The Great Protoon maintains peace and balance throughout a valley that is Rayman's world. One day, the evil Mr. Dark steals the Great Protoon, leaving the Electoons, small beings who gravitate around it, vulnerable to Mr. Dark's forces, who have captured the Electoons in cages. Rayman must free the Electoons and recover the Great Protoon to restore the valley's balance. Betilla the Fairy, a guardian of the Great Protoon, frequently interacts with Rayman as needed to give him additional magical powers along his journey.
Rayman begins his journey in the Dream Forest, one of the six lands of the valley. He begins with the ability to telescopically punch enemies until Betilla gives him the ability to hang onto ledges. He encounters a kindly local named Tarayzan, who hands over an instantly-sprouting magic seed to help him escape a rising flood. At the end of the Dream Forest, Rayman defeats the first of the game's six bosses, the giant Moskito. Betilla then gives Rayman the power to swing from flying hoops. Rayman arrives in Band Land, a world built around clouds and musical notes, symbols, and instruments. He is chased by Mr. Sax, a giant angry saxophone. Betilla grants Rayman the power to spin his hair like a helicopter for gliding. After defeating Mr. Sax, Rayman progresses through the Blue Mountains, a world of avalanches and rock monsters. He meets the family of musician friend and helps him build a new guitar in exchange for a potion that lets Rayman fly continually using his helicopter hair. Rayman defeats Mr. Stone, and Betilla gives him the ability to run. Picture City, the fourth land, is a world of paintings and art utensils, including slippery ink floors and deadly sharp pencils. Rayman makes his way through to arrive on the stage of a pirate-themed play, where a vicious actress in a Viking costume emerges from the ship's cannon and hurls knives at him. Later, Rayman again encounters this actress who turns out to be the area's boss, Space Mama, in an astronaut costume. Following her defeat, Rayman learns that Mr. Dark has kidnapped Betilla.
Rayman reaches the fifth land, the Caves of Skops, an underground cave world ruled by Mr. Skops, a giant scorpion. Before he enters he meets Joe, a friendly extraterrestrial, who owns a snack bar whose electric lights have gone out. Joe gives Rayman a firefly to light his way through the cave to reinsert a plug that has fallen out, restoring power to his bar. After crossing a lake and through the caves, Rayman reaches the lair of Mr. Skops and defeats him. After he rescues all of the Electoons, Rayman arrives at the final land, Candy Chateau, made of desserts and crockery. At the end, he faces Mr. Dark who attacks with various disorienting spells, including an evil Rayman doppelgänger, reversing the player's directional controls, and forcing Rayman to run uncontrollably. Rayman arrives in the chateau's hall, where Mr. Dark traps him with walls of fire. At the last moment, Electoons retrieve Rayman's ability to punch after Mr. Dark disables it. Mr. Dark then attacks with three hybrids of the game's previous bosses; upon defeat, Mr. Dark flees and Rayman rescues Betilla and recovers the Great Protoon, thus restoring balance to his world. Rayman then takes a vacation with friends and former enemies.
Rayman is a side-scrolling platform game. The player character is the titular Rayman, who must travel through six worlds (The Dream Forest, Band Land, Blue Mountains, Picture City, The Caves of Skops and Candy Château) to free all of the caged Electoons, six cages of whom are located somewhere on each level. Only when all the Electoons are freed will Rayman be able to reach and confront Mr Dark at his lair in Candy Château. Each level is divided into several maps, each of which is completed when Rayman reaches the "!" sign at the end. The player is given a certain number of lives, which are lost when Rayman takes too many hits or falls into water or a pit. If all lives are lost at any point, the "Game Over" screen will appear, and the player can continue or quit. Scattered around each level are small, sparkling blue spheres called Tings. If the player controlling Rayman picks up 100 (50 in the DSi version), he gains an extra life and the counter resets to 0. When the player loses a life, he loses any Tings he has collected. Tings can also be used to pay the Magician, a character found in certain levels, to enter a bonus stage, where Rayman can win an extra life. Rayman's "telescopic fist", an ability gained early in the game, allows him to punch enemies from a distance; most enemies can be defeated with a certain number of punches. At the end of each world, Rayman must defeat a boss enemy. The player comes across a variety of other power-ups and bonuses, such as a golden fist (which increases punch strength), a speed fist (which increases the speed of Rayman's punches), a power to restore Rayman's lost life energy, and flying blue elves whose touch shrinks Rayman down in size to access new areas.
