I had another game that I was interested in covering today, but I want to give it another week to cover its more egregious faults before presenting it for discussion. And so, today I wish to talk to you about a game you already know, a game outstanding in its class, and a game that left me profoundly disappointed.
Rayman Jungle Run, and its superior sequel, Fiesta Run, are rhythm-and-memory auto running platformers for iOS and Android, with the latter game being restricted to small screen sizes currently. At what they do, I have come across no better, but at what they don’t do…
Perhaps I had better start as normal, by recounting the story.
That was my retelling of the story. And there’s the problem.
First of all, let me make it clear that this by no means is a deal-breaker. The game plays beautifully, with the latter game in particular singularly focussed on smooth, parkour-like action almost throughout. The gliding sections are a little annoying and finickety, but far from unfair. The rest of the game just works – short levels don’t tax your patience when you fail near the end, and as soon as you do, you are back at the start, spinning your legs and ready to go again. The two-button control scheme almost never failed, with essentially the entire screen being responsive, and the camera never put Rayman in a position where my thumbs were obscuring him or the way ahead. The level of craftmanship really shows when things get difficult. When you’ve completed a level, Ubisoft Casablanca gives you a “twisted” version of the same level, even less forgiving of a mis-timed jump or glide; and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t seem like they spent MORE time getting these right than the vanilla levels! The idea of a developer spending more time on content at the tail end of an experience than the first five minutes runs counter to everything we’ve seen in gaming over the past decade or so, and here it is, in a mobile game! All this is before we even get to the presentation.
Oh, the presentation. Thanks to the UbiArt framework, we get some of the most gorgeously rendered sprites I have ever seen in a game, full-stop. Jungle run suffers from a couple of the enemies being too close in silhouette, but this is thoroughly ironed-out by Fiesta run. What with not having to worry about overlapping limbs, Rayman has always been capable of some smooth, vector-based animations, but the level of detail, number of frames, and overall ENERGY put into his character is fantastic. Meanwhile, every enemy is full of personality, and at the very least gently bounces as it waits for Rayman to bop it on the head, in a very Popcap-esque, joyful manner. Then there’s the music – eventually repetitive, yes, but even then it can only be described as ‘gleeful’, and compliments the nature of the game perfectly.
This is a game about joy, joy through every movement, sprite and sound. It can’t help but bring a smile to my face. And yet…
Here we go.
It’s not so much that the game doesn’t have a story – indeed, maybe I wouldn’t have a problem with it if it was purely abstract. ‘Run and avoid the pointy baddies’ might be enough. The thing is, the game obviously does have some form of story – it just doesn’t do anything with it.
Looking purely at Fiesta Run, at the end of end of every level a number of blue ninja dudes are freed from cages according to the number of ‘lums’ you collected in the level – glowing, golden coin-surrogates. Note that the level of interest shown in this is so low that they never even bother to introduce the name of said ninjas in gameplay. You are given no clue as to why they are imprisoned, or why collecting lums would act to free them. Mechanically, you are filling a meter, and all that this lack of context does is serve to reinforce how pointless it is. They clearly had the vestiges of a story here – and it didn’t have to be much, just a silly little tale to tell – but nothing at all was done with it.
For a game so exemplary in every other way, demonstrating what can be done with well-tuned mechanics, beautiful art and animation, brilliant music, and a budget most mobile games would kill for, this lack of the final element is depressing. It is almost a statement of contempt for mobile gamers – we are babies, impressed by flashing lights and colour. We don’t need our curiosity satisfied, our halfhearted efforts at contextualisation fully realised. So long as it looks nice and plays great, we’ll be happy.
I just can’t help but feel like a company with the resources of Ubisoft should feel compelled to finish the experience, to put the cherry on top, to go the extra mile and show what the medium can do. If we can’t rely on the AAA developers (or, indeed studios funded by said companies, as in this case) to give it their all, then where do our yardsticks come from? Who will step in to elevate the medium?
Should we be happy with 9/10s of a game, if those 9/10s are so good? Is the story of the Half-Life episodes diminished by the lack of a conclusion? Is the world of Gormenghast weakened by Titus Alone? These are all valid, but negative questions from the point of view of a powerless audience. The question should always be asked from a position of power: that of the creator.
How much better could it be?