Rayman Origins Review
Before Ubisoft was known for Assassin’s Creed, Prince of Persia, Rainbow Six, Splinter Cell, or any of their other major franchises, the French studio was known for one armless and legless platformer: Rayman. Rayman, born from the mind of Michel Ancel, has bounced his way from initial sidescrolling platforming through console and handheld generations into the third dimension, through motion control, and various side genres. Although he has critical and commercial success, he has never really been a AAA franchise, quietly pleasing gamers with solid platforming in beautifully realized surrealist worlds.
With Rayman Origins, Rayman and his pals, Globox and the various Teensies, team up in a revivalist piece that marries modern platforming techniques spearheaded by Nintendo with a uniquely Ubisoft flavor. There are no gimmicks here, no motion control, no rabbids, no partially developed gameplay ideas. Instead, Ancel and his team have brought forth a fully realized, perfectly animated sidescrolling masterpiece that glories in the simplicity of running and jumping to the right, and all the complexity and exploration that this belies.
The best dishes served in a restaurant can be amazingly complex, but sometimes it is the simplest dishes with high quality and fresh ingredients that wow and delight. This is Rayman Origins, a game that is absolutely polished and wholly complete, it takes simple joy of platforming with very little in pretension, letting what is great about it argue for its quality.
The core of Rayman Origins is pretty easy to define. The plot serves nothing but to facilitate the platforming, so it’s pretty easy to ignore. What does matter, however, is the tightly designed controls. Each of the characters can jump, float, wall jump, slide, slap, and swim. It’s a control scheme that takes all of three buttons to use, and the player controls are tight and responsive. Every time you die, you know it’s a fault of the player and not the game.
I played through most of the game by myself. Like New Super Mario Bros. Wii or Donkey Kong Country Returns, the game is entirely playable by oneself. It’s actually better to play by yourself when trying to unlock those last secret electoon puzzles or collect those glowing lums to 100 percent a level. With plenty of unlockable characters and costumes, the game does a great job of incentivizing collecting doodads, something I normally hate.
However, once two or more players are involved, Rayman Origins becomes a practice in chaos. I wouldn’t call it a bad thing, as many times players will find that they can complete portions of the game easier with help (such as stacking up on each other, or sacrificing oneself to collect some lums), but for the most part the game spends its time rewarding players who troll and slap each other. If you’re trying to complete everything, go it by yourself, but for a good time with some friends, Rayman Origins stands up with Nintendo’s best multiplayer platformers.
It’s also brutally hard. While early levels pose only a slight challenge, Rayman Origins challenges players with chase levels that require perfectly timed platforming, swimming stages where death is one slight move to the left, sidescrolling SHMUP stages where the desire for a high score can ruin a perfection flown level, and bosses that can border on frustratingly difficult. The never quite feels unfair, and the respawns are fast and mostly at a fair point. Expect to die a lot, especially if you are playing by yourself and you don’t have anyone to bring you back to life. From my time with the game, just trying to survive, much less collect everything on the more than sixty stages, I can say this game is as good as, and as difficult as DKCR.
For masochists with a desire to be punished by a platformer, this should be good enough to get them playing. For slightly casual players, it’s the visuals that are really going to keep them playing. While most companies use 3D polygons to animate and fill out their worlds, even in 2D platformers, Ubisoft and Ancel has decided to return to Rayman’s roots and do a fully hand drawn, beautifully realized 2D art direction running at 60 FPS. This game is luscious and stunning, one of the most detailed and beautiful games I have played, period. It is a title like Rayman Origins that highlights the truth that style and art direction game make a game beautiful. For 15 hours I have been continually blown away by how gorgeous this game is, and from start to finish my jaw drops with every new area and every new cartoon character to interact with.
If a high attention to detail has been paid to the visuals, just as much has been applied to the music. In every stage, orchestral overtones fit the feel and mode of that particular level, and every enemy or environment interaction parlays into its own specific tone or beat. It’s an incredibly musical game, and one that is very satisfying and enjoyable to listen to.
Rayman Origins is an outstanding game, plain and simple, establishing itself as one of the best games I have played this year and one of the biggest surprises of 2011. If you are looking for retro-tinged gameplay with charming presentation, Rayman Origins is one to not miss.
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]