"Rayman Origins refines and redefines."
Developer: UBIart Montpellier
Release Date: November 15, 2011 (US), Nov 25, 2011 (EU)
Platform(s): X360, PS3 [reviewed], WII, (PS Vita, 3DS)
Sometimes, less is more. With the new era of gaming dawning upon this generation, it’s becoming more of a distant memory that all this was built upon simple ideas and limited technology. Rayman Origins offers such a traditional, side-scrolling platform concept in modern times, where these formats have falsely been marked as outdated. Rayman Origins refines and redefines.
The incredibly colorful world of Rayman takes between 1 and 4 players through many themed locales, each with their beautifully distinct soundtrack. Ukuleles, berimbaus, xylophones and other exotic arrangements, get switched with soft, lounge tunes and barbershop quartets, according to the played world. Alongside its cartoony details, quirky setting and humorous ambiance, Rayman is so endearing, it feels like playing through a genuine Disney movie, more than Disney ever pulled off. Additionally, foreground and background details make the 2D world feel even more alive and get beautifully incorporated, such as ice walls slightly distorting the view behind them. Schools of fish swarm the screen by a schmoozing tune of gibberish. It’s a magical sense, even though some tunes or sounds also feels like they’ve been borrowed by Super Mario Bros or even Patapon with their high pitched speech.
At least, the gameplay equally sticks to the classics and gets presented in 2D left-to-right level progression, where it’s simply a matter to get from point A to point B. In order to proceed along the story, Rayman and friends need to collect as many yellow bugs as they can to unlock pink smiley faces. Rayman has no limbs, but is fully functional, so stop thinking logically now; it makes sense in the game. Any level is structured into different stages, but all are so intricately designed that they all feel extremely natural.
Much like old Sonic games, platforming is less about hard sections and more about a certain game flow, which gets integrated in a rhythmic sense, with subtle notes and sounds. By getting swept up in the game’s arrangement; waterfalls, swinging vines, icy platforms and much more direct the flow of play and it’s merely a matter of finding the right groove in it. Additionally, certain places have subtle nuances and details which hint that there is more than meets the eye, such as extra bugs or hearts that prevent the character from blowing up. Should such an explosion take place however, the game is lenient enough to scatter checkpoints throughout and allows for infinite tries. And though this bypasses traditional difficulty, Rayman is still challenging in parts.
For some reason, somewhere along all this natural impetus, Rayman chooses to trade in the intuitive feel of Sonic gameplay and reverts to the brutal trials of classics like Battletoads; feared for their punishing sections. Suddenly, finding the appropriate forward motion becomes nearly impossible and the otherwise spontaneous thinking has to step aside for sweaty aggravation. It’s a shame, because otherwise, Rayman Origins does a wonderful job at not falling into a trial and error routine, but rather it rewards on the fly thinking and improvement upon lesser performances. By unlocking side-content and tougher challenges according to the smiley faces collected, players are pushed to excel, while at the same time still being welcomed to proceed with the game. It’s a welcome change from other games that ransom content for players unworthy of their attention. A purchase should prove one’s worth already.
This additional content comes in the form of alternate costumes, time trials, medals or special challenges that really focus on the game flow. Tricky treasures run away through an immensely hectic level, where players attempt to chase it amongst the falling debris, explosions and tons of spikes and pitfalls. There is exactly one approach and keeping up is hard, which results in a good revision of learned skills so far.
The good part is that for all frustrating bits, Rayman offers at least an equal amount of magical experiences and alternates gameplay whenever needed. As such, there are the most charming side-scrolling shooter levels available in each world. These are the perfect break and still hold on to the masterfully crafted flow dynamic.
But the pride, but perhaps also fall, for Rayman Origins lies within the glorious local multiplayer, which makes gaming a lot more fun. For one, levels become easier to complete with helping hands and coordinating properly can make sure every last pickup gets obtained and different grooves can be done at the same time. But on the other hand, coordinating can also backfire, when a team mate messes up and forces the other to mess up because of it. This gets amplified by the lesser visibility that comes with stretching the screen. Still, multiplayer is definitely the high point and done right, it shows just how the game was meant to be played: by having fun, together. It’s only a shame that this social focus is visually present in some levels, which deters the value of playing alone, even if only in the slightest.
Rayman remembers Ecco The Dolphin, even if you don't. Every classic; no exceptions.
Rayman Origins doesn’t come up with a new concept for the platform genre; rather it tries to create something new within that idea. It’s easy to see the love the developers put into every little corner of this game, for the love of the game. Each part is so charming and endearing; it’s almost like living a fairy tale: Not too warm, not too cold; it gets platforming just right. At some point, improvement and challenge starts teetering with frustration, which is a shame, but it also shows the inspiration for all classic parts of gameplay. Rayman is like a home cooked meal. Sure, the recipe is the made of the same old generic thing, but done right, has there ever been anything better than a dish made with such personal care? Rarely.