Anyone who's played the Nintendo 64 version of Rayman 2: The Great Escape will immediately recognize Rayman DS. That's because the DS game is a port of the N64 game, though with touch-screen support added. Normally, that would be fine, since Rayman 2 is widely considered to be one of the best and most endearing 3D platformers ever made. Unfortunately for Ubisoft's big-nosed hero, however, his outing on the DS is dogged by a number of graphical issues that often interfere with gameplay.
Just as Mario 64 did, Rayman DS combines a wide range of 2D and 3D gameplay concepts within the framework of an expansive 3D world. On his own, Rayman has a healthy assortment of abilities. Right off the bat, he can walk, run, jump, helicopter in midair, and shoot bursts of energy from his fists. Upgrades are available later on that enable Rayman to fire stronger energy bullets, fly for extended periods, and cause rain to fall on plants and electrified gates. In addition to his own inherent arsenal of skills, Rayman can also interact with many of the objects and geographical features within the environment. When you jump toward a ledge that's just outside his range, he'll grab onto it with his hands. You can then tap up on the controller to pull him onto the platform. If you land in a pool of water, you can make Rayman dive downward and swim, often revealing hidden tunnels that normally aren't visible on dry land. In some levels, you can ride around on rockets or water-ski by hanging onto a speedy snake. Other good examples of interactivity include mushrooms that act as trampolines, grappling hooks that can be grabbed onto and swung from, overgrown ivy that can act as ladders or handholds, and steep slopes that Rayman can slide down.
For the most part, the controls are simple and accommodating. The directional pad or touch screen can be used to move Rayman, the B button activates jumping and flying, the A button activates his attacks, and you can hold down the R button to lock on to enemies. One particularly nice aspect of Rayman's bullet attack is that his shots will automatically fly toward enemies, so long as you're pointing in their general directions. That means you can strafe and jump around without wondering whether or not your shots are going to hit the heavily armed pirate that's shooting back at you. In the original N64 game, you could make Rayman tiptoe, walk, or run, depending on how far you pushed the analog stick. The DS implements the same scheme using the touch screen, so Rayman will move more quickly depending on how far you drag the stylus beyond the center point.
Meanwhile, the story, characters, and dialogue are also all very charming. The game starts out with Rayman and all his friends locked up in cages. We quickly learn that a pirate named Razorbeard has locked everyone up and has broken something called the "heart of the world" into 1,000 pieces. As luck would have it, Rayman's friend Murfy wasn't captured, so he helps Rayman bust out of his cell. Murfy tells Rayman that the only way to free everyone and obtain the power to beat Razorbeard is to collect the 1,000 Lums that form the "heart of the world," as well as track down four ancient masks that will awaken a powerful being known as Polokus. For the player, that means exploring levels, getting into fistfights with enemies, collecting the yellow orbs and cages necessary to enhance Rayman's powers, and interacting with a hilarious cast of characters. You won't need much of a sense of humor to crack a smile at Globox, the fat blue crybaby, or the Teensies, who are a group of birdlike crackpots that open up new portals by performing a Russian folk dance.
The trippy, lighthearted music lends the perfect atmosphere to the environment, as does the voice acting that accompanies much of the dialogue. Instead of recording plain old English speech for the dialogue sequences, the developer recorded a unique kind of gibberish that sounds like a language you might hear if you were stuck in an animated fantasy world. The only real complaint to be made against the audio is that there aren't enough different sound effects. You'll hear the same splashes, explosions, and creaking sounds constantly, and since the majority of enemies are robot pirates, you'll also hear the same metallic grunts and death cries over and over.
At a glance, the graphics in Rayman DS are exceptional. The environments resemble the kinds of tropical, cave, and volcanic settings you might expect to see somewhere in Africa. They're also huge and heavily stocked with trees, rope ladders, and swings to interact with, as well as dynamic features such as streams, waterfalls, and air currents. All the characters are extremely detailed and have a good variety of different animations for things such as walking, jumping, reacting to danger, and landing on their backsides. Some of the textures look muddy or blocky if you look at them close up, but the trade-off to that is the ample draw distance, which makes it possible to see most of the level at any given moment without worrying whether objects and hazards will just pop into view up ahead.
While the graphics are gorgeous in some spots, there are problems related to the DS screen and the in-game camera that have negative consequences toward the overall graphical quality of the game, and, frequently, toward its gameplay as well. The game uses the graphics from the original Nintendo 64 version, but the DS screen is much smaller and darker than a television screen is, which often means it's difficult to make out small objects or to notice dark pitfalls, even when they're right in front of you. The frame rate has a tendency to vary between silky smooth and full-on jumpy...so much so, in fact, that in addition to making it tough to make precise jumps, you may also find yourself feeling physically ill because of how the animation is constantly speeding up and slowing down in certain levels. Worst of all, the camera has a mind of its own and tends to shift focus at the most inopportune moments. It's easy to just walk right off a platform or fly the wrong way because the camera failed to change position or decided to point in a useless direction. Three different buttons can be used to shift to a first-person viewpoint, as well as move the camera around. This helps a little, as do unlimited continues. Regardless, these screen and in-game camera issues are extremely bothersome.
Those who do manage to cope with the game's graphical problems will probably manage to squeeze a fair amount of enjoyment out of Rayman DS. Every level offers a wide range of places to go and things to do, and you'll gain access to new areas within earlier levels once you upgrade Rayman's abilities. All told, the story mode includes 45 individual areas spread across 19 levels, along with 19 short bonus levels and three minigames.
In most respects, Rayman DS is a passable 3D platformer and a good alternative to Mario 64. However, due to the various camera and graphics-related problems, you should probably stick to playing Rayman 2 on the Nintendo 64, PlayStation, Dreamcast, or PlayStation 2, assuming you either already own the game or happen to own one of those other systems and are just now interested in playing it.