Release Date: Out Now!
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
(Thanks to Ubisoft for providing a copy of this game for review)
He’s got no freaking limbs! Why has he got no freaking limbs!? Despite playing every single Rayman game throughout the years I still have trouble getting over that very simple fact; Rayman is a hero devoid of limbs. How the hell does that work? But that’s hardly important compared to the fact that Origins is here to prove that Rayman still has a place in gaming, apart from those bloody Raving Rabbids games. But in todays FPS dominated market, is there really a place left to an old-school 2d platformer? The answer is a resounding yes.
As the name would suggest, Rayman: Origins is a return to Rayman’s limbless roots in an effort to reboot the series, presumably so more games can be made down the line. The story goes that our hero and his mates are snoozing the day away, with not a care in the world, but their noise-making is hardly impressing the neighbours who start trying to get the limbless wonder to shut the hell up, as his, and his friends, snoring is starting to annoy them. Rayman and his gang of misfits continue to snooze, oblivious to the sounds of the old lady from the Land of Livid Dead screaming at them. Due to his insolence, the mental old woman summons a horde of Darktoons and monsters to invade the Glade of Dreams, who proceed to capture the nymphs and Electoons that inhabit the world. In short then, Raymans brings down terror upon the world by being a bit of a douche to his neighbours. So, it’s up to him and his friends to rescue the nymphs and electoons, and save the world.
As you can probably tell from that description, the story in Rayman: Origins isn’t exactly a deep, compelling tale filled with twists, turns and tragedies, but rather a cheerful yarn that simply switches off after the intro and only reappears in the final level. But playing a Rayman game for story is rather like playing a Call of Duty game for the great online community; absolutely pointless. And yes, somehow I did manage to make a Call of Duty reference while talking about a platformer.
Now that the story, or lack of story, is out of the way it’s time to talk about just how god damn beautiful this game looks. While graphics will never be more important that gameplay in crafting a brilliant game, it’s still nice when a game does come along that leaves you drooling on the carpet and giggling like a little school girl, and Rayman: Origins is just one such game. It’s all courtesy of Ubisoft’s shiny new UbiArt Framework, which allows the artists free-reign to create what they want and then put it into the game with minimal effort or problems. This is done by…..wait, what the hell am I doing? Let’s dispense with this techno babble, because all you really need to know is that is has allowed the team to craft a truly breathtaking game using a unique art-style that brings the many worlds Rayman visits to life using vibrant colors. And what worlds they are; from luscious jungles and arctic tundras to hellish lava-spewing lands and underwater paradises. Each is carefully crafted to create a completely unique feeling for every one. Likewise the characters are brought to life using the same bright cartoony style Watching them in motion is truly awe-inspiring, thanks to each playable character having over 250-animations to their name, meaning transitions between the various moves are as smooth as can be. Truthfully, it’s hard to adequately describe how mind-blowingly, eye-spinningly, jaw-droppingly beautiful this game really is, which is why we have pictures. Ah pictures, how I love you.
It’s not just the graphical presentation that amazes, either; the sound audio used for Origins is just as amazing, and even brings a Disney vibe to the game when combined with the graphics. The music is cheery, bright and bouncy, always ensuring that you’re in exactly the right mood for the level. Hell, even the music on the main menu will have you sitting there tapping your foot with a big smile on your face. Likewise each level has the perfect musical score accompanying it, such as the underwater levels which get a ludicrously awesome song that has fish making weird sounds, and the chase sequences, which we’ll cover later, have a fantastic banjo tune that just feels so……well, right! The sound effects don’t disappoint either, from the sound of an enemy popping to the smaller details such as the sound of your feet as you sprint across the levels, Origins is faultless.
And so, when taking both audio and visuals into consideration, Rayman: Origins easily takes the crown for the game with the best presentation this year. It might be a bold claim to make considering some of the games we’ve had this year, like Skyrim with its huge vistas and soaring musical score, or Crysis 2 with its technical prowess, but just go check out some gameplay videos of Origins in action on Youtube, and try not to break your jaw when it hits the floor.
