Even if its flaws stop it from matching the classic status of The Great Escape, Hoodlum Havoc remains quite alluring and potentially fun to those with a love for 3-D platforming at its most basic and unpretentious state
As he made a leap from his 2-D debut, the simply titled Rayman, to his first tridimensional outing, The Great Escape, Ubisoft’s lovable limbless hero had a trick up his sleeve that, although quite obvious, was held by none of his contemporaries. At the dawn of the 3-D age, when the Nintendo 64 and its competitors ruled the market, the generation’s most lauded platformers shared a common trait: the fact that their worlds, on the heels of the excitement produced by how new technology allowed the materialization of virtual environments with three dimensions, were as expansive as the available hardware was able to support.
Swimming against that current and shunning the somewhat megalomaniac aspirations of its peers, The Great Escape built its success on a tight combination of ambition and simplicity. The quest contained within it felt big, urgent, and epic; simultaneously, the setup of the levels where its adventure unfolded was relatively simple, as rather than betting on open exploration and item collection, the title set its sights on a mixture of action and platforming that occurred through a generally linear sequence of self-enclosed spaces. And by finding immaculate design in that niche, not only did The Great Escape separate itself from the best of the platforming crowd, but it also matched them in quality via the taking of a far more old-school path.
Released one generation later, and making its way to the homes of Nintendo fans via the GameCube, Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc seems to know exactly where the prowess of its predecessor rested. With it, once more, Ubisoft completely ignores the mold that had been set, quite stylish, by the likes of Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie, and – instead – goes for sheer straightforward design. There is nothing about Hoodlum Havoc that screams ambition or pretentiousness; it is a smooth, direct, and accessible action platformer, and it is not ashamed of any of those traits.
In fact, it embraces those qualities so fiercely that it comes off as an even more focused take on the gameplay boasted by The Great Escape, as all of the features that defined that title reemerge in an amplified format, as Hoodlum Havoc turns up the volume of its prequel’s streamlined progression while augmenting its action-centered spirit, further highlighting its cartoonish undertones, and processing its comedic aspirations through a megaphone.
Hoodlum Havoc begins with Rayman and his inseparable pal, Globox, sleeping amidst a thick forest, completely unaware that chaos is unraveling around them. Just a few meters from where they lie, a Lum – a firefly-like being that is the physical manifestation of magical energy – has suddenly become evil. Naming himself André, the Black Lum wishes to taint the heart of the world in order to produce an army of his own, and – as the first step of his devilish plan – he starts transforming nearby Lums, quickly amassing quite a gang. Wreaking havoc, the creatures multiply quickly, and they soon start consuming the furs of various animals in order to cloak themselves under menacing hoods.
Murfy, the flying frog that acts as Rayman’s instructor, is one of the first to witness the mess, and as the Hoodlums hunt him down, he comes to both Rayman and Globox, who – now awake by the confusion – start chasing the conspirators. A rather wacky turn of events, though, eventually has Globox accidentally swallowing the main antagonist. As a consequence, Rayman is advised by the wise Teensies – little big-nosed beings who have forgotten who their king is – to travel the land looking for a doctor to rid his best friend of the villain residing in his belly before he can actually try to defeat André for good.
By itself, that plot speaks a lot about the game. It is senseless; it is silly; and it intends to achieve nothing but absurd fun. The Great Escape, in its graphics, cutscenes, and dialogues, already had a bit of a wacky disposition to it. Hoodlum Havoc, meanwhile, sinks its teeth so deeply into the ridiculous that it feels like a playable Saturday morning cartoon. If in Super Mario Bros. the popular starring plumber usually bravely stormed castles just to discover his beloved princess was elsewhere, in Hoodlum Havoc, Rayman knocks on the door of doctors only to learn the specialist better suited to cure his friend lives in another world. Concurrently, Murfy, who was usually pleasant and helpful in The Great Escape, has turned into a fourth-wall-breaking, bitter, and reluctant assistant that prompts the game’s manual to let players know Ubisoft does not hold itself responsible for what the character is speaking.
That quirky self-aware demeanor permeates the entirety of Hoodlum Havoc. Truly, it must be said the humor does not work with enough frequency, as some lines and jokes either fall flat or leave a high level of awkwardness hanging in the air, problems that are accentuated by the irregular quality of the voice acting. Nevertheless, that wild spirit gives the title a light and unique tone.
Despite its omnipresent silliness, Hoodlum Havoc – like The Great Escape – is still able to conjure the feeling it is a pretty big adventure. Rather than being tied by some sort of level-selection screen or overworld, its stages actually seamlessly flow into one another. If they are part of the same world, the transition is done by Rayman simply walking through a corridor in-between areas while a scoring summary of the cleared level is displayed; if they are not, the character will usually take some sort of psychedelic transportation that will lead him to a new region.
Regardless of the format that is used, the transitions are always smooth, and that nature beautifully conveys the idea of a unified journey that starts in a Hoodlum-infested forest; goes through a desert, a bog, and many other areas that are brilliantly designed via an expressive artistic touch that makes them be quite different from how they are usually portrayed in other titles; and offers a few good boss battles along the way. And as stages are cleared and worlds are conquered, gamers will be treated to pretty nice slices of plot development that, whether through nice cutscenes or silly dialogues that walk hand in hand with gameplay, alternate between meaninglessly entertaining to significant.
