Review: Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc

 Running Havoc.

Console: PlayStation 2

Growing up as a kid, the first game console that entered the household was a Playstation 2. One of my brother's friends had a PS2 and he completely fell in love with and eventually got one for his communion. While the PS2 belonged to my brother, my mother did tell him that I could play on it once in a while as well. To make sure that there was something for me to play, she got the platinum edition of Rayman 3. Before I got myself my own console in the form of a white Nintendo DS lite (which I still have to this day, though it is on its last leg) the PS2 was there for my gaming needs, mostly Rayman. I played that game for hours and hours but never could quite beat it. I was always stuck around mid-way through the story at the 'Dessert of the Knaaren' so I just always restarted the game to play those first few levels over and over again. After I got myself that DS a few years later I played on the PS2 less and less to the point that I pretty much stopped playing on it altogether.

It wasn't until a few weeks ago that I started booting the console up again. As my brother didn't really have a need for the PS2 while I have been gaming more and more, he gifted it to me. With the PS2 now in my possession, I pledged myself that I would accomplish what my 8-year-old self could not: finish Rayman 3 and review it while I was at it. I wanted to know what lay beyond the desert and was interested to see how the game faired all of these years later. After replaying it all these years ago, I can say that Rayman 3 is a fun action-platformer with a lot of personality, but it's certainly not perfect and is plagued by some inherent problems as well as not having aged very well.

Let's dive in.

The game starts with the titular Rayman and his best friend Globox taking a nap. Said nap gets rudely interrupted by a Black Lum named André who has been turning many peaceful Red Lums into evil Black Lums. After Murphy, one of the residents and workers of the Fairy Council discovers the Black Lums creating Hoodlums he's hunted by them and flees towards Rayman and Globox. While Globox wakes in a panic, Rayman stays fast asleep and while trying to get him out of there, Globox accidentally removes Rayman's hands and runs away with them. The two eventually reunite and Rayman gets his hands back but unfortunately, they're not out of the woods yet. Globox accidentally swallows André whole and it's now up to Rayman to get André out of Globox's stomach while fending off all of his Hoodlum followers that are dead-set on getting back their master.

It's a serviceable story that is just a little bit more involved than that of other games in its genre. It has a good basic two-part structure, but has pacing problems (section being either too short or too long) and jumps a bit all over the place making it not feel all that cohesive at times.

The first thing that the game makes very clear to the player is its personality and sense of humour. Just an example for you to set the tone: the first level is the traditional tutorial level and how does the game decide to teach you the basics? By letting Murfy grab hold of the instruction manual of the game and literally reading the instructions, including the plot, out loud to Rayman and thus the player. Yeah, it's that type of game. It has a lot of humour, plenty of which is fourth-wall-breaking and pop-culture related. However, I find the humour to be very hit or miss and many of the pop-culture related jokes, of which aren't many to be fair, feel very dated. There's also a lot of it in the game, to the point it can get really grating and I just filter it all out. That last thing isn't hard to do at all, as the audio mix of this game is just terrible. From music and background noise drawing out the voice acting to timing so poor, it's just flat out broken to moments of dead silence.

Luckily (for me) the personality of the game isn't just in its humour. It extends to the characters, music and world itself as well. The characters are pretty memorable, form their designs to their personalities, the soundtrack is really nice and sets the tone well and the world itself is just imaginative enough for them to stay memorable. Shout out to the 'Dessert of Knaaren' as, over 10 years later, it still gave me shivers down my spine.

Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc is a 3D action-platformer in the style of Super Mario 64. It features you exploring multiple different worlds split into different levels which you explore with traditional jumping and platforming sections with chunks of combat in-between. It's standard fare for the genre and something that we're all used to by know but it's something that Rayman 3 does very well, especially when it comes to the combat. While the combat in most other games in the genre is either very simplistic or nothing more than just button mashing, Rayman 3 manages to bring some depth to it. You see, the way Rayman controls and the actions he can do during the platforming sections are the very same ones used for the combat. Rayman can run, jump, punch and kick like any good platformer character but he can also use his hair as a helicopter to get some form as gliding, throw out his fist as a ranged attack and much more.

The genius behind the combat system is that many combat orientated moves like charging up your fist or the curve shots are also actions needed to solve the (platforming) puzzles in the game or overcome obstacles. This way, the combat feels like a natural extension of Rayman's abilities and makes the platforming and combat flow seemingly into each other. It doesn't feel like two separate playstyles that are mashed together without enough thought put into it, as is often the case.

