Let’s be honest: last year’s Rayman Origins, a 2D platformer that helped revive interest not just in Ubisoft’s limbless hero but frantic 2D platforming as a whole, was a practically-perfect game in nearly every way. We’re talking Mary Poppins-style near-perfection – which is high praise indeed. My love for Origins aside, had Ubisoft opted to drag the game, kicking and screaming, onto a button-free device would have only ended in disaster. Complex 2D platformers, no matter how well-intentioned, simply don’t provide the same intrinsic feeling on devices that lack tactile feedback as they do with those with clicky buttons. On the flipside, even a portable version of the game that essentially mimicked the home console version (i.e. with proper controls) would have only felt reduced, as experienced with Ubisoft’s otherwise fine port for Sony’s PS Vita.
Enter Rayman Jungle Run, a relatively button-free platformer on an entirely button-free platform (iOS and Android) that not only works without tactile feedback, it thrives. It’s the best of both worlds – a fabulous little slice of what made Origins among the best games in recent times yet an entirely new experience that respects both the original source material and the limitations of touchscreen play.
Developed by Pastagames (Pix’n Love Rush) using an embarrassment of riches culled directly from the source, including full art, music, and whatever magical ingredients Ubisoft used to help make Origins so darn irresistible. It’s even powered by the same UbiArt Framework that helped make it the best-looking 2D game ever, and hasn’t lost a dimple of detail in the process. It’s like having a living cartoon right in your hands; unpixelated perfection running in the silkiest, most butter-smooth framerates imaginable, especially on Apple’s Retina Display-packing devices. The iPad version is even more glorious, if only because you’ll be able to gaze in wonder at just how beautiful these visuals are on a bigger screen (in truth, the way they were meant to be seen). The music plays like a brief sampler of Origin’s soundtrack, but the tunes are varied enough to remind you just how wonderful it sounded in the first place.
At first glance Jungle Run might seem an awful lot like the hit endless runner Canabalt, but it’s a superficial comparison; it’s not an endless runner but an auto-runner. Our limbless hero zooms through each level automatically, with you – the player’s – only input being single or double taps as you crash, fall, or balloon pop your way through countless failed attempts to collect all 100 of the Lums scattered throughout. There’s 40 stages in total (36 standard levels + plus 4 unlockable ‘Land of the Dead’ levels that live up to their name), not a bad haul for its puny asking price but still a decent amount given how ingeniously addictive they are. Too often mobile games feature randomly-generated levels that having anything hand-crafted is always a treat.
The first batch only lets you jump (wall-jumping included, naturally), the second adding helicopter-style floating with a quick double-tap + hold, and the third letting Rayman zip up walls in gravity-defying ways. The final power, a quick punch (or kick) requires a second virtual button, breaking up the Zen-like single function gameplay some with a renewed urgency that might trip up those expecting less complex gameplay, yet rewards those willing to dedicate themselves to the new challenge.
Rayman Jungle Run‘s exhilarating sense of speed and quick reaction timed gameplay felt an awful lot like the original Sonic the Hedgehog games, where completing levels was less about exploration and more about mental memorization, evading quick deaths, and pressing the jump button at just the right time. All wrapped inside outrageously good artwork, beautiful music, and a tap-tap gameplay style that might just reinvent the mobile platformer. Thank goodness Ubisoft didn’t attempt shoehorning Origin’s complex 2D mechanics into an environment that would only have diminished its charms. My only complaint is that it’s too short, or that it feels too short – a gripe hopefully Ubisoft could remedy with an update (or two). Buy this one for yourself; then buy it for everyone you know. In short, it’s a perfect mobile game.