If you've ever wondered what the 3D platformers of the late 1990s would look like with contemporary stereoscopic technology, then you need look no further than Rayman 3D. Unfortunately, a snazzy handling of this new technology is the only surprise it provides, and veteran players might balk at the realization that this 3DS launch title is essentially yet another clone of 1999's Rayman 2: The Great Escape for the Dreamcast. But, of course, that's not necessarily a bad thing considering the game's rightfully enduring popularity, and Ubisoft handles the port much more successfully than it did 2005's release for the original DS. Aside from occasional screen tears, some camera issues, and minor complications with its 3D effects, Rayman 3D ends up yielding an entertaining experience.
For the uninitiated, this is the story of a limbless champion on a quest to save a colorful world known as the Glade of Dreams from Admiral Razorbeard and his dastardly horde of robot pirates. Razorbeard, being a somewhat disagreeable fellow, smashed the mystical Heart of the World into a thousand pieces that now lie scattered throughout the world in the form of glowing yellow "lums." Now, armed only with balls of energy that fly from his floating hands, Rayman sets out to gather all 1,000 lums as he battles his way through mountains, forests, and dangerous pirate ships, all while freeing captives and recovering four masks that will rouse the great spirit Polokus and liberate the world. Not only does this make for an entertaining if lightweight story, but it also means that there's plenty of material for completionists, particularly since you can revisit every level after you've finished it. Only a few of the 19 levels require you to collect a fixed number of lums to progress to the next, but each one offers the chance of playing an additional compact bonus stage if you collect every lum and free every captive found throughout the level. If you decide to hunt down every last lum and unlockable bonus area, you could easily get more than 14 hours' worth of gameplay. Even if you don't, you're still looking at a respectable 10 hours or so in the Glade of Dreams.
Rayman 3D doesn't make much use of the touch screen. You use it to catalog the quest-related objects you've obtained, but your movements rely entirely on the 3DS's circle pad. This allows for a fluid experience that closely mimics the feel of playing the original console versions, especially when combined with the ability to look in any direction by holding down the right shoulder button. And the gameplay remains refreshingly diversified. Jump up, and Rayman's ears turn into helicopter-style rotor blades that let you coast down to your target. Pick up a powder keg, and you can use it as a bomb. Fire your energy bolts at a purple ring, and you make a rope that lets you swing like Tarzan to your objectives. Couple these varied abilities with unexpected changes to play styles throughout most levels, and you find yourself constantly looking forward to the next surprising twist. At one point, for example, Rayman water-skis behind a gigantic water snake across a treacherous swamp; on another occasion, he tames a rocket like a wild bronco and rides it at breakneck speeds down narrow corridors. No mechanic is ever used for too long, ensuring that you are entertained by Rayman's vibrant adventure from start to finish.
And it's still a beautiful world, even after the passage of 12 years of dizzying technological advances. Indeed, Rayman 3D looks very similar to the version that was released for the Sega Dreamcast so long ago, but its comparative graphical simplicity allows for some striking 3D effects that might stumble in more ambitious games. Aim Rayman toward the screen, for instance, and every so often his energy balls seem to fly at your head. Jump into the water, and you might wince when fish or bubbles unexpectedly whisk past the screen. It's not always perfect; the highest 3D settings are subject to bumpy frame rates--but it's good enough that Rayman 3D often seems like it was designed specifically for the system. It even sounds wonderful for the most part: the music is always engaging and appropriate, and the voice-overs are limited to the original's comical gibberish that grows more endearing as the levels fly by.
Yet Rayman 3D isn't without its hiccups, and some of these are as old as the game itself. As in other versions, the combat sound effects remain unsatisfying despite the obvious attention lavished on ambient noises in other places. Even when Rayman is frantically popping energy bolts at hostile pirates, it's impossible to tell if he's doing any damage based on sound cues alone. Elsewhere, the automatic camera is usually helpful for pointing you in the right direction, but at other times it occasionally refuses to cooperate when you're looking for hidden lums or alternate routes. The wide screen helps matters, but only occasionally can you use the left shoulder button to reset the camera behind Rayman, and the first-person view works only when Rayman is standing still. Somewhat surprisingly, this version also features extensive tweaks to combat difficulty, but the welcome precision offered by the new analog stick often leaves the game feeling a little too easy as a result.
Above all, Rayman 3D is fun, but whether that fun warrants spending 40 dollars on an overported game depends on your level of familiarity with Rayman 2. If you've played one of the many other versions of the game, you're not going to find anything different here aside from the 3D aspects. If you accept it on its own terms, however, it's hard to deny that Rayman 3D serves as a satisfactory introduction if you're approaching the series for the first time. Despite some issues with its camera and frame rate performance, Rayman 3D provides many hours of enjoyable gameplay.