"Completed" in quotes, because I did not really play it as it was intended to be played. I am only a PC gamer, so obviously I played it via an emulator (VisualBoyAdvance, which I use for all my GBA games), but that is still OK in my book. The other thing is that I cheated, by using save states in the middle of levels.
As a kid I used to cheat in video games, and when I first played Rayman 1 I used cheats. Eventually I became good enough to beat all the games I like to beat without cheating, and I beat all my Rayman games fairly. Until this one. And I can say with a high degree of certainty that I don't even plan to come back and replay it fairly. It's really that annoying that I cannot be bothered.
Why? Well, because gameplay-wise, I'd say this is hands down, the worst Rayman game in existence. It is difficult, but for all the wrong reasons, so it ends up being very aggravating. Which is a darn pity, as in almost all other aspects (visuals, story) - it is very good, and has great, mostly unrealized, potential.
I was curious to play this, when I learned of its unique isometric point of view, and also for the sake of completeness (having played most other games in the series). I can say that the game really has some nice things, cool ideas, and for the GBA players it completes the storyline of the first 3 Rayman games:
- Rayman Advance - which is Rayman 1 in both story and gameplay (with a few very minor changes/omissions)
- Rayman 3 (GBA) - which mixes the stories of Rayman 2 and Rayman 3 (with more emphasis on Rayman 2) and involving gameplay elements from both Rayman 1 and Rayman 2
- Rayman - Hoodlum's Revenge which completes the story of Rayman 3, and introduces the unique isometric platforming style, with some specific gameplay elements of Rayman 3.
- (there is also Rayman Raving Rabbids (GBA), which is nearly identical gameplay to Rayman 3 (GBA) with a Rabbids theme and some minor introduction of Rayman 3 elements, i.e., combat fatigues, but that is arguably a different canon)
And here is the main problem - the isometric point of view SUCKS. Big time. It is almost impossible to gauge visually the height differences when making that jump. You end up missing a lot - coming short or overshooting. Literally your only chance is using the helicopter all the time, and your shadow to guide you, but even that is very imprecise. More over, if you make a leap to a platform that looks like it's in reach, but really isn't, there is nothing you can do; typically at that point you are floating over a void, or some lava, and you do not have enough height to get back to the platform you jumped off, so in most cases it means - you're gone.
It does not help that one of the elements borrowed straight out of the console/desktop versions of Rayman 3 is that infamous '3-strike death water', which means that when you touch a damaging surface (water, lava) - first time, you lose a bit of health; second time in a short time - you lose 50%+ of your health, third time - you're dead. In Rayman 3 this was a welcome addition to actually make the game easier (compared to Rayman 2, where such surfaces are instant-death). However, in RHR, where in many levels the entire map is basically a bunch of scattered platforms in a sea of death, and given the fact that it's very hard to estimate correct jump distances, and the fact that the game's collision detection is over-zealous and registers you as 'hit' if you even touch the corner of a damaging surface, this whole thing becomes an exercise in frustration:
- Try to jump that looks reasonable
- Miss the jump (because you jumped too early, too late, a bit off direction, or because it's just impossible)
- Die (or lose most of your health, which is almost equivalent to dying)
- Restart from the last green lum or from the beginning of the level (which may be very far back)
- Repeat ad nauseum
Speaking of enemies - they too can be very frustrating, again, because of the isometric view - it is not clear how to properly aim your fist to hit them. You will end up missing a lot. Holding down R when there is an enemy close by locks your target on them, which helps a lot, but it is still not perfect, as it tends to slip too easily, if the enemy moves a bit out of range, or if you are hit while aiming. However, in other aspects - the enemies are satisfying, featuring most of the hoodlums from the console/desktop R3, reproduced as faithfully as possible.
A cool aspect of the game that I liked - there is a built-in map of the level you're playing that you can access by pressing Start. The map is a scaled down faithful reproduction of the entire level, and it shows your current location, the location of the exit and the location of all cages on the map. This is very cool, and can guide you to secret areas if you're going for that 100% completion (maximum score, all lums, all cages). Unfortunately, the map is disabled on the bonus levels and the boss levels (to make them more challenging), which combined make about a third of the levels in the game.
Another thing that I have to praise the designers for is that there is almost always (as far as I noticed) a way to retract your steps all the way from the end of a level to its beginning, in case you missed some lums / cages. It may not be straightforward, and definitely can be difficult, but it is not impossible; thus if you are sufficiently patient, you will not have to replay full levels just to get 100% on the lums and cages.
Getting high scores is a different thing, though. The key gameplay element in RHR is the point and combo system dropped in from R3. This is a neat idea, and is generally a highly praised feature, as it adds extra depth through the challenge of getting higher scores by chaining combos. RHR even goes beyond R3 - instead of a single Murphy stamp, you get three different levels, and on most levels, to get the maximum score of 3 stamps, you typically have to really try to combo as many enemies / lums / emeralds as possible.
Unfortunately, this is also one of these things that breaks down because of the awkward view/control mechanics:
- The enemies do not attract your fist, and the aiming system only works so-so (especially when trying to execute hits fast)
- Unlike in R3, there is no extended combo time when defeating enemies, so getting combos on enemies that require multiple hits is hard without precise planning
- The collision detection for the emeralds often feels too precise - you must really be on top of it to get it, which can be difficult when trying to chain emeralds in close quarters while avoiding deadly traps
- Because of the isometric angle, some emeralds are almost hidden and easy to miss
- Due to the limited field of view, it is sometimes hard to see where to go for the next emerald in the chain (and peek-ahead cannot help you as you would lose the combo while executing it)
Among my favorite levels are those where you play as Globox. Because he cannot jump, the most annoying aspect of the isometric platforming here is eliminated. The game takes a slower, more calculated pace, where the key to success becomes planning, rather than executing leaps of faith with imprecise controls. The boss levels are also OK, as they are traditionally short and focused; once you figure out the solution, the number of steps it takes is not so big, so there are fewer tedious replays due to failure.
In the end, I feel that the game can be tolerable for most experienced Rayman players, if you do not try to go for the highest scores, and just play to complete the levels. There are a few segments that I still think are too hard to be fun, with insufficient checkpoints, but most of the game is manageable. It is just that the fun to frustration factor is unusually low for a Rayman title.
I'm glad I did it, glad I'm past it, will probably never do it again.