In early stages of the game, Rayman has the ability to walk, crawl and make silly faces. He obtains additional powers during the game (telescopic punching, holding onto ledges, grappling flying rings, using his hair as helicopter blades to glide, and running) from Betilla the Fairy, while others are given temporarily from his friends that are used for a specific levels only.
The Rayman character came from concepts designed by Michel Ancel, Frédéric Houde, and Alexandra Steible, with Ancel originally drawing Rayman when he was a teenager, influenced by Russian, Chinese and Celtic fairy tales. Ubi Soft funded Ancel's project.
Rayman was initially developed for the Atari ST by Ancel alone. When Frédéric Houde joined the project, they intended to produce a SNES-CD version and the developers hired animators from a cartoon company that considerably improved the graphics; however, the Super NES CD-ROM Adapter was canceled and the SNES version was cancelled in favor of systems with CD support, leaving this version of the game unfinished but playable. The team felt that the Atari Jaguar was the first system that could handle the graphics they wanted and moved development to a Jaguar version, and advertisements in late 1994 announced the game as a Jaguar exclusive. Focus was later shifted to the PlayStation version due to the system's greater power, ease to program for, and CD technology. The Saturn version came later in the development. 32X and 3DO Interactive Multiplayer versions were also announced, but never released.
Rayman features detailed 2D animated graphics, smooth animations at 60 (or 50 in PAL regions) frames per second, and the use of 65,536 colours.
The original Atari Jaguar version features some unique/absent areas and absent gameplay mechanics compared to the (themselves largely identical) PlayStation/Sega Saturn/MS-DOS CD-ROM editions. For example, in Blue Mountains, the level Mr. Stone's Peaks is missing the second area entirely (where Rayman has to cut 2 ropes with his hair before a stone ceiling pushes him into the water). Also, in Picture City, the level Eraser Plains' third area has been changed to a completely different place, and the space background in the Space Mama fight is completely absent. The last world, Candy Chateau, was also largely restructured for the other versions. Rayman's ability to shrink (with the help of creatures called Flying Blue Elves), and to slide on sheet music bars in Band Land or snow in the Blue Mountains, were absent on the Jaguar, only being added in later versions. Also there are some extra things that are not seen in some of the ports, there is a Breakout clone minigame (though this can also be found in the MS-DOS version) and Moskito shoots blue fireballs. Finally, since the Jaguar version was stored on a cartridge, not a CD, it featured considerably lower-quality music than the Red Book audio of the others, which also received similarly enhanced sound effects.
The MS-DOS version of Rayman had the music and backing SFX tracks for each world combined into one CD audio track, which was repeated throughout most levels within those worlds; including the data track, this made for a total of 20 or 25 (multi-language versions) tracks. In contrast, the PlayStation and Saturn versions contained each track as a separate CD audio track, and changed the track played depending on the sub-level and its intended atmosphere; this totalled 51 tracks.
There were also differences in sound effects and levels between the games; for example, Rayman's exclamation of "Yeah!" upon reaching the exit sign and thus completing a level is simply a vocal sample on MS-DOS, a vocal with a musical backing on the PlayStation, and possesses a slightly more developed backing on the Saturn. The PlayStation Store version is exactly the same as the PS1 version and runs on the PlayStation Portable and PlayStation Vita under emulation. It runs on the PlayStation 3 as a PlayStation game.
Later, on 28 September 1997, Ubi Soft released an updated version of the game for Microsoft Windows. This bundle had the original Rayman in its entirety, as well as a level editing package, known as Rayman Designer. The package contained 24 original levels, with the same gameplay but a few new concepts: now Rayman has to collect 100 Blue Tings in a level before he can finish it. A few other features were added, like colored tings that trigger special events, additional objects and a timer to show the player how fast they can complete this level. With Rayman Designer, players could make their own levels and share them with others via the Internet.
The British Focus Multimedia edition of Rayman Gold does not include the music tracks at all, because said company does not have the original source of the music tracks; the game should have redbook audio tracks.
Around a year after that, Ubi Soft released Rayman Forever. It contained everything from Rayman Gold, plus a bundle of 40 new levels designed by fans, a video entitled The Making of Rayman 2, and a fridge magnet. However, various sections of the soundtrack were erased to save space on the CD.
