The Rayman series, which most people will remember being debuted in 1995 on the PS1, is a set of very well-done 2D and 3D platformers with spin-off departures from the core gameplay style such as Raving Rabbids and Rayman Golf. The world of Rayman is dangerous and as strange as the limbless protagonist himself. It is a good thing that he has so many powers and friends to help him on his journey through this idyllic, scary, difficult, picturesque, monster-infested landscape. The new installation, Ubisoft’s Rayman Origins, brings us back to.. Well.. Rayman’s Origins as a 2D platformer, and it doesn’t disappoint in delivering to us the unique flavour of the series.
The first thing I should mention is the gameplay. Rayman Origins is a rock-solid platformer with a learning curve aimed at people newer to 2D platformers at the beginning and ramping up to some controller-throwing, cover-the-childrens’-ears difficulty near the end. Veterans who have played through some of the more difficult modern platformers such as Super Meat Boy and Dustforce will find little in the way of challenge for the entire first half of the game, (power acquisition and tutorial mostly,) but will find some satisfaction in the second and third phases of the game, (four levels which test your skills and a final world.) Rookies in the genre will find that perfect balance between difficulty-ramping, complexity and power acquisition embedded within the learning curve, and pure, unadulterated fun all throughout the game.
The only thing which breaks this perfection in gameplay (for newbies in single player mode) are the boss battles, which tend to be cheap find-the-safe-spot-or-die memory contests. Honestly, the bosses normally go down in three hits and you will probably die three times on nearly all of them. They are not particularly hard, but end up filling most of the screen with a death-inducing hitfield so that you are resurrected right before the battle begins again. All you need to do is just remember where the safe spot was and be there when the screen is filled with teeth and claws again. Rinse and repeat thrice for a dead boss. There isn’t a feeling of battle during any of these sequences, though the urgency to get past them on one life was, to me, the main goal of these bits. I never actually accomplished that goal.
Which brings us handily to the multiplayer. This game is one of the rare few platformers which utilizes the full extent of the wireless-age’s four-player standard connectability, meaning that this game is fully 4P from beginning to end. This sounds like a great idea in theory, and is so much fun when introducing games into a party, but will hamper progress to a standstill in later levels. Not only are you able to hit each other (as in the original NES’ Chip & Dale’s Rescue Rangers, it is also gleefully fun to do so, knocking your partner(s) into piranha infested waters or into the slathering jaws of the enemy. Unless you are a serious gamer working with other serious gamers to try to complete the game in as little time as possible, you will need to unlock the levels in single-player before introducing your friends to your favourite levels.
That isn’t entirely true of course, as death is not a permanent thing in Rayman Origins. Once one of the player characters die, (or even enemies for that matter,) they turn into an inflated balloon version of themselves which can float freely around the screen. It is up to you to get near enough to your couchmate (on-screen of course) to allow them to reach out and give you a good smack. Once that happens, you are resurrected. In this way the multiplayer is a little more forgiving in the slower levels than the 1P experience where, if you die, you are resurrected back at the beginning of the zone in which you died, often having to replay a bit of the level before getting back to where you were for another go at it. The zones (of which every level is made up of several) tend to be quite small so there is never a need to replay an entire level simply because of an errant claw.
The replayability in Rayman Origins is increased due to the collectible nature of several objects found in the world which are used as currency to unlock characters and stages. Also the inclusion of ten very hard running-race style levels which award you a large red gem at the end, which you need to unlock a mysterious door which taunts you from the very beginning of the game, helps to keep you coming back to the controller for punishment.
I haven’t even mentioned yet how stunning this game looks. Rayman has always been a good looking series, but Origins borders on beautiful. The lush greens of grass and leaves, the burning oranges of fire and lava, the purple-black of the living darkness which seethes with a scourge of bats, every colour in this game pops blindingly out of the screen. Every character and monster is rendered in detail, quirk, and with an obvious eye for a pretty aesthetic. There are unlockable solid-colour characters available for easy identification while embarking on a multiplayer cuss-fest, (these sprites end up looking slightly cheap when zoomed in on, but it is a greatly needed feature when in the midst of a frantic level.).. And the nymphs which give you your powers near the end of each set of levels are… I don’t even know what to say.
The music ends up being part brilliant and part so-so. I have a feeling that the better tracks on the soundtrack (which immediately warm the heart and put a smile on my face) are going to stay with me for a long time. Even the tracks which aren’t as good as those few diamonds seem to melt perfectly into the levels and to be scored specifically for certain events within stages. The timing of certain swells or vocals are often perfectly aligned with the introduction of a new enemy or a particularly hectic bit of a level, and this without a dynamic event-cued soundtrack! So even if you’re not falling in love with the non-language vocals that are sung by diminutive creatures during a track, it is difficult to be annoyed by any of the music.
So, all in all, this is a highly scored game on a great many platforms which I can’t really recommend highly or widely enough if you have some interest in 2D platforming, beautiful games, and happy music. Is there really anyone this game wouldn’t appeal to? I can only think of a person or two who wouldn’t enjoy this game within my circle of friends, and I think that’s saying something.