|System: Xbox 360, PS3, Wii|
|Release: November 15, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Comic Mischief, Mild Cartoon Violence, Suggestive Themes|
by Becky Cunningham
Why, oh why, did Ubisoft release Rayman Origins around the same time as juggernauts like Modern Warfare 3, Skyrim, Super Mario 3D Land, and Zelda: Skyward Sword? With those giants taking up store shelves, the box featuring two quirky characters leaping atop a pile of angry spined creatures is likely to be ignored. The tragedy is that Rayman Origins is a gem that doesn't deserve such treatment, particularly from anybody who feels that modern platformers are far too easy.
Rayman Origins sets its tone immediately, as Rayman's quest is set off when the local Livid Dead object to the snoring of Rayman and his funny-looking friends. They retaliate by shaking up the world, sending Rayman on a two-dimensional platforming quest to put things back together. The story is generally unimportant; like all platformers, the game is all about traversing levels and reaching goals that give the player access to new areas. Still, the wild and wacky world that Rayman inhabits is quite charming, from the glowing, singing lums that Rayman collects in the levels to the grumpy, spiky enemies that he must avoid or punch out.
The atmosphere created by the game's excellent audio and visual design is immediately striking. The two-dimensional HD graphics are gorgeous, and the animations create a world bursting with both life and insanity. From the colorful characters to the weird and wonderful levels, Rayman Origins has the feel of the old Warner Brothers cartoons brought into the world of Adult Swim. When struck, enemies turn into giant and sometimes hilarious-looking bubbles, which can then be popped for extra points. Players will be popping these enemies in bizarre settings like a world full of sentient food and utensils and an ocean stocked with singing fish. The sound effects are delightfully cartoonish as well. The music is very well done and gets better as the game goes on, with only a few tracks that could draw spousal aggro if repeated too often.
The game doesn't do very much handholding, so it can take a few minutes to become oriented and figure out how to get things going. Once off and running, however, players will see that Rayman Origins is an old school platformer with modern sensibilities. Rayman (or whichever of the other characters the player chooses to portray) is rather fragile, and a single blow from an enemy or stumble off the level blows him up and sends him back to the beginning of the area. He can pick up a single heart item at a time and withstand a single hit, but that won't save him from the many pits or crushing objects he can encounter. Fortunately, most of the levels are broken up into bite-sized chunks, so there's not generally a ton of backtracking to do, plus players will get the option to skip a level after dying about ten times in a particular area. Still, this decidedly retro design choice can be annoying when the player is attempting to master a difficult segment near the end of the area. It tends to discourage exploration the first time through a level, as the player has to weigh whether chasing after an optional collectible is worth possible death.
The levels are designed to be run multiple times, anyway. Each level has a "medallion" associated with it, and players fill the medallions by completing various goals, like rescuing creatures and gathering up a certain portion of the collectibles. Once a level has been completed, characters can access a speed run challenge, and can also return to the level to attempt to meet any goals that weren't met the first time through. Meeting the second collectible goal is highly unlikely for a first runthrough of a level, as the player will need to get to know a level very well to collect all the little floating lums that pop up before they float off the top of the screen. Hardcore platforming fans will love attempting to fill out the medallions, for it involves truly mastering the levels, which is a very challenging prospect.
There's a huge diversity found in the generous number of levels the game offers. During the first half of the game, the player receives one new "power" in every world. These powers include the ability to hit enemies, to hover in the air, to change size, to dive, and to run up walls. After all these powers have been unlocked, a new set of worlds becomes available with levels that test the player's mastery of these powers in new and interesting ways. This keeps the game feeling fresh throughout. There are also some shoot-em-up levels in which Rayman hops onto a giant mosquito that can shoot bullets and suck in/spit out enemies. These levels are very well done and were some of my personal favorites. Finally, there are special challenges in which Rayman must chase down a fleeing treasure chest, which are alternately fun and frustrating.
There are many moments of platforming magic to be found in Rayman Origins, from performing a graceful underwater ballet with electrified jellyfish to leaping up a set of perpetually falling furniture. Some of the game's faster-moving segments feel a bit like a good Sonic game, with Rayman making split-second decisions as he sprints across dangerous terrain. It feels great to string together just the right combination of jumps and kicks to make it through the game's tougher segments. Rayman controls excellently, so deaths are almost always understandable and don't usually feel unfair. There are a few quirks; wall-running takes a bit of getting used to and there are a few platforms that are far too easy to overshoot. Overall, though, the player feels in control despite the challenge level, and that's where the magic happens.