Everybody Doesn't Love Rayman.
Rayman has had pretty good run for a second-rate mascot. His last adventure, Rayman 2, was a really good platformer. The folks at Ubi Soft must have realized this and figured they'd capitalize on the character's success by cranking out a strange kart racer/action hybrid.
Unfortunately, this game does so little to stimulate that I'm hard pressed to come up with compelling reasons to buy it. I suppose it's perfect if you're a Mormon parent and don't want your child's mind contaminated by a naked hedgehog or interesting gameplay. Rayman: Arena is almost spiritual in its ubiquity. It is the every game.
Rayman Arena is two games in one. There's a racing mode in which the player competes on a platformy track against other opponents, and a battle arena in which the player runs around getting power-ups and shooting his enemies.
The racing tracks essentially play like any kart racing game. You jump over stuff, jump across stuff, run past stuff, and shoot stuff in an attempt to make it through the level (which is circular) three times. Each track is comprised of several little challenges that rely on some very standard platforming know-how, such as jumping on platforms to avoid green sludge. Never seen that one before.
At least the tracks feature shortcuts, though they're so obviously placed you'd have to be a sucker or a five-year old to miss 'em (or the CPU, which runs the same route every time). You can also shoot your opponent to slow them down if they run past you.
The racing aspect of Rayman Arena is very easy, but at least it's better than the Battle Arena mode, which involves a showdown between you and up to three other opponents in some sort of arena, usually involving platforms. You race around and grab power-ups (which look nearly identical to those used in Mario Kart), and then shoot your opponent for points. Whoever has the most points when time runs out wins the match.
However, there aren't enough power-ups (fake power-up as bomb, big green gun, shield, blaster) and none of them are fun to use. This game should be much more over-the-top. A crazier presentation might distract the player from, say, their inability to effectively aim.
Targeting in Rayman Arena is very confusing. If the enemy is nearby and you press the R button, you might look in his direction. This assumes that the enemy is on the same plane as you are, which is awful since most of the levels have multiple heights, none of which are taken into account by the targeting. Very 2D-centric. Also, a good dodge feature would have given the game a dynamic outside of simply running around and grabbing power-ups. Come to think of it, better basic moves in general would have made the game more playable. Without power-ups, you can run, jump, and fire your crappy little basic gun. Rayman has no skills.
Rayman Arena looks better than it plays, but that's not saying much. All of the characters are very small and barely detailed with few animations. However, the game holds a steady framerate and features bright, shiny graphics. Every match or race is preceded by the same cut-scene animation, which looks kinda sharp and entertaining the first time you see it, but janky and redundant the second time. Not to mention the 3rd, 4th, and 5th times.
If you were so inclined, you and up to three friends could compete head to head in a split-screen four-player battle mode. It's probably the most fun the game has to offer. Then again, you could just as easily play Super Smash Brothers Melee and have a much better time.
Aurally, Rayman Arena is a parent's nightmare. The cartoonish squeaks and bloops and the repetitive music will have anyone with greater than a two-second attention span eating Advil like popcorn before the first race or battle is over. And just to pile on one more gripe, Rayman Arena has long loading times.
Anybody who has experience with platform games will beat Rayman: Arena like a redheaded stepchild. So, it can be inferred that the game is probably not meant for experienced platformers. Instead, this game is clearly aimed at little kids or people who suck at video games. With this in mind, I would be inclined to take it easy on Rayman Arena if I didn't remember the platform games I played when I was a little kid. Games like Megaman, Shinobi, Metroid and Super Mario Brothers were not easy, but they were really, really good.
So with that in mind, Rayman: Arena might not be a bad game for a little kid; it might at least boost his/her confidence. The rest of you, though, should probably stay away as there just isn't enough going on here to hold your interest for long.