In relation to gameplay, Hoodlum Havoc has a nice balance of combats, puzzle solving, exploration, and platforming. Save for the last one, none of those veins are explored too heavily: battles are usually excessively simple to be stunning, even if they are pretty exciting and energy-packed; the riddles that the game throws at players can be solved with ease and are never too smart, in spite of being fun; and although exploring environments is frequently necessary, the scenarios are not big enough to demand a lot of dedication to the matter. In a classic case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, though, there is no denying that the blend works fantastically well.
Rayman has a pretty great amount of moves: he can lock onto foes and use his fists as projectiles either in a straight or curved pattern; carry heavy objects; swim; climb walls or move around while hanging from vines on the ceiling; and, of course, use his floppy ears as a helicopter that lets him stay in the air for a longer while than usual. With those tools and a camera system that is effective but not perfect, Ubisoft creates good platforming challenges that require precision and speed, as well as wackier segments that have the hero shooting foes from a plane, firing the canons of a ship in order to protect it from enemies at sea, riding a rocket through courses that look like the result of a wild acid trip, and many other portions when the game stretches its wings to touch on nice unpredictable variety.
Those elements, however, will come as no surprise to those who played through The Great Escape, as that game was built on that same exact recipe. Hoodlum Havoc, however, does bring a couple of new mechanics to the table. First of all, and least importantly, there is the scoring meter. Situated towards the upper-left area of the screen, it accumulates points whenever Rayman: defeats enemies; spots one of two critters, a frog and a butterfly, that are hidden in some parts of the scenarios; and collects differently colored gems, which are abundantly scattered around the stages and produce points that are directly proportional to their rarity. Contrarily, the counter will go down if the hero is damaged.
As a complement to that, and in order to accentuate Hoodlum Havoc’s nature as an action-focused game, an underlying combo system was implemented, which significantly boosts the points that are acquired if the actions that yield them are pulled off in quick enough succession. As such, the title is constantly pushing those who want to score big to comb the levels as thoroughly as possible, as well as to be efficient regarding how they gather goods and beat down bad guys.
Although getting high scores is by no means mandatory to beat the game, Hoodlum Havoc gives players plenty of motivation to maximize the meter. Firstly, because whenever a total punctuation threshold is reached, extra hilarious movies and fun bonus mini-games are unlocked; and secondly, because full completion of the adventure is only attained if all Teensies are rescued from their cages and a certain amount of points is gained in each of the quest’s thirty-nine levels. They are goals, especially the second one, that at times can be very tough to accomplish, and such difficulty greatly boosts the game’s value to players who are not satisfied with Hoodlum’s Havoc eight-hour length and feel like diving into the further depths of the challenges it offers.
It is worth noting, however, that the title causes some trouble to those who want to go down that path. And that happens due to how it is simply impossible to choose to replay a specific level, as – instead – Hoodlum Havoc only features the option of selecting the world one wants to play, consequently having players start from the very beginning of the area and making it necessary for them to advance until the stage they want to tackle just so they can have a shot at clearing it fully.
The second, and most significant, mechanic that is new to Hoodlum Havoc comes in the form of the temporary power-ups made available to the protagonist. Usually appearing either when mandatory Teensies are rescued or when all Hoodlums in an area have been defeated, those skills are – effectively – the main tool used by gamers to progress within the levels, as the structures that block Rayman’s way forward can only be overcome with their usage.
The vortex tonic allows the hero to make foes smaller or lower platforms shaped like a corkscrew; the heavy metal fist ups the character’s attack, making the fiercest doors and barrels easily breakable; the lockjaw can latch onto flying rings, letting Rayman swing from them, or attach itself to enemies in order to deliver sequential electrical attacks; the shock rocket is a remote controlled projectile that is usually employed in hitting unreachable foes or targets hidden in spaces that are too tight to be accessed; the throttle copter is a special helmet that gives Rayman the power to fly briefly; and the shoe shrink, quite randomly, causes the hero to shrink and board one of his shoes while he chases the other one down, giving him entrance to very small tunnels in the process. These are the tricks that Hoodlum Havoc uses to give a special flavor to its action, platforming, and puzzle solving, and despite their simplicity, they work wonders and are finely explored by developers.
In spite of being based on the same simple format employed by its prequel, one that is quite different from the mold that was used by most platformers of the era, Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc falls short from the excellence of The Great Escape. That does not mean, however, it is a bad game. Quite on the contrary, going through the artistic visuals of its worlds while accompanied by a solid uncomplicated mix of battles, light exploration, straightforward puzzle solving, and tight platforming is pure and relaxed fun.
Additionally, the title’s more prominent focus on action, highlighted by the introduction of a scoring system, and the sheer challenge found in trying to maximize one’s performance in each stage will be greatly appreciated by those who enjoy fast-paced thrills. It is not hard to notice, though, that Hoodlum Havoc’s wilder tone, at times, gets out of hand, and that the general design of its levels, although aided by new gameplay-altering powers, is not as consistently inspired as that of its predecessor. Still, even if those flaws stop the game from matching the classic status of The Great Escape, Hoodlum Havoc remains quite alluring and potentially fun to those with a love for 3-D platforming at its most basic and unpretentious state.
Final Score: 7 – Very Good