The Glade of Dreams get better with age
Ubisoft’s Michel Ancel, creator of the Rayman franchise, posted earlier this week on Instagram that he’d like to return to the series to make Rayman 4. Although the limbless hero hasn’t reached the level of commercial success Ubisoft has hoped for, Rayman platformers have consistently been among the best in the genre since his 1995 debut.
Both Rayman Origins and Legends feature diverse levels that apply the classic run and jump formula in creative ways, resulting in a unique and memorable experience. With Ancel and the Ubisoft Montpellier team at the helm, there’s no reason to doubt that a Rayman 4 would similarly shake up the platforming landscape and perhaps even resolve some of the few flaws that have prevented Rayman’s rise from a niche hero into something more. An ideal Rayman 4 would do more to create a connection between the player and Rayman, allow for more player freedom in exploring each stage, and add challenge for those looking for a more difficult experience.
One of the biggest issues previous Rayman games have had, especially Legends and Origins, is actually with the hero himself. While beautiful visuals, fantastic music, and thrilling platforming make each Rayman game unforgettable, the hero himself is just that. Rayman likes to dance and nap, and that’s about all we can gleam from his most recent outings. There’s just not much to him or his friends, and that makes it difficult for players to really care about his adventures.
As bad as some of Sonic the Hedgehog’s games have been, the character has personality and his escapades always have something tangible at stake. Rayman games sorely lack that dramatic tension, which makes it harder to really engage in the game. Cuphead is a great modern example of what Ubisoft Montpellier should strive for. The character has enough personality to make the player care about him. He’s going up against the Devil himself, and that conflict alone makes seeing him succeed feel worth it. Both Rayman 2 and 3 had some semblance of plot, and Ubisoft Montpellier would be wise to revisit that and create a relatable conflict for the hero to resolve.
Spontaneous gameplay may very well be what’s most responsible for making modern Rayman games fun. Rhythm levels, high-speed chase sequences, and dogfights using flying mosquitoes present new challenges that force Rayman to use his simple tool kit in creative ways. That spontaneous gameplay only applies to the level themes at large, not the way players explore them individually, however. Each level has a theme and sticks to it from start to finish. Mosquito levels just about always start with Rayman boarding the mosquito immediately and fighting on it until the stage’s conclusion, while rhythm levels end when the song ends.
Bringing that broad range of play styles into individual stages would separate Rayman 4 from its peers in both style and substance. Offering branching paths to navigate each stage would reward completionists searching for every collectable, and having entirely unique challenges waiting in each path would add moment to moment variety. Sticking with the 2D style found in modern Rayman games while changing the way players navigate each stage would allow the game to feel both familiar and fresh.
Lastly, while Rayman games aren’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, they don’t push players to improve by punishing their failures significantly. Every level can be gold trophied regardless of how many times players die, and respawns always bring a player back to just about the exact moment they failed.
That’s fine, as challenge isn’t what makes separates Rayman games from the crowd, but it would be nice to have a difficulty option that removes or lowers the number checkpoints and penalizes players end of level rank for deaths. As it stands, collecting 600 Lums on each stage and achieving a goal rank doesn’t feel like much of an accomplishment because jumping into the nearest ditch gives you a chance to grab the ones you may have missed. Adding higher difficulty levels pushes players to improve at the game if they so choose. Keeping the current system available via a “normal” difficulty mode would keep the games accessible to players of all skill levels.
The Rayman franchise deserves more praise than it gets. Each main series game is packed with new ideas that have pushed the platforming genre forward. While a Rayman 4 isn’t likely to be released for a good long time, Ancel points out that he’s very busy with Beyond Good and Evil 2 at the moment, hearing that the game will likely be made should excite any platforming fan. The genre wouldn’t be the same without Ancel’s first gaming icon and his bizarre adventures.