But enough praise has been heaped upon the presentation, because while it does look bloody good, it’s still the gameplay that is most important. But don’t worry, because it plays almost as good as it looks. The key to Rayman: Origins is collecting Electoons so that you can unlock more worlds and levels to playthrough, which contain even more Electoons to rescue. Simply for reaching the end of a level you’re granted an Electoon, but each level has several more to be collected by finding the special hidden areas or by grabbing enough Lums, floating golden…..things, on your run through to net another one. If running through a level collecting gold things and then smashing a cage to free some animals sounds awfully like a Sonic game, then you’d be right; it is suspiciously like that. Once you’ve completed a level and harvested it for every Electoon it seems to contain, which is no easy feat, you might think that you’re done, but you’d be wrong. After completing a level, you’ll be able to go back and take part in a time-trial in an attempt to grab a final Electoon, plus a trophy should you prove yourself quick enough. These speed-runs are challenging if you’re just after the Electoon, but prove to be a real test of skill for those after the shiny trophy as well. Fully complete a level, by collecting every Lum, finding every Electoon and trashing the speed-run, and you’ll feel like a platforming god.
Moving through your awe-inspiring 2D world is nice and simple. Rayman starts with just a few abilities hidden up his sleeves……wait, damn. Um, in his pockets? No, that doesn’t work. Look, forget it. He starts the game with just a few abilities at his disposal, but quickly unlocks handy new skills such as being able to run up walls, glide by using his hair and shrink into a mini-Rayman. It doesn’t actually take very long for you to unlock every single one of your abilities; this isn’t about drip-feeding you new tricks, but rather about making you use them in conjunction with each other and forcing you to adapt them to new obstacles – something which the game does amazingly well.
Using these abilities and your natural gaming skills, it’s up to you to navigate each of the very well designed levels. At first, things seem to be rather simplistic; there’s the occasionally challenging level, but for the most part you’re going to be breezing through them, barely ever removing your finger from the sprint button, but what you haven’t realised is that the games difficulty has in fact been increasing. It’s such a steady increase that barely notice it until your several hours in and blitzing through levels, reacting to enemies and obstacles in a split-second. But then Origins keeps increasing the skill level required to beat levels until you had the breaking point and sweat is poring off you as you leap, swing, run, fight, and slide your way through crumbling debris and vicious traps. It’s in these later levels that Origins becomes a frustrating game; not because it feels unfair, but because you’re angry at yourself for not being able to react quickly enough, fast enough, to beat the levels. You’ll most likely find yourself replaying the same level multiple times, the once flowing gameplay brought to a halt as you scratch your head and curse the gods of Rayman. At points you might even find yourself completing levels by inching ahead. These times are when Rayman is at its worst, when the fast-paced gameplay slows down to a crawl. While most games out there rarely demand that you improve your skills to progress, Origins demands it, and so your head scratch and cursing will slowly give way to progress as you find your platforming skills increasing. It’s an incredibly satisfying feeling to have your skills tested, broken and then re-crafted into something even better. Yet not every grinding halt is because of the player; there are some later levels where the design stumbles a little; while earlier lands flowed from one obstacle to the next, allowing you to read the lay of the land and predict what was coming next, some of the sections near the end of the game seem to ditch this approach, which can slow the gameplay down considerably as you find yourself having to die numerous times so that you can memorize the layout to progress. Again, skill can see you through these areas, but they simply don’t feel quite as well designed as earlier stages.
The obstacles and enemies that populate these areas are many and varied, as you would expect, really. On his quest to save the world, so that he can get some more shuteye, Rayman will encounter a variety of baddies intent on rending him limb from……damn. To rend him body part from body part. As this is a platformer the combat mechanics are pretty simplistic; Rayman has one attack button which can be combined with sprinting, swimming and sliding to ‘bubbilize’ enemies, which essentially means they blow up like balloons and float away, giving you the chance to pop them for an extra Lum, or you could simply let them float away, never to be seen by mortal Electoon again. When you’re not punching strange creatures in the face you’ll be navigating the other various obstacles in your path. There are entire levels filled with massive updrafts that require you to master your gliding techniques, dodging flying cutlery and swordfish and jumping from wall to wall to avoid spiky things. Each level makes good creative use of a variety of obstacles that you’re going to have to overcome to proceed, giving each area it own distinctive flavour and challenge.
Occasionally the game even throws a boss battle in your face, making you utilise your platforming skills (you have skills, right?) to take them down. The boss battles offered in Origins are rather a mixed bag; some are quite enjoyable and challenging, while others are more frustrating and can feel like a chore to complete thanks to a more trial and error based structure making it feel less like skill and more like memorizing patterns. And again, like the rest of the game, the boss battles follow the old-school formula of hitting the glowing weak spot.
