Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc Preview
Ubi Soft's limbless wonder debuts on the Xbox.
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Ever since Rayman debuted on Atari's ill-fated Jaguar system, the limbless wonder's console adventures have improved progressively. Rayman 2 was a quantum leap over its predecessor and actually managed to improve with every platform it appeared on--with the possible exception of the PlayStation 2 version, which lacked the graphical punch of the Dreamcast and PC versions. We recently spent some time with a preview build of Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc for the Xbox, and we're pleased to report that Rayman's debut appearance on the Xbox is far superior to its predecessors.
The game's story focuses on a menacing, but tiny, dark lum who has taken to corrupting the peaceful and easygoing red lums and turning them into hoodlums. As you'd expect, Rayman gets involved, and the threat of the dark lum, who is named Andre, appears to be contained following an encounter the scarf-wearing hero. Unfortunately, the dark one's unorthodox demise isn't assured. The dark lum's defeat, while clearly a coup for the side of good, was brought about by Rayman's loyal sidekick, Globbox, who ate the evil little guy as he tried to escape from Rayman. The random ingestion of evil has come to affect Globbox's behavior and threatens to overwhelm him.
As luck would have it, the teensies, who appear to reside in a disco of some kind, know how to help Globbox. Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, their solution involves a long and perilous journey to consult with a witch doctor. Rather than wait for the magic of digestion to deal with Andre, Rayman opts to consult the witch doctor and heads off with his pudgy friend. The journey will span an impressive array of worlds that range from the typical forest and swamp locales to the Technicolor eye blast of the Teensy Highway.
The gameplay in Rayman 3 stays true to the tight mechanics introduced in Rayman 2 but manages to add some interesting new elements to the package. The mighty mite will have access to his usual arsenal of moves, such as punching with his fist and using his sparse coif as a propeller. Those moves will now be enhanced by the introduction of timed power-ups that offer a bevy of new abilities. You'll be clued in to the old and new gameplay elements by Murfy, who tags along and brings you up to speed on Rayman's moves. In keeping with the game's humor, he'll be perusing the game's manual as he does so.
Aside from the standard platforming action you'd expect from a Rayman title, Rayman 3 offers a good amount of variety to keep things interesting. You'll find several minigames on your adventures. In keeping with the game's quirky tone, they'll take the form of surfing the Teensy Highway and racing around in a shoe, among other things. Another new element in the game is the introduction of a scoring system that's a bit of a throwback to old-school 2D platformers. Every time you collect a crystal or defeat an enemy, you'll be awarded points.
Graphically, Rayman 3 is pretty stunning. The game features large, detailed environments that are complemented by an impressive lighting engine. Rayman's model has been redone and features a more expressive face and floppier hair that's showcased nicely by his fluid animation. The enemies you'll encounter are an eccentric bunch who mix menace with general loopiness. The friendly characters are a pretty amusing group of fairy folk who feature clean designs. As mentioned, the environments in the game are impressive, featuring a high level of detail and a host of special effects such as lighting and particle effects to give them personality. The Xbox hardware has allowed the development team to beef up the already impressive eye candy on display in the other console versions of the game and offer crisper textures. In addition, you'll find quite a bit of activity in the backgrounds. Despite all the graphical eye candy on display, our preview build of the game zipped along at a fairly constant 60 frames per second, which bodes well for the game's final release. The only real flaw in the game at the moment is its camera, which tends get stuck in the most inconvenient angles. As a result, you'll find yourself adjusting it a bit more often than you did in Rayman 2.
The game's story is told via impressive CG sequences and in-engine cutscenes that feature a humorous blend of humor and exposition. The "cute" atmosphere is ably deflated by a solid helping of sass that proves the game isn't taking itself too seriously. Any game where a Strawberry Shortcake look-alike gets sucker punched is most definitely doing something right.
The game's audio is a solid collection of catchy tunes, sound effects, and voice acting. While John Leguizamo does a suitably "out of it" take for Globbox, Billy West's surly interpretation of Murfy is a keeper. We'll admit Murfy's chattiness borders on annoying at times, much like Daxter in Sony's Jak and Daxter, but the game's script and West's delivery make it more bearable. The rest of the voice cast does a fine job of bringing the bizarre denizens of Rayman's world to life. The game's music is a catchy mélange of club music and the traditional Rayman background music. While it may sound a bit odd at first, the tunes actually suit the game pretty well.
Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc is shaping up to be a worthy follow-up to Rayman 2. Camera issues aside, the polished gameplay, winning sense of humor, and impressive graphics give the game a strong appeal. Given the Xbox software library's lack of strong platformers, Rayman 3 is definitely a game you'll want to check out. Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc ships this March for the Xbox. The game will also be available for the GameCube and PlayStation 2.