecting to see in the Game Boy Color version.

So, art direction is fine. The difficulty is easier than on the console version of the game (which, if you've ever played the console version of the game, is probably a huge relief to learn!), but that doesn't mean the game is easy: some of the later levels can be difficult enough that you'll be sure to burn through at least a few lives before you get to the end of the game. This isn't covering the bonus level (which is unlocked if you find all of the electoons, but isn't part of the main game), which is pretty fiendish in the difficulty department.

The controls are mostly fairly self-explanatory and aren't difficult to get the hang of. The game is a lot nicer than the console version in terms of what powers it starts you off with (you don't have to learn how to grab ledges and punch like you do in the console version, but you don't learn how to run like you do in the console version either), so the game isn't as difficult when starting off by comparison.

If you know what you're doing with the game, chances are good that you'll be able to beat it in three to four hours. Luckily, the game has a password system, so, if you don't know the game very well or don't have the time to go through the game in one sitting, you've got that as an option. I'm honestly not entirely sure why a password system was used when a save option was available in games around the time the game came out (Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue (or Pokémon Green, if you lived in Japan) had save features, although I will acknowledge that the Pokémon games are far simple than Rayman is), but that's a minor complaint, especially considering that you can now play the game on systems where you can save the game yourself (emulators on computers and the Nintendo eStore spring to mind).

The music of the game is...well, it's OK, I guess. It doesn't have the charm of the console version, but it's still OK.

As a side note, there are creatures and obstacles in the Game Boy Color version of the game that have not appeared in any other Rayman game to date. This is worth noting because some of them are actually quite interesting: in particular, there are rings which are capable of actually harming you if you just into them and there are giant amps which can propel you into the air. I'm really surprised that these have never appeared in a future Rayman game, as I think both of them would be able to provide some really interesting ideas for puzzles if utilised in a Rayman game now.

I think there's ultimately one question that needs to be asked: is this a valid alternative to the console version of the game now? After all, you can get the console version on everything the Game Boy Color version is available on, so is there a reason to get this aside from nostalgia? I don't think the Game Boy Color version of the game is BAD (indeed, in many ways, it's quite good!) but, in this day and age, it's more a curiosity than anything else. That's not to say it isn't worth checking out if you're interested in it, but now, I'd say there's not a lot of point in hunting it down instead of the console version.

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