Rayman Origins review
- Rayman Origins
Made2Game Rayman Origins review score: 9/10
Formats: Xbox 360, PS3, Nintendo Wii
Format Reviewed: Xbox 360
Developer: UbiSoft Montpellier
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. This statement is never more applicable than to the medium of games, where ideas are shared and riffed on daily. And Rayman's creator, Michel Ancel, is one of the sincerest flatterers working in the games industry today.
The original Rayman, released in 1995 on PS1, owed much to its 'style before substance' platforming peers such as Earthworm Jim and Ristar, while Ancel's other most notable work, Beyond Good & Evil, was, for all it's sci fi trappings, clearly The Legend of Zelda with a spot of intense conspiracy-busting photojournalism added in for good measure.
Rayman Origins continues Ancel's brand of reverent idea-plundering by copying most of New Super Mario Bros Wii's concepts wholesale, from the four-player co-op slant and wide angle camera to the way a player becomes a bubble on death. Rayman has even gained a wall jump and butt-stomp equivalent to bolster his growing list of similarities to the moustache man.
Rayman Origins isn't adverse to some into/out of the screen trickery.
But it's not just Nintendo's portly plumber that Rayman Origins has been snatching ideas from. Flying sections appear from time to time and see Ancel's hero clutching the back of a wide eyed, projectile spitting Mosquito. These turbulent sections owe more than a crumb to R-type or, say, the magic carpet section of quality SNES movie tie-in Aladdin with their up and down, left to right bullet-dodging and baddie-zapping thrills.
Elsewhere, Rayman is required to get wet and while most platformers slow the pace under the waves, Rayman Origins' swimming feels more similar to SEGA's odd mammal vs. Aliens plat-swimmer Ecco the Dolphin. Rayman slices through the water with an accurate agility more akin to a homing torpedo than Mario's buoyant bobs, making these marine excursions genuinely entertaining asides instead of sluggish distractions, meaning that Rayman Origins effortlessly sidesteps one of the genre's usual pratfalls.
Yet to talk about Rayman Origins purely in this comparative manner is to be completely ignorant to its numerous unique merits. This is where Rayman Origins truly starts to shine...
Pretty as a Picture
Visual art is the first element of Rayman Origins that grabs you by the sight orbs and refuses to let go. The game is, quite simply, arrestingly gorgeous.
Completely hand drawn - from shrubs to enemies to iggle collectable lums to mahoosive screen filling Titans - every component of Rayman's oddball fantasy landscape is deliciously animated right down to the tiniest detail. This visual quality means that while the locations effectively walk the typical genre trails - you travel from glowing magic forest to musical desert to lava spewing food factory - they manage to feel surprisingly unique. Rayman Origins ice levels are arguably some of the finest slipperly stages in a 2D platformer ever.
Indeed, the Python-esque oddities and locations on display in Rayman Origins create a compelling argument for the use of hand drawn sprites over the occasionally sterile modelled art we see in 99% of modern games, much in the same way 2009's The Princess and the Frog reminded us about the magic of classic Disney animation versus the now overpopulated CGI factory line.
Globox, the big blue chap, is responsible for a lot of visual comedy. Take him into one of the SHMUP levels...
The second part of Rayman Origins' presentation that slaps you with its odd Digaridoo bass warble is its completely off kilter audio design. Rayman Origins sports an eclectic range of truly unique music. The soundtrack flits between tracks emphasising muted brass, twang-a-licious banjo and country violin to odd compositions that mix tribal beats, steel drums and glockenspiel with admirably confident ease. Its use of childish vocals over bombastic orchestral numbers is equally smile-raising in its pure playfulness.
Rayman Origins' combination of audio and visual aspects all come together to present a game that is, quite simply, artistically sumptuous.
But what good would outstanding art be if the video game it was dressing up wasn't much cop? A moving painting most likely, but that's not something we need to consider, because Rayman Origins is an absolute joy to play. This is primarily because Rayman himself embodies an almost Donkey Kong Jungle Beat/Prince of Persia style nimbleness - a wonderful improvement given Rayman 1995's comparatively plodding pace.
The key is to hold the trigger and set the limbless loony into a sprint. Now gawp as Rayman bounds through the undergrowth with the stamina of a rhino, wall jumps with the style of a gymnast, slides down ziplines like a greased up chimp and leaps with impressive, almost uncharacteristic precision. Likely with a huge, grotesquely gorgeous demon snapping at his trainer heels. Pure platforming perfection.
While much of Rayman Origins is a charming surprise, how you get from A to B is far more standard, arguably formulaic, and owes much to last year's Donkey Kong Country Returns. You play level-by-level as you'd expect but as you platform you must take the time to free Electoons, small bug eyed magical stress balls which are the currency that will lead you to ultimate success.
This is what happens if you're voted off of Rayman's version of X-Factor. Brutal.
Each level in Rayman Origins grants one Electoon for simply completing it, some are hidden away in dark corners of stages, while the trickiest require you to beat time and score trials in the levels that support them. Find enough Electoons and you may advance, while going above and beyond the basic requirements will let you access the hardest trials in the game. Rayman's main difference, and a throwback to his 1995 debut, is that each world adds a new move into your character's arsenal - such as a way to temper your fall or the ability to shrink through small gaps, which simultaneously complicates future levels and makes Rayman an even more entertaining chap to steer around.
And Rayman Origins gets hard - genuinely, pad-bustingly tricky - especially in the optional challenge levels. But it is gracefully modern in its design – an absence of an archaic lives system and regular checkpoints keep the challenge feeling approachable.
Yet seen-it-before progression and an often tricky degree of challenge mean nothing when the 2D platformer in front of you is so bright-faced and enjoyable. Rayman Origins is a 2D platformer that lets you control a character with the versatility of Mario and the agility of Sonic. Rayman Origins is a 2D platformer that has levels brimming with secrets and sparkle that make New Super Mario Bros' seem lifeless in comparison. Rayman Origins is a 2D platformer with levels tooled and tinkered for enemy bopping, time trial show off finesse that make Sonic Generations bumbling roller coasters seem amateurish by association.
It took 14 years after the SNES had sung its last for Donkey Kong Country Returns to raise the bar for 2D platformers in 2010. Rayman Origins has arguably already stolen that title barely a year later.
So while Rayman mimics most of its contemporaries (and parents and ancestors), it is much like the best imitators - the Lloyd Webbers and George Lucas' of our world – in that it effortlessly shakes the cocoon of comparison and emerges an unmistakably unique butterfly; a beautiful sight for those brave enough and clever enough to play it. Games this pure and exquisitely tailored are like a perfect soufflé - they don't come along that often. Don't miss it while it's here.
Words by James Bowden (Twitter: @Dalagonash)
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