Rayman: Hoodlums’ Revenge (GBA) Review

The Rayman series is one of my favorites in video games. I’ve played all of the primary games and some of the spin-offs, variations, and platform-specific titles. One game that eluded me for a long time is the 2005 release for the Gameboy Advance, known as Rayman: Hoodlums’ Revenge (in some versions Hoodlums’ is incorrectly spelled as “Hoodlum’s”.

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 – Hoodlums’ 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)
Story conveyed via a series of drawn images

I finally got around to playing it a while back, and after a few sessions of condensed play (sometimes separated by long months between them), “completed” it.

“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 key 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 the first Rayman, I used cheats. Eventually I became good enough to beat all the games I wanted to beat, without cheating, and realized it is more fun this way. 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 I’d say that gameplay-wise, 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.

The isometric platforming really defines the gameplay of Rayman: Hoodlums’ Revenge (RHR for short). In some ways it makes the maps rather boring and uninspired. Every level is basically a flat 2D map, with different heights for the platforms. There is never anything above anything else, but the different heights and distances between platforms indicates what Rayman can and cannot walk/jump/helicopter too.

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.

Isometric view of tall, impassable walls

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 a 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 nauseam
Deadly water is present in most levels

The field of view is rather small, so you may not see the next platform you should go to very well. There is an option to peek ahead in any direction, by holding down L+directional button which largely mitigates it (but don’t use it too much in action scenes with enemies surrounding you).

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.

Level map: a unique, well-executed concept

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.

Some gates open after pre-defined actions

Getting high scores is a different thing, though. The key gameplay element in RHR is the point and combo system dropped in from console/desktop 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)

Combine the above with the general difficulty of executing precise jumps, and the rarity of save points, and the whole thing just makes you want to pull your hair and scream profanities as the failed attempts accumulate. One can say that the challenge is the point, but somehow it’s the wrong kind of challenge. It does not feel that you advance by polishing your skills, but that you just succeed by dumb luck one out of ten times (or in the harder segments, maybe one out of fifty). I think I gave up on the idea of playing fair somewhere towards the middle of the game, and just abused the save state feature of the emulator to create my own personal checkpoints. Probably if it had not been a Rayman game, I would have just stopped playing altogether. Only my love for the series and the desire to follow the story to the end made me continue.

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.

On some levels you get to play as Globox

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.


1 thought on “Rayman: Hoodlums’ Revenge (GBA) Review”

  1. i completely agree with you, is the worst rayman game ever and one of the worst platform games ever made! i beat the rayman 1, 2, 3 (gba) and i cant beat the game because of the camera!!!!!
    i stuck in the level when yo have to use a boat in the water……
    i dont understand if this game is spin off or main series but i know something….

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