What also helps flesh out the combat is the enemy variety. Rayman 3 has a large variety of different enemy types, more so than most other 3D platformers. You've got your basic enemy type, the Hoodlums as well as flying enemies, large enemies etc. with all of them requiring a different strategy to defeat. Just mindlessly smashing the attacking button won't cut it with most of these and you'll have to use each and every trick you learned over the course of the game to defeat them. The combat system isn't perfect, features like autolocking don't always show up or lock on the target that you want but often time these aren't a big deal and won't hinder your enjoyment of the game too often.

Rayman 3 also has some neat bosses, even though they don't show up as often as I would have liked.

When it comes to the platforming, and the rest of the gameplay really, it's more of the standard fare for the genre. You traverse each level in a mostly linear fashion with some slight backtracking and a split path here or there. You jump, run and think your way out of the all the different obstacles the game throws at you, all the while collecting gems, breaking open cages and finding the occasional collectable.

While the platforming is well done, for the most part, one big issue I have with it is with the camera. It just loves to get stuck, give you a wrong viewpoint or clip out of a certain set-piece altogether. You can control the camera, but this is much more limited then it should be and is only accessible when Rayman isn't locked on to something. I found myself fighting the camera a lot during my time with the game and it's definitely the game's biggest frustration.

The game also sports a lot of variety when it comes to different play-styles, but this is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, getting into something like the 'shoe-races' is fun the first time around and gives you something else to do after a heavy amount of platforming and combat which makes so that these sections grow less stale. On the other hand, though, they oftentimes come out of nowhere, are either heavily focused on in one part of the game only to disappear without a trace or are introduced so late in the game that it interferes with a tense moment. I am glad that there here, but they do underscore the game's problems when it comes to pacing and overall cohesion.

Rather than a live system or judging you based on how much stuff you collect the game has a scoring system instead. Defeating enemies in combat and finding gems rewards the players with a certain amount of points, shown the top left of the screen. There's also a combo meter present that activates when you collect a gem or defeat an enemy, which lasts a few seconds and can be boosted when using a power-up. This score meter has nothing to do with the number of lives you have. When you die you start over at the last checkpoint, but you do need a high-score to get 100% on each level, amongst other things.

The scoring system is also used as the way you can unlock all of the bonus content the game has to offer, from mini-games to little bonus videos. These can be a fun distraction and are a decent enough reward for your troubles but you'll be done with them rather quickly. I can see how the developers wanted to do something different than its competition with this scoring system, but others have since done this much better and it now feels rather outdated and somewhat pointless as a result.

Now that I've mentioned the game's power-ups, let's dive a little deeper into them. The game has five power-ups which are contained in coloured boxes that look an awful lot like soda cans. When Rayman walks over them, they give him a new set of combat gear that boosts one of Rayman's abilities or gives him a new one. The green boxes powers Rayman fists up to small vortexes, the blue gives him lockjaws that can grab onto certain terrain ala Spider-Man, red boosts his combat power, orange gives him a rocket and finally yellow boosts Rayman's helicopter ability. 

Uhm, Rayman. You realize that while you have a 3D game, that doesn't mean the game is IN 3D, right?

These power-ups are well implemented, if not a little too situational. There's a good mix of power-ups that improve either Rayman's platforming skills, his combat prowess or both. However, as the orange and yellow boxes are only really usable in a handful of situations you'll find yourself primarily using the green, blue and red power-ups making them a tad overused. Oh well, only a minor complaint the grand scheme of things as each one does feel unique and is undoubtedly a lot of fun to play around with.

Conclusion

Over 17 years later, Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc is still a good game even if it doesn't shine as bright as it once did. The gameplay is still solid, its more action-oriented approach is integrated with the standard platforming very well, the game's personality, overall style and the world are memorable and the graphics still hold up decently well. However, its problems have become clearer with time. From the things that have always been a problem like the terrible audio mixing and the camera to things that just haven't aged well like the hit-or-miss humour, the scoring system and lack of cohesion.

If you want to play Rayman 3, then play it. There's enough here that you can enjoy and an already existing fan of Rayman, both old and new, will find enjoyment in it just be aware that not as smooth as, say, Rayman's more modern 2D outings. I'd recommend first checking out the Rayman 3 HD remaster on e.g. PS3 or PC first before you start to consider the original PS2 or GameCube versions. These are generally speaking cheaper, more readily available and you will also have a better looking and sounding experience.

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