[box] Platform: Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Network | PEGI: 7+ | Release: Now | Developer: Ubisoft | Publisher: Ubisoft [/box]
Everyone wants to look prettier; it's a natural part of human character. This becomes more of a priority as one gets older - bits start to sag which once held their own, and newer, advanced beings overtake you in the game of life. If the recent trend of HD re-releases is anything to go by then someone, somewhere, feels that certain games deserve the justice of a make-over so that they can keep up, and stay relevant, in the modern age. Or, if one was cynical, it could be suggested that it is a simple and cheap way to cash-in on a gamer's nostalgia. Whatever Ubisoft's intentions, the choice of Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc from the limbless Frenchman's series is a bizarre one. Rayman 2: The Great Escape is not only better remembered but a better game full-stop; a classic 3D platformer worthy of a place on any console. The problem for Rayman 3, brutally, is that the best game in the heralded Rayman series has only just been released, the beautifully back-to-the-future Rayman Origins. What it does offer, however, is a rollicking platforming adventure of great wit, dare and imagination, but one that ultimately has the same flaws that held it back nearly a decade ago.
Released in 2003 for the Xbox, PS2, Gamecube, and PC, Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc was very well received for its looks, style and humour. Nine years later and very little has changed. The basic story is... trivial, a fact Ubisoft wryly acknowledge by having in-house crack-addict (allegedly) and Happy Mondays impersonator (one for the kids) Murfy reading the story out from the game manual. André, an evil black Lum, is spreading his evil across the land by transforming red Lums into black. Then Globox eats him, resulting in both him and André tailing Rayman as he saves the world, etc. etc. Think GLaDOS of Portal 2 as a potato narrative device and you have the idea, albeit a more primitive one. Crime and Punishment it is not, but it was never meant to be. It's not why they get from A to B, but how they do it that matters in a platformer.
Coming from a series of such pedigree and a period of unique development for the 3D platformer, the gameplay in Rayman 3 is both immediate, familiar and fun at the same time. Whilst it has all the familiar aspects of platforming (platforms!), there are still certain innovations that stand up well today. A series of power-ups, activated by stamping on garishly-coloured cans, add variety to the formula. Ranging from chain-arms to whirlwind fists, taking in a helicopter-head along the way, these add to the gameplay, although it soon becomes apparent what needs to be used where, meaning puzzles offer little variety to the overall pace of the game and add little challenge for the average gamer.
Several hours into the game this becomes an issue; situations become repetitive, with the same resolutions required for similar problems, meaning that you take less interest during a playthrough and almost cruise through the game. This is a shame, as the environments themselves are bristling with a surprisingly dark character, whilst the protagonists themselves are full of bright one-liners and ridiculous, over-exaggerated body movements; without the witty narrative, it would still be funny. The combat is intuitive, using a lock-on system akin to classic Zelda Z-targeting, but soon becomes repetitive. A combo-meter adds flavour and is interesting in itself but quickly becomes ignored as you plough through the main quest. With only 12 achievements, there is little incentive to get 100% in each level unless you're a completionist.
As a HD remake, the game must stand or fall on its presentation as the main selling point. Unfortunately, it's a thoroughly hit-and-miss affair. A good looking game for the period, the high-specification serves to expose imperfections which were hidden by the more primitive pixels of the last generation. Cut-scenes haven't been touched, leading to the bizarre situation where the main game is prettier than the pre-rendered CGI. Characters are cutely blocky and full of cute quirks, but, like the backgrounds, they suffer in detail. Rayman, however, has a nicely shell-shaded look, and the smoothing out of textures does add a sheen. However, like many games of the HD re-make revolution, the graphical touches are barely noticeable and add very, very little to the overall experience.
The soundtrack, bizarrely, is a paradoxical mess. One second you will be cruising to a glorious techno-funk tune before suddenly being assaulted by disembodied voices. Volume levels are all over the show, resulting in a disorientating experience. One minute you're beating up enemies in near silence before suddenly your ears are assaulted by a background noise miles away. Unfortunately, it suggests lazy production values, the last thing you would expect of a Rayman game. Developers need to realise that simply re-packaging a game is not enough; they need to improve the experience, not just give it a brushing over.
Luckily, Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc was for the most part already a highly polished experience before Ubisoft pulled out their buffers. An inventive if flawed platformer, it offers a solid combat system with a unique sense of style and humour, that, although never reaching the heights of Rayman 2, is still an impressive addition to the roster. It is in many ways a paradox: the gameplay is consistently fun but inexplicably repetitive and offers little challenge; the graphics smarten-up much of the texture work but in doing so expose other flaws; and the sound, although featuring some real foot-stomping funk tunes, is let down by an horrendous lack of balance. The graphics aside, these are problems which were prevalent a decade ago and have still not been fixed; for a new release this is inexplicable and exposes a real flaw in the HD re-release fad, despite what may be good intentions.