REVIEW: Lightness and depth in Rayman: Jungle Run
Rayman: Jungle Run is a mobile game with a difference. It’s somewhere between a console and mobile game—not bigger, but deeper—making it one of the iOS and Android games of the year.
The established wisdom is this: you don’t make time to sit down and play a mobile game. You’ll sequester time from your day—‘relaxation time’ perhaps, ‘entertainment time’ possibly—to sit down and play an Xbox 360 in your living room in front of your TV, the same way you might for a film, or for an involving book. But you won’t do this with a mobile game.
To play a game on a smartphone, you don’t need spare time so much as you need distracted time. This might be waiting for a train to arrive, or stealing a few minutes during a toilet break at work, or even maybe whiling away the moments before your alarm goes off in the morning.
People make time for consoles. Mobiles make time for people. This is the established wisdom.
Whatever the accuracy of this, it is certainly not true of Rayman: Jungle Run. This game, by French studio Pastagames, costs three dollars, and is better than many console games I’ve played this year. It is also the first iPhone or Android game that I’ve ever made time for, a mobile game for which I have deliberately set aside time rather than picked up at the right moment.
Rayman—a recurring Ubisoft character I have never had much fondness for—looks beautiful in Jungle Run. There is a depth to this cartoonish animation usually reserved for console games, a quality that is not altogether out of place on iPhone and Android, but certainly surprising to see so clearly.
Rayman: Jungle Run has a multilayered visual texture to it that goes beyond the superficial. Yes, backgrounds and foregrounds are placed in opposition to create a sense of speed and movement, but there are also drifts of rain, and streaks of light, and explosions of lava that grow and peak and swell. Through this there’s still a lightness: though so much can be gained from isolating Jungle Run’s visuals, you’ll rarely need to do so.
This combination of lightness and depth is also in the way Jungle Run plays. The developers at Pastagames have struck a keen balance between the autorunning style that now seems so native to mobile games like Canabalt, Ski Safari and Jetpack Joyride, and the precision platforming of Rayman’s 2011 console cousins. Rayman will always run to the right of screen—all you have to do is to time his jumps, wall runs, hovers, and punches perfectly.
The result is a game that is as kinetic as it is exact. It is easy enough to breeze through Jungle Run’s basic levels in a few sessions, but to play the game to completion is a tough ask of both memory and precision. Easy to pick up, difficult to master: this is the mantra of many popular mobile games, yet in Jungle Run it seems to translate more to a console-like experience of trial and error, sweat and persistence, than the typical snack food of mobile gaming. Jungle Run demands your full attention.
This is not a console game that happens to be on mobile, but a mobile game that offers an experience something along the lines of a console. Jungle Run is not bigger, not better, but deeper, more involving, and ultimately, more rewarding.