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Writer: Steven Hansen
PS3 (reviewed), Vita, 360, PC, Wii
Released: Nov 15, 20l1 (PS3/360/Wii), Feb 15, 2012 (Vita)
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
I never got too into the Rayman series over the years, but when Rayman Origins caught my attention, looking that pretty, I had to take a peek. I also had to check and make sure that I still loved 2D platformers and that it isn’t just nostalgia that gives the genre its glister. Turns out, I do in fact still love 2D platformers. And I love Rayman Origins.
In Rayman Origins, some things definitely happen. Rayman, his goofy pal Globox, and friends are all chillin’ out in the Snoring Tree when their chill beats disturb an old, scary lady from down below, causing her to unleash a pox upon the world that Rayman (and company) must stop by saving sexy nymphs and doing other things. It may in fact be an origin story (as the name might imply), set in the beginning of the Rayman universe. Or it may not. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that it warms my soul.
When I first took control of my unfamiliar, limbless protagonist, I felt an innate satisfaction in simply maneuvering him around the environment. It was just like all of the great platformers in how empowering it was simply to jump, but Rayman has some modern contrivances that help elevate it, as it builds on the fundamentals of its predecessors.
Rayman Origins takes full advantage of Ubisoft’s in-house engine, UbiArt Framework, to make every pixel of art pop, but even more impressive is how it handles the game in motion. Rayman’s animations are all so vivacious that they bring him to live, and bring a stupid grin to my face. He does not face left or right and run or jump. He bounces, bounds, twirls, and somersaults his way through levels. The diving somersaults are manually done with a rotation on the stick or d-pad and even sometimes find gameplay purposes, like jumping through two upcoming hazards that have sandwiched you. I also have a strange love for the instances in which Rayman rests one hand against a wall, preparing for a wall jump, or merely sliding down.
Of course, these animations work in conjunction with a gorgeous art style. Just look at the screenshots! The vibrancy, range, and mix of colors are dizzying (especially in HD). On top of that, the levels, roughly broken down into subsections of six different themed worlds, are ingeniously unique and brimming with character. Most things have a face, including beans and sausages and citrus, and enemies (as well as Rayman, when hit) inflate and float up, like adorable balloons waiting to be popped, after being hit for the first time. The icy stages are some sort of revenge of the frozen cocktails and forgotten freezer items, as there are angry oranges (they have angry eyes) bouncing around trying to squash you, limes to bounce on, piranha-filled watermelon bodies of water, frozen fish, and cans of tuna. All the stages are out there, heartwarmingly personable, and exude personality.
The different levels themes also bring about new gameplay functions that keep the platforming and punching surprisingly varied. The second, sandy set, for example, introduces Rayman’s helicopter ears and places emphasis on gusts of wind and wind currents that Rayman can use to fly along for extended periods of time. From running on ceilings to changing sizes to occasionally hopping on the back of a mosquito that plays like a 2D sidescrolling shooter, Rayman does everything, and it’s glorious. The underwater levels also standout – and they do so because they’re wonderful, as opposed to so many other underwater levels in games.
In levels, Rayman is tasked with collected shiny little things called Lums and rescuing Electoons in addition to getting out alive. Most levels have three hidden areas where Electoons are being held prisoner, and a medallion keeps track of the Electoon emblems awarded for each level. An additional Electoon fills a spot in the medal for collecting enough Lums and for doing Time Trials. The total rescued Electoon count is kept in a running tally, as you need a certain number of them to access extra levels in which you chase a treasure chest through a perilous locale in order to gain a Skull Tooth.
Collecting 10 Skull Teeth grants you access to the Land of the Livid Dead, a bonus stage of sorts that is staggeringly challenging in its required precision and remarkably rewarding if you ever manage to clear to it. Rayman Origins has a surprising amount of content. And when you’re through with it, there’s still more to do for the perfectionists out there. I first played through all of the levels focusing on rescuing captive Electoons, exploring, and collecting, so when I went back and attempted the time trials, it was like playing an entirely different game, though I was playing levels I had already played before.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the music. Every track is great. The tracks are intrusively upbeat and will not leave your brain. Just listen to any of the tracks in the game and you’ll hear the concentrated whimsy and exuberance packed into them. From the main menu song and on, Rayman Origins makes your heart just as happy through your ear holes as it does through your eye holes and hands. Then there are little touches, like being able to control Rayman’s running silhouette during load times, or Rayman and a teensy having a disco dance party if you collect enough Lums in a level.
On top of all of this, Rayman Origins has four player co-op. It’s local only, but that’s the best sort of co-op. Lag-free (important in a platformer) and friends are within striking distance. There are almost 20 different skins to choose from, so people don’t get confused, and the attacks usually reserved for enemies are fully functional for giving your compatriots a bonk or two or three. I’ve only played the co-op once, with three other people (well, more, but controllers were passed around), and it’s just like the main game (wonderful), but even more hectic. Great fun.
I like standing up and dancing while playing this game. Not only is that a great cardio workout, but it’s a testament to just how happy this bubbly (literally!), whimsical game makes me (and now terrible of a dancer I am, but you don’t know that part unless you see it. Or I tell you). Rayman Origins is life-affirming and everyone needs it. It’s also one of the most finely crafted, prettiest platformers I have ever played.