Another compilation, entitled Rayman Collector was released in late 1999, exclusively to France. It featured all of the levels from Rayman Gold and Forever (i.e. the levels from the original game, Rayman Designer's 24 New Levels, and 40 levels from Rayman by His Fans), as well as 60 new levels by Ubi Soft themselves (titled 60 Niveaux Edits, "60 new levels"). It also includes the video The Making of Rayman 2. A bundle with the same configuration of levels was released in the Netherlands, titled simply Rayman. Lastly, the collection, or at least the latter two bundles of levels, were also released as Rayman 100 Niveaux.
As it was designed for IBM PC-compatibles running MS-DOS (and Microsoft Windows in the case of Rayman Designer aka Mapper), the game does not run natively on non-Windows systems, or computers running a non-DOS based version of Windows (Microsoft Windows NT and its successors 2000, XP, Vista, 7 and family). However, the open-source DOS emulator DOSBox provides one way to remedy this; and to save users having to configure said program themselves, downloadable patches have been released that allow the game to be played on various other OSs.
The online digital distribution service GOG.com sells a pre-configured copy of Rayman Forever for $5.99 that will run on modern versions of Windows without further modification.
A Game Boy Color version (Rayman: Mister Dark no Wana in Japan) was developed by Ubi Soft Milan. It featured environments and music derived from Rayman 2 and followed the storyline of the original. It was later re-released on the Virtual Console for the Nintendo 3DS on 31 May 2012.
Rayman was ported to the Game Boy Advance with similar qualities to the PlayStation and MS-DOS versions (there are a few missing levels). The music, however, is of lesser quality, due to the GBA's limitations. The game was edited to be easier; Rayman has an extra life point, which gives him four from start, his sprite is big, so things cannot harm him from above, flickering time is longer, and any items collected are also retained on death instead of resetting to zero on each death. Also, event-triggering areas which, for example, spawn enemies when Rayman walks through them are marked with a small, sparkling point.
In 2005 Rayman Advance was bundled with the GBA version of Rayman 3 on a single cartridge entitled Rayman 10th Anniversary.
Rayman was ported to DSiWare for the Nintendo DSi handheld console. This version featured an even easier difficulty, implemented via an increased number of health points and bonus items, and also had the in-level music edited to loop rather than simply end and begin again (though some music tracks were removed).
Rayman has been highly acclaimed for its animated 2D graphics, atmosphere, and soundtrack. It was awarded both "Best Music in a CD-ROM Game" and "Best Animation" in Electronic Gaming Monthly's 1995 Video Game Awards. The game sold 900,000 copies in two years. It is also the best-selling PlayStation game of all time in the United Kingdom, with around 5 million copies sold, beating Tomb Raider II and Gran Turismo in the country.
Electronic Gaming Monthly gave the PlayStation version a score of 8.625 out of 10 and their "Game of the Month" award. They highly praised the originality, animation, and musical score, and remarked that it firmly disproved the rumor that the PlayStation cannot do side-scrolling games well. GamePro likewise praised the animation and music, as well as Rayman's many acquired abilities, and commented that "Rayman is a dazzling delight and ranks as one of the most visually appealing games of this or any year." A critic for Next Generation, though noting a lack of original gameplay elements, agreed Rayman to be an exceptional game, praising its clever design, depth, graphics, and sound.
Electronic Gaming Monthly gave the Jaguar version an 8 out of 10, assessing that it is an outstanding platformer on its own terms but pales against the PlayStation version due to the lower sound quality of the music and most especially the slow responsiveness of the controls. GamePro also rated it slightly less than the PlayStation version. However, both magazines noted it as one of the best Jaguar games to date, with GamePro remarking "Finally, a game that shows off the Jaguar's capabilities." A critic for Next Generation found the Jaguar version impeccable, venturing that "there is little about the PlayStation or Saturn versions that will top this one."
Sam Hickman of Sega Saturn Magazine gave the Saturn version a 78%, remarking that "if you were just watching somebody else playing the game you could be easily fooled into thinking this was the best thing to appear on the Saturn for quite some time. However, in reality, it's a bit too dull a bit too often, and at times, it's just plain irritating and damned difficult." Japanese reviewers judged the Saturn version similarly, with the game receiving a score a 29 out of 40 by a panel of four reviewers at Famicom Tsūshin.
GameSpot gave the MS-DOS version a 7.4, complaining of several issues such as the infrequent save points, but summarizing, "Take any good scroller like Donkey Kong or Pitfall, add scintillating colors, wonderfully clever gaming elements, engaging and humorous characters, terrific music, and heaps of whimsy and you have Rayman."