Hey guys, there’s a new Rayman game. Oh, you didn’t know? Well, Ubisoft didn’t go out of its way to notify you, releasing its other, less happy game on the same exact day seemingly content with leaving it to die in the name of the Assassins. Rayman Origins might have been tucked away within the release schedule of 2011, behind all the big, blockbuster games but it stands out from the rest, with a colorful world of platforming to offer that revitalizes a whole genre. It can’t be put any more simply: Rayman Origins is one of the best pure platformers in recent years.
Although mysteriously told through a wonderfully syncopated (and catchy) introduction, you need to read in between the lines for Rayman Origins‘ story. Rayman and his crew are loud sleepers, aggravating the local dead skeletons in the Underworld. Limits are met and exceeded, forcing the undead to call upon some evil force to rule again over the Glade of Dreams.
Like most platformers, the story is completely secondary and is just an excuse to go the different levels and jump on stuff. It’s lighthearted, with some goofy sequences near the end, and not to be taken seriously at all. The characters, world, bosses, and just every about everything is so ridiculous in the best way. Sure, there’s no story, but were you really expecting one? You shouldn’t, because it doesn’t matter here.
Platforming matters. If your platforming muscles have atrophied within their hibernation, it’d be best the stretch them out. Actually, Rayman Origins does a great job of doing that for you. Jumping starts out appropriately slow, easing you into old moves, new moves, and showing you the ropes of the world. New powers are learned for the first five or so worlds, so even during the learning stages, you are still getting new moves piled on. It’s paced so well that it makes you gradually become better without actually banging your head against a difficult section, forcing you to adapt. This gives new players a fair chunk of time to adjust along with making experienced players learn the ins and outs.
That’s not to say the first half of the game is boring or even easy. Far from it. A fair bit of amusing challenge arises within these early stages, but it’s really just training grounds for the whole second half of the game. The gloves come off and the game becomes significantly harder, utilizing every skill you’ve previously learned and makes you go wild with them. Frustration rarely sets in due to tight control and frequent checkpoints, retaining the cheery feel, but giving you a different side of the coin. Rarely will you be able to blame anyone but yourself for dying, a sure signal of solid controls. Even the underwater levels fail to frustrate. Good underwater levels? Blasphemy!
Running and jumping is the game’s obvious strength, but it is a surprisingly good shooter too. Not a first-person shooter, but side scrolling shooter set on a “Moskito.” Rather than be throwaway levels to switch the pace up, I found myself enjoying these sections a lot more than I thought I would. They are long and difficult, but not too long and too difficult. Checkpoints are the only chink in the armor in these sections. In the latter half, checkpoints in these specific sequences can be too far in between, forcing you to play lengthy parts over and over again. One-hit kills are in this mode as well, so it may take a while to best these sections. Some boss fights are the same way. It can be a little maddening to get killed because the game lacks a proper dodge button, making defensive maneuvers a bit too difficult to perform. Pattern memorization is definitely how you beat these guys, it just can seem a bit too strict.
Origins is a platformer, so of course collectibles are a big part of gameplay. Not only are some necessary for progression, but they add the replay value of this already long game. Time trials, Lums (coins), and hidden Electoons give reason enough to justify replaying levels over and over for that elusive full medallion. I was never bogged down with this checklist, but enamored, always wanting to grab that last doohickey or doodad.
However, one collectible stands above the rest. Skull Teeth are unlocked through special means. Once you hit a higher number of Electoons, challenge levels unlock where you must chase a treasure chest through a devious gauntlet of traps. Like Super Meat Boy, these are quick, extremely devilish scenarios requiring perfect timing and jumping skills. Repetition is essential, as each requires a few dozen attempts to complete. If you mess up once, you’re dead. It’s as simple as that. If you don’t like trial-and-error gameplay, these stages aren’t for you, but I ate all ten of them up. I couldn’t get enough of them.
Once all these Skull Teeth are collected and returned to their skeleton owner, the real Hell begins. Since you’ve bested the game’s more devious traps by doing the treasure missions, the game throws everything at you within this secret, optional level. This level alone is the hardest platforming I’ve ever done and it definitely found my limit and tested my platforming mettle. Imagine the treasure levels, but if they were from some hacked ROM and made about seven or eight times longer. This level demands your A+ game, and will not settle for anything less. Instant reflexes and skills are required for this level and this type of challenge was an exhilarating blast. Finally nailing a segment only to find a much harder, longer sequence was such a satisfying endeavor that sadists will definitely get off to. A challenge this heavy also speaks to Rayman‘s flexibility as a platformer to appeal to the “hardcore”, without upsetting the less skilled players it attracts.
These less skilled players can still have a good time because of the game’s co-op. While it is local-only, up to four people can simultaneously jump in and mess around. I did prefer playing alone (which just speaks to my personal tastes), but co-op is a sure way to have some chaotic fun with friends, even non-gamers. It apes just enough from Super Mario Bros. Wii and LittleBigPlanet 2 but retains its own identity. While it is still entirely possible to grief people, it has to be done more on purpose now because you can jump on each other’s heads accidentally (or on purpose if you’re an asshole). Dying leads to “bubbling,” which let deaths become sort of a non-issue because of the ease of revival. Lives aren’t a big deal because, thankfully, they are limitless, meaning you won’t have any play sessions suddenly stop due to lack of lives left. A lot of smart decisions like these listed make Origins one of the better co-op experiences you can have with plenty of different people.
Something both crowds can definitely agree on and gush over is the graphical style Origins has. Origins is one of the most visually striking games out there, with such a vivid color palette and wonderful hand-drawn art style that never stops looking completely dazzling. The game moves at a fast pace at times, but you will always notice the glorious backgrounds. Every world is definitely colorful and they all bring such a unique feel to the game. Levels within the same world look different and creative enough to warrant paying special attention to. The food level, lava level, ice level, jungle level, and everything else far exceed genre standards for being memorable, even if the thoughts themselves are a bit generic. Animations are also so over-the-top and wacky making it look even more like a cartoon. Actually, no, Rayman Origins looks better than any cartoon. With all the hours I spent in the Glade of Dreams, I never could get over how amazing it looked.
Equally as pleasing as the visual style is the soundtrack. No other soundtrack is as infectiously catchy and upbeat as Rayman Origins‘ audio mix. Didgeridoos, banjos, mouth harps, chipmunk-style vocal effects, and other out of the ordinary musical styles all collaborate to form a cohesive sound package that I just could not get out of my head. In fact, as I’m typing this, I’ve been whistling, humming, or just playing the soundtrack in my head the whole time because it is just that good. Music this positive always puts me in a good mood, and since it’s so unforgettable, I’ve been pretty happy as of late, constantly replaying these melodies in my head over and over again.
Perception is the biggest thing going against Rayman Origins. With recent platformers like Braid and Limbo being limited to digital distribution, a stigma has consequentially risen that all platformers must be released online, and if one deviates, it is a bad value. Not Rayman Origins. It’s a deceptively large game, with so much to do and all of it is done so well that it is hard to not love it. I can’t think of anyone who would actively hate this game. After this quality outing, everyone loves (or should love) Rayman.
+Fantastic, cheery musical score
+Incredibly gorgeous, colorful graphics
+Long, meaty game with plenty of worlds, powers, and collectibles
+Challenging, yet accessible platforming for people with a wide range of skill sets
-Moskito level checkpoints are spread a bit thin
Final Score: 9/10
Note: This review is only for the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions.