Where it all began, begins again!
I think it’s safe to say that Michel Ancel’s prolific creativity has saved the “charming retro platformer” from a dreary future existence in the vaults of online DLC. Yes, the golden age of gaming has certainly gone but that’s not to say it has to be forgotten; Rayman Origins is living proof that charm, universal humour and old-school graphics can still compete with the high-end titles on the market. Usually a nod back to the nineties (which is essentially what Rayman Origins is) would be met with grunts and groans, but this love letter to old (and now undoubtedly new) fans reminds us all exactly why we fell in love with gaming in the first place…
The narrative is bare bones – but that’s not what you’re really here for with this game. This is a game about getting from A to B and having a bloody good time while you’re doing it. Rayman has always been the children’s equivalent of a hardcore stoner, sleeping on the job and gorging himself to death on munchies (who else remembers Rayman 2’s secret ending in which he lazily retires with a great deal of treasure; chilling as a fat slob on a Bahaman beach?) Rayman Origins is no exception; our hero begins the adventure by idly guzzling grapes, blissfully unaware that the pesky “Darktoons” are growing increasingly frustrated by the amount of noise Rayman and his pals are making. Eventually, they snap (it really is that bare bones) and unleash havoc upon the “Glade of Dreams” – which is essentially Rayman’s home hub. With the help of chubby funster Globox and the crafty, wizarding Teensies - Rayman sets off on a stunning adventure to restore peace to the glade!
Graphically the game is simply stunning and may seriously be the best looking 2D platformer we’ve seen this generation. Ubisoft developed an entirely new piece of software in order to accommodate Ancel’s artistic vision, called “UbiArt”, and boy did that development pay off! Players are treated to a sharp and vibrant visual feast, with colours literally glooping and sliding effortlessly across each map and each world. The wonderful care and attention that has gone into creating each character, environment and loading animation really sets Rayman Origins apart from similar titles, such as Castle Crashers. Little critters sometimes briefly pop up in the foreground (quite often just as mere silhouettes), yet it’s these additional touches which really make the bizarre and beautiful Rayman universe feel like a living, breathing cartoon-come-to-life.
The gameplay is split into roughly three segments: your standard side-scrolling platformer, your flight-shooter (in which you hop on the back of Rayman’s loveable mosquito and fire things out of its mouth whilst dodging enemies) and finally your “boss battles”. These are consistent and entertaining, grand in scale but small to execute. Whilst giant, deformed monsters may seem intimidating at first – you soon learn their cycles and patterns and eventually develop a sixth sense about what you need to do in order to defeat them. Boss’ traditionally tend to be extensions of whatever themed part of the world you’re in, i.e – under the sea you’ll fight a giant sea dragon, in the misty peaks you’ll fight a golem – usual fair. Another neat fact about the game is that often you’ll be jumping on platforms and punching little objects that are clearly inspired by other games in the Rayman series, or
indeed in Ubisoft’s back catalogue (I noticed a mock-up of Hillys inspired by Beyond Good and Evil and a cocktail realm inspired by Tonic Trouble). Nice little feature, good work Ubisoft!
Whilst there’s always a great deal of frenzied mayhem taking place at any one time (especially if you’re playing this on multiplayer) you rarely feel cheated or bewildered as the game itself is remarkably intuitive. Movement and execution flow perfectly, and rapid puzzles have equally rapid solutions. When you’re pulling off killer combos and landing enemies in specific traps, the feeling of satisfaction that strikes is fantastic. Despite all of this, the no “game over” policy always makes me feel a little lax in the way I approach the game. Sure, I appreciate being able to retry over and over again (because I die… I die a lot), but I never feel that I’m going to be severely punished for my errors. In fact, sometimes I found myself and my friend just allowed ourselves to be killed in order to go back and collect something we’ve previously missed. A minor gripe, but a gripe nonetheless.
My final issue (and it’s a biggy) is that Rayman Origins is a game that’s just crying out to be played online. Local multiplayer is all well and good, but when the specifics of multiplayer have already been designed and coded there seems to be little-to-no reason as to why Ubisoft wouldn’t complete the package by offering an online multiplayer. All I can imagine is that they witnessed how disruptive certain players can be and decided to not take the risk of having genuine fans frustrated by drop-in/drop-out jokers looking to spoil somebody’s game.
All in all, this is one impressive title! Due to the simplistic nature of the game, Rayman Origins has immediately fell in price – and whilst that’s a shame from the perspective of Ubisoft, it’s one massive gain for fans of wonderful, inventive platformers. Ancel gets another two big thumbs up from me; I’ve seriously had one hilariously wacky rollercoaster ride with this gem of a videogame.