To break up the pacing Ubisoft have included some sections that whisk Rayman off his feet and into the air on the back of a mosquito. These sections follow the same rules that we’ve seen over the years; you can go up, down, left and right, and can fire little laser things to defeat oncoming enemies who often helpfully fly in straight lines. The only real difference that your mosquito has is the ability to suck in objects and fire them back out, which you’ll mostly be doing with bombs. These airborne levels are pretty good and do a pretty good job of breaking up the constant platforming which can become a little tiresome after a while, but they do feel overused.
Special mention must come to one of the games most entertaining gameplay elements, despite only having ten examples of it throughout the game. You see, Rayman and his loyal comrades have a secondary mission, which is to gather ten diamond teeth for the gatekeeper of the Land of the Livid Dead so that they can pass through into a whole new world, which adds a considerable chunk of extra content to the game past the main storyline. To gather these teeth you must chase down a series of pesky chests who, at the first sight of you, take off at high-speed. Chasing down these bloody quick pain in the asses is, quite simply, absolutely brilliant. Having a target to focus on when you’re madly trying to dodge the obstacles spurs you on to quicker and quicker speeds, and serves as a great motivator for improving your skills as those little wooden speed demons can require several restarts to capture.
With any platformer requiring split-second reactions and a high degree of precision, the control scheme needs to be both simple and intuitive, and thankfully Origins controls are just that. While you do unlock several abilities throughout the game, the control scheme remains simple and easy to pick up, allowing you to worry about the obstacles in front of you rather than worrying about which controls your hitting.
Yet for all of its adrenalin pumping platforming acrobatics, there’s very little that is actually new in Origins. The gameplay has been carefully harvested from years worth of games and mashed together to form the game, creating one of the best platformers…..well, ever. Perhaps most of all Origins owes quite a bit to Donkey Kong, with several levels being very reminiscent of the classic game, though there are hints of Super Mario Bros 3 in here as well. Yet this current generation of gamers are most likely barely aware of the existence of platformers, and as such probably won’t notice that the gameplay isn’t exactly new, thereby nullifying it as a real negative. Even if you have been around and played the classics, instead of feeling stale it’ll probably just bring back a wonderful sense of nostalgia.
It seems that even the classic Rayman has been bitten by the multiplayer bug which has seemingly infected the entire world. At least they haven’t put in a competitive mode, but rather a 4-player co-op mode, allowing you and your mates to laugh at each other as you fail miserably to make it over a sequence of jumps, because you’re just not hardcore enough. Each of you take control of one of the many unlockable characters in the game, each of which have different animations but play exactly the same, which is rather a shame. The 4-player co-op turns an already manic game into something resembling chaos. Yet the simple ability to use your partners as a moving platform from which to leap does rather make a mockery of some of the games levels. Also, in my own experience with the game 2-players are the best balance for the game, as any more than that makes it rather tough to keep track of your character. Playing with your friends is, of course, damn good fun, and so it’s rather disappointing to note that Ubisoft have opted to make the co-op local only, so you’re mate over in America is going to have to catch a plane if he wants to get a game in with you.
In a world of shooters, zombie hordes and postapocalyptic worlds, Rayman: Origins is a breath of fresh air that proves there’s still a place for 2d platformers amidst the bullets and blood. It’s a beautiful, beautiful, beautifully beautiful game with a soundtrack so cheery that it could melt the coldest of hearts. But it’s not just a game of stunning presentation; it’s one of great gameplay, where speed and precision are key, balancing just the right amount of difficulty with feeling like a platforming god.
+ Did I say it was beautiful?
+ Did I say it sounded amazing?
+ Chaining together a sequence of moves at speed.
– Not very original.
– A few frustrating moments.
– None of different characters play differently.
My eyes may have melted. Like a waterpainting in motion, Origins is a game that few can match in the realm of pure beauty.
While the cheerful music may not appeal to all, it’s hard to fault the games usage of its soundtrack or sound effects.
Barebones at best.
A smartly crafted 2d platformer that challenges the player to become a better gamer to progress, always challenging their reflexes and precision.
Around ten hours should see the storyline done, but actually completing everything could take you a considerable amount of time.
The Verdict: 9.5
A game with few faults and plenty to love. It’s a colorful game filled with rich worlds to jump through and charming music to listen to, proving that platformers still have their place in today’s world. if Origins is indeed heralding the return of the Rayman series, then bring it on, I say.