Rayman has come a long way. From his initial release, Rayman (1995) the armless hero has been run through the paces of game development for better and for worse. With Ubisoft’s Rayman: Origins essentially rebooting the series, it gives Rayman the shot in the non-existent arm the character needed after being overrun by a slew of Rabbids sequels. A platformer in the truest sense, Origins will take you and three friends through a beautiful, challenging world filled with charm that will surely make you a fan of Rayman if you were not one already.
The name Origins relates to this tale being an origin story for our lead character, Rayman. Through my playthrough of the 60 levels and the meanderings of incomprehensible dialog scattered throughout the game I can safely say that the story is of little consequence. All you have to know is that some nymphs have been captured by some evil-doers, and it is up to you to save them. Along the way you will do some jumping, exploring, and collecting Electoons (the in-game collectible) as well as defeat any monsters that may get in your way. Thankfully, the artistic styling and gameplay are, and always have been the strong points of a Rayman game. This latest installment holds true to this habit as the story takes a back seat to the platforming genius that Ubisoft has crafted within Origins.
Take a deep breath and dive in.
I mentioned that the game was challenging, but it does not drop you into the deep end and expect you to swim. Ubisoft took an intelligent approach to introducing new abilities to the player, as each new world in the first portion of the game focuses on using a specific ability. You begin with a simple gliding ability and gradually gain a handful of skills that will test your platforming prowess. Moving towards the later stages, the player is expected to combine the learned abilities in a coherent manner and this is where the real challenge sets in. At first glance, Origins may appear to be 'casual friendly’, but don't let the art style fool you. Rayman is no cake walk and will put the most seasoned gamer through its paces. To extend this challenge and for those that are not satisfied with simply finishing the level, you will need to utilise your plethora of abilities to grab all the Electoons hidden throughout each level. It is not a simple task and will require that you use an immense amount of trial and error in order to find the deepest secrets and collectibles.
Another thing that impressed me in Rayman: Origins was the pacing and the variety of level design. Before an environment or mechanic became tedious, you were thrown a curveball. In one level I would be chasing down a runaway treasure chest, reacting only on instinct and reflex and the next level I was thrown on the back of a mosquito blasting my way through a side scrolling shooter. These transitions are by no means jolting and serve as an usher to witness how much content the game actually has. Origins boasts over 60 levels, many of which are hidden until you find a secret door, key, or collect a certain amount of Electoons.
Riding giant mosquitos through a sidescrolling shooter level is not unheard of.
Even though the game is the most challenging platformer I have played this year, it is not frustrating. This is because the checkpoint system is more than fair, and provides you with ample opportunity for mistakes, and trust me you will make many mistakes. It is in these mistimed jumps that you learn, and many levels will have you memorizing patterns and sequences just to survive...but isn’t that why we came to love platformers in the first place?
The controls are by far the tightest I have used in a while. Granting the player the same precision as say, Super Meat Boy, Origins gives you no excuses when it comes to blaming the controller for your screw ups. When playing it comes down to the wire the controls of a well tuned platformer must be second nature. With each new mechanic the simplicity of the controls allow you to move throughout the levels flawlessly (with a little practice) and will have you making quick decisions without thinking twice of what your character is going to do on screen. For the record, I used the analog stick on the Xbox 360 controller and it held up just fine.
One complaint I have is that through all the mayhem, the game does not give me enough time to stop and take in all the scenery. The painted art style made my jaw drop on multiple occasions as I hopped across a number of very different and inspired environments. The fluidity of the characters and the charm Ubisoft has animated into each and every one of them brings them to life. Along with the stunning visuals is a score that blends so well with the style of the game you may not even notice it until you take some time and listen. Each of the instruments is hand picked for every nuance and situation throughout every level. Tribal didgeridoos escort you through a forest landscape and a jaw harp greets you on the world select screen. I can confidently say that Rayman: Origins is the most beautiful 2D platformer that I have played in my life.
This is only a glimpse into what kinds of fun you and your friends will be having.
I had the privilege of playing the game in its purest form, with 4 player couch co-op. Unfortunately for everyone, Origins does not come equipped with online co-op so it is up to your local, real life friends to actually meet up in the same room to enjoy the game together. If the game was not challenging enough already, try having three other people jumping beside you, clouding your vision or hitting you in the back of the head as you try to make that death-defying jump to reach the checkpoint. The game is perfectly fine alone, but really shines with a co-op session. The levels do not change with the addition of more players, but the beauty comes from being able to share in the fun with friends. Keep in mind that only one player will be able to earn achievements in a co-op playthrough, even if everyone is signed into their profiles. I highly encourage the game to be played in co-op, but ensure that you have competent friends otherwise everyone is going to get frustrated.
The unfortunate reality is that Rayman: Origins was sent to die. Being released alongside huge titles like Assassin’s Creed, Modern Warfare 3, and fellow platformer Super Mario Land did not help its cause. Everyone that enjoys gaming really needs to grab this game both on premise, and the fact that it is the best platformer you will play this year. The art direction will tease your eyes and leave you wanting more. It is tragic that Origins will not be seen by more people, so I emplore everyone to grab a copy and get together with a couple friends for some beautiful platforming mayhem. You will have multiple hours of amazingly crafted fun and it will be up to you to spread the word and get as many people playing Rayman: Origins as possible once it wins over your heart.
Note: This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.