I never played more than a demo of Michel Ancel’s original Rayman, but even its limited stages thwarted what little platforming skill I thought I had. Despite my shortcomings, I found the game gorgeous, moving and atmospheric—something I’d never felt in the years of 2D gaming that led up to it. By the time Rayman 2 hit the Dreamcast my 3D platforming skills were at their peak and I turned the game inside out, awed by both its design and incredible visual presentation.
But by the time Michel Ancel had first unveiled his next project I had somehow forgotten the magic he once wove, writing off the game’s female lead and photo-centric gameplay as nothing more than a fleshed-out Pokemon Snap. It also didn’t help that the game was in development for years and by the time it found its way to store shelves I was enthralled in 2003’s holiday lineup. My friend kept telling me to play it and that I was missing out, but it wasn’t until early 2004 that I finally sank into Beyond Good & Evil.
For all the time I had spent putting it off, it took all of five minutes for the game to grab me completely. Though some have complained about the intro, I found it incredible to see a female lead not shooting, swearing, stripping or sexing her way across the screen. Instead we see Jade sitting with a young anthropomorphic llama-child under a gigantic tree at sunrise doing yoga
I’m impressed, but my inner jaded gamer voice quickly kicks in, “No matter how different it may be, it’s still a game. Here come the bad guys.”
Sure enough some alien pods crash down nearby and a group of animal-kids are quickly knocked catatonic, trapped inside the opaque chest cavities of a swarm of levitating, clawed aliens with tails whipping behind them.
“Okay, that’s a nice twist—but they still look like H.R. Giger monsters,” I say to myself.
Jade grabs a flaming tree branch knocked loose when the pods landed and immediately runs to save the kids. I’m not sure but I think I just saw a flash of remorse on her face, a longing to save the children but a fear of this strange enemy.
“Wait, what!? So, remorseful rage? Like the character had some emotion driving them to arms besides the unexplained lust for carnage like all other game characters?”
Shut up, I tell my more rational self as the game jumps instantly from cutscene to action. I’m surrounded by these alien monsters, and they’re closing in. An icon at the top of the screen tells me to press the A button to attack. I wail on it and Jade launches into a multi-hit combo with her makeshift staff, twirling and spinning, the same determined look etched on her face.
“Please! The animation keeps looping, and listen to the music, it’s just some generic techno opera junk. Honestly, I don’t know why you fall for this─”
Both of us go silent. The action has suddenly jumped from regular speed into slow motion while the music simultaneously loses its beat and a somber chanting chorus belts out a heart-wrenching hymn. The goosebumps ripple across my skin and I actually tear up just a little, honestly. Through the haze I realize I’m still in control, having just been clawed by one of the aliens exploiting my lax guard. I fumble my thumb back over the buttons and continue fighting and dodging. I’m suddenly attacking enemies on all sides as Jade smoothly transitions from one to the next as I move the analog stick.
As quickly as it happened the framerate snaps back to full speed and the choir is cut short. The action feels even faster, there’s now a growling alien chant over the music and though I don’t know anything about this strange world or those animal-kids, I think I know exactly how Jade feels.
And that’s about five minutes into the game. At that point my jaded gamer side bowed down and swore to keep his big mouth shut for the next few weeks. If a game can hook me in less than ten minutes, just imagine what else it has in store.
Beyond Good & Evil
For: PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, PC