Ubi Soft's platformer mascot, Rayman, has been in quite a few products, but due to the fact that Ubi Soft puts these products onto as many different platforms as possible, the character has only appeared in a handful of games. To this point, Rayman's appearances have been chiefly in platform games. But now, like any good mascot, Rayman is branching out into the racing genre. But instead of taking the completely obvious kart-racing route, Rayman Arena instead takes the only slightly less obvious foot racing route. The results are, well, exactly what you'd expect from a mascot-driven foot racing game.
Rayman Arena is broken up into two types of gameplay. The first is your standard racing game. Each course consists of three obstacle-filled laps, and the object is, of course, to get around those three laps faster than up to three opponents. It isn't just a straight run, though. You'll have to jump over and around barriers, climb up walls, surf down waterways, and do some fast platform jumping to come in first place. You can also attack by picking up on-track powerups. Attacking plays a much larger part in the game's battle mode, which puts you into a small arena and lets you fight it out. The game plays like a very rudimentary third-person shooter, complete with the ability to lock-on to your opponents. Strangely enough, the PlayStation 2 version of the game is structured completely differently from its Xbox and GameCube counterparts. The game is much more focused on using ice shots to freeze your opponents, and you start off facing four opponents right off the bat. The PlayStation 2 version doesn't have any of the FMV found in the other versions of the game, instead going for a flashy, space-travel-themed front end. The single-player game in the PlayStation 2 version combines both the race and battle modes, putting three of each level type into a collection of leagues. The coolest levels--found in the bonus league--have a Tron-like grid look to them and sadly can only be run solo in the game's single-player mode.
While the level design in most of Rayman Arena's race courses is competent, and each track is full of shortcuts and other options to provide some variety, there really isn't enough for you to do. You typically only need two laps on a course to figure out a path through the level that will defeat the computer racers. In another deviation from the superior GameCube and Xbox releases, the PS2 version of the game has slightly different level design, sporting fewer obstacles in some areas, yet more in others. Multiplayer, which allows up to four players to play simultaneously via a splitscreen, is really the main draw of Rayman Arena, but the lack of any real gameplay variety keeps the game from becoming addictive at all. Running, jumping, and weaving your way back and forth through the game's tracks gets old pretty quickly, and the battle mode isn't terribly well done at all.
Graphically, Rayman Arena has a pretty standard look to it. The game runs at a reasonably smooth framerate throughout all its modes, and the textures are just fine. The character design for Rayman remains unchanged, and the game's other racers fit into the Rayman universe, as well. The course design throws a lot of different looks at you throughout the game, moving from swamps to beaches to pirate ships and back again, but some slightly rounder edges would have added a bit more of an outdoorsy, organic feel that is missing from the game. The game's sound effects aren't very pronounced. Each character has a line or so of selection dialogue that plays in the game's frontend. From there, the only sounds are cartoon-like effects that properly convey, say, your racer getting smashed by a rogue tentacle or getting zapped by an electric wall. The music does a decent job of fitting in with the rest of the game's look and feel, but doesn't stand out.
Fans of the few other foot-racing games that have been released over the years, such as Mad Dash Racing, Running Wild, or Sonic R, will find that Rayman Arena fits in reasonably well with these games. But the game doesn't really do anything to differentiate itself from these older foot-racing games, and doesn't bring anything new to the table. Anyone looking for an exciting mascot racing game won't find too much to like here once the thrill of four-player multiplayer has worn off.