By Matt Gosper
GAME NAME: Rayman Origins
PLATFORM(S): PS3, Wii, Xbox 360
RELEASE DATE(S): 24 November 2011
I remember playing Rayman 2 on not one, not two, but THREE completely separate gaming systems. I enjoyed it every time for its quirky character design, strong platforming gameplay and that odd choice of typeface that pervaded the entire game. Six years after the last true Rayman title, a proper successor has now arrived in Rayman Origins. With up to four-person multiplayer, it definitely leaves a strong, fresh impression to new and old players alike.
I cannot say anything else about this game until I’ve talked about the art. This game. Is. GORGEOUS. Built using nothing but layered 2D vector graphics, Origins is what every "cel-shaded" game created wishes it could be. Ubisoft built an entirely new in-house game engine, the UbiArt Framework, to run the game – allowing the artwork to be stretched, blown up or shrunk with no distortion or quality loss – all while running up to full 1080p at 60 frames per second. There’s no disconnect between the characters and enemies and their environments; it all meshes seamlessly. The animation quality is emotive, organic and smooth as silk. The level of expressiveness and life in every character goes to show that this is exactly what Michel Ancel and his team always wanted Rayman to be. I'll bet that if you went back to the concept art of Rayman games over the years, you’d find it very similar to what you're seeing now in Origins.
Levels are split into themed groups, including your standard ice-and-fire zones, plus some more creative options like "Gourmand Land", a culinary-themed set of levels that look great. The accompanying sound design is also rich, with distinctly different soundtracks from level to level, and clear sound effects for character actions that won’t fade into the background. Little touches like an audience going ‘Oooooh!’ when you find a secret area or little acoustic music stings when you receive a Lum-collecting multiplier power-up make this game feel really fun.
Gameplay itself feels very old-school. By default, Rayman and his opponents live by a one-hit KO mantra, inflating and popping if they are so much as tapped by someone who dislikes them. Heart shields can be found throughout each level that give you one hit’s worth of insulation from this 'bubbilizing’ fate, but you’re still likely to die a lot. Luckily, there is no ‘life’ system in Origins, meaning you can restart a level as many times as needed until successful. If you are playing with friends, they can simply deflate you and bring you back into the game with a well-placed slap; checkpoints become meaningless if one person can stay alive at a time. This restrictive health system is all well and good when playing with multiple people – it’s downright fun to try and save your friends from their helium-filled future before you suffer the same fate – but when playing alone it’s extremely frustrating. Rayman Origins’ platforming can be very unforgiving at times (especially the "Tricky Treasure" race levels), so having to return to a checkpoint for every minor slip-up can quickly become aggravating. I can’t recommend enough that you find other people to join you for this game as it’s clearly the best way to play.
Origins’ overall length is very satisfying; when I initially thought I was approaching the endgame it turned out I was only at the halfway mark. Boss fights don’t even enter the picture until this point, but I can’t say I noticed this specifically. When they do arrive it’s mostly a case of ‘memorise the pattern, then attack’ as you will very quickly be headed back to the start of the fight if you don’t already know when they will zig or zag. Once memorised, the boss fights are actually fairly short and sweet, which helps in making sure the memorisation portion feels worthwhile and rewarding. Again, this shows through as a callback to the old-school, arcade-y nature of the game in general.
As a departure from the normal platforming fare available to modern gamers, I can’t recommend Rayman Origins enough. The overall design and humour of the game are brilliantly executed and there’s nothing out there right now that really rivals it. It was clearly a rewarding factor for this game’s development; it was shifted from DLC title to full retail release. It shines as a party or family game, and although it does suffer from the occasional difficulty spike, Origins is a great title worthy of a place in any console’s disc tray.