Rayman Origins Review

I have a personal policy where I like to revisit any game that I consider to be among my all time favorites once every few years.  This is my way of ensuring that they are still quality titles that deserve to be placed so highly in my mind, help reinvigorate my affection towards certain titles, and allow me to more closely understand what makes these games so gosh darn good.  Rayman Origins is the latest entry in this series of never ending exploits, and it’s still pretty wonderful.

Rayman Origins Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, 3DS, PS Vita
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
Publisher: Ubisoft

Rayman Origins was originally developed as an episodic downloadable title that, as the name implies, would detail the origins of Rayman and his companion Globox as they go through a co-op driven 2D platformer adventure that was to harken back to the series’ roots.  But at some point everything about that was discarded, as the actual storyline of Rayman Origins goes like this:  

Rayman and his buddies are chilling out on a tree, and their snoring frustrates a bunch of underground granny skeletons who get mighty chuffed and decide to cause a ruckus that Rayman and or his buddies need to fix by finding five buxom nymphs and taming five spirit animals who exist because shut up.  It’s disposable and does not make much sense, but in an almost endearing manner that doesn’t get in the way of what this game is, and that is one of the finest 2D platformers I have ever played.

Such a lofty claim naturally needs a lot of evidence to back it up, and Rayman Origins simply delivers on all fronts, despite being rather simple on the surface.  Characters need to traverse the stage by running, jumping, and attacking through obstacles, collect the shiny yellow collectibles, known as lums, and find a few secrets hidden away in some stages, called electoons.  The world is built around traditional archetypes of forest, desert, water, and a hybrid ice and fire areas, while the core design never feels to deviate too much from various genre conventions, and instead focuses on refining them.

Characters control intuitively and fluidly with their every move, and despite appearing to be rather basic in their capabilities early on, there is a sizable amount of subtlety and precision in their movements that becomes apparent to the player during later levels, when playable characters need to be understood fully, which is an easier task than it sounds.  Stages are built well in the sense that they allow for skilled players to breeze through them with a level of grace as one section flows nicely to the other.  All while fairly easy to spot secrets liter the linear path of each stage.  In addition to this, each stage contains enough unique traits to make them all feel memorable in their own right. 

This can be further seen in the stages that deviate from the standard action platformer affair.  Some stages take the form of side scrolling shooting segments where characters get on spit firing and hazard inhaling mosquitos through an admittedly slow paced 2D shooter that I found to be far more enjoyable than it may sound.  A series of runner levels that require pinpoint accuracy and precision as the player needs to rapidly chase down a treasure chest through and often collapsing environment.  Celebratory levels without any enemies where the player must master their ability to rapidly collect lums in order to receive bonuses.  Along with a collection of boss levels that further test player skill and memorization as they must fight massive and powerful enemies.

All of these gel into a smooth and joyful adventure that manages to maintain its variety throughout, while also be surprisingly difficult.  With some of the later levels requiring a notably high level of precision and ideal timing if the player wants to make it through them successfully.  However, the game never truly feels overbearing or oppressive with its challenge, or even discouraging.  Due both to the graspable nature of the levels, as it is often quite clear what must be done to advance and how to do it, along with how this game treats failure.  

The character dies, bubbles up, pops, screen goes black for two seconds, and bam, the player character is sent back to the beginning of the room or last checkpoint, no worse for wear, with everything they previously collected, including their hit-taking heart.  There is no penalty, no punishment, no meaningful stop between gameplay for the player to feel frustrated or annoyed at their actions.  If this game handled difficulty using the standard platformer convention of lives, then I would simply not be singing its praises.  Which would be a shame given how I think the level design is great regardless of its challenge, and how beautiful this game is.  

The 2D character models, while simple in their shading, are well designed and expressive, featuring a pleasant amount of variation with their animations.  While the  backgrounds feature far more detail, occasionally being stunning in their beauty and detail, and never contrasting with the flatly shaded characters, as they are both unified by a whimsical and off kilter design sensibility.  This is further complimented by a soundtrack that sets the tone of this adventure and further establishing the game’s more playful personality, even if some specific tracks can be fairly serious.

That all being said, there are a few gripes I have about the game, most of them being minor and petty things.  The physics behind running, jumping, and objects are pretty tight throughout the game, but in a few select instances during harder sections, they seemed to behave in an unpredicted way that determined my success and failure, contributing to their difficulty in an unwanted way and requiring very specific timing to circumvent.  The three basic character types of Rayman, Globox, and Teensie all have slightly different mechanics and hitboxes, which can result in very specific sections being harder or easier than others.  Or at least it felt that way.

There is one section in the final bonus level that requires the characters to slide, a mechanic otherwise never required up to that point.  Getting gold medals, a reward for collecting a certain number of lums, in the later mosquito shooter stages with one player can be very difficult due to their design, though the medals are admittedly pointless.  The decision to have characters unlock the ability to attack, glide, change size, swim, and wall run during the first half of the game is questionable, as it would not be hard to implement all of these mechanics early on.  The credits are stupidly long and slow, because Ubisoft.  Oh, and there is no way to speed up the after level results screen in the PC version, which, along with heavily compressed cutscenes, make this otherwise rock solid version of the game slightly worse than others.

Rayman Origins is still one of the greatest platformers I have ever played, and retains a spot amongst my favorite games.  The ingenuity behind the level design and rock solid mechanics make for an already enjoyable game, but the creativity behind their designs, general oddball aesthetic, and wonderful approach to difficulty is what really makes Origins stand out to me.  It is an example of pure platforming bliss, and I’ll likely revisit it every few years just to remind me of that.  

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