Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier / Publisher: Ubisoft / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: Everyone 10+ [Comic Mischief, Mild Cartoon Violence, Suggestive Themes]
Some gamers crinkle their noses at modern takes on classic genres. Somehow, according to this strange mindset, a game concept that has been around for twenty years can be “dated” and thus “bad,” while modern takes on old ideas are classified as novelty and nothing else.
Rayman: Origins proves that’s a load of crap. It’s a basic platformer, sure, but it’s one of the best platformers ever made; a modern classic that deserves equal footing with Mario and Sonic. It’s really that good, and you owe it to yourself to play it if you profess reverence for the classics.
Origins adheres to the basics of platforming – you select stages from a world map and generally run from left to right to get to the exit alive. However, the level design and progression mechanics make Origins one of the most robust platforming experiences ever because you can play the game in very different ways. The game’s progression is metered through collection of small, pink, bipedal spheres called Electoons (yeah this is a weird game, but more on that later). You’re guaranteed one for clearing a stage, but other optional challenges in every stage give you opportunity to find more.
Some are unlocked by earning enough yellow spherical smiley guys named Lums (they’re different than the pink ones, obviously). These are basically the game’s coins, and collecting them in any level revolves around exploration and platforming skill. Avoiding hits and navigating dangerous areas with aplomb yield Lums that you could easily bypass if challenge isn’t your thing, but doing so is necessary to earn all the Electoons from a level. Some of these jumps get damn hard, positioning Lum-granting medals just out of reach or nestled in thorn-laced paths that require all the precision of Super Meat Boy to navigate.
Other Electoons are in self-contained challenge areas, the entrances to which are hidden in every level. Checking every corner and suspicious alcove in a level reminded me of probing levels for secret exits in Super Mario World, with the payoff just as rewarding. And, just in case I haven’t compared Origins to enough awesome platformers yet, it dips fully into Sonic the Hedgehog when attempting the speed challenges in every level. Platforms and enemies are distributed precisely to give you a flowing, fast path through any level if you have the reflexes and knowledge to travel it.
To cap it all off, there’s a healthy amount of content in the game as well. While I’m not sure exactly how much time I put in the game (mostly because I forgot to watch the clock), it definitely justifies retail price — especially if you want to put in the time for 100% completion.
You can concisely sum up Rayman: Origins’ multiplayer by saying it’s just like New Super Mario Bros. Wii. If you haven’t played it, the idea is novel: up to four players can run around on the screen simultaneously, and if one player dies, they inflate and float around the screen until another player “pops” them and returns them to play. Any advantage this gives you in terms of revival is balanced against the absolute mayhem of four players flying about the screen, slapping each other off of ledges for the hell of it. Like NSMBWii, four-player Rayman is a blast though disparities in skill tend to cause novice players to be left behind in stages and thus become discouraged.
While the structure of Origins is near perfect, the controls take adjustment. The basics are solid; jumping, dashing, and edge detection feel great. The game’s momentum is a little funky, though. Attacking in the air kills any velocity you have, which can be a little frustrating while you’re getting used to how the characters move in the air. I’ve stalled out and died in the middle of some jumps because of this. Additionally, I triggered wall jumps I didn’t intend because of how the game’s “float” works. Rather than jump and hold the button down to float, you have to hit jump twice. However, if you’re near a wall and you want to start floating, you’ll kick off of it instead, causing you to vault in the opposite direction. Nothing in the controls are necessarily broken, but they do take adjustment.
Just like Origins proves that classic platforming is still every bit as fun today as its ever been, it also proves that 2D visuals can still look amazing. Thanks to unfathomable artistic talent, the enemies, characters, and world of Rayman: Origins are more alive, expressive, and charming than almost every full 3D game I’ve played. It reminds me a lot of Earthworm Jim – levels are cobbled together from such unrestrained creativity that it somehow makes sense to fight chef dinosaurs armed with giant forks or run on giant slices of watermelon floating in the arctic ocean. You can’t see this game without smiling, and the first time you see the 2P character Globox grab a ledge with his upper jaw rather than his hands, you’ll be hooked.
Origins’ sound effects perfectly complement its visuals to create a theme of whimsy and fun. Enemies and characters only communicate in expressive grunts, while the game’s soundtrack is simultaneously unexpected and incredible. Composed by Christophe Héral, the same talent behind the stellar Beyond Good & Evil Soundtrack, the joyous and folksy tunes will stick in your head and refuse to come out. Twangy guitar, plucky banjos, and synthesized singing create a sense of fun and exploration that’s unrivaled in other soundtracks. Perhaps even more impressive, by the game’s end I was hearing the first thirty seconds to the same track for almost twenty minutes at a time due to difficult sections, and I’m not the least bit sick of the music.
Rayman: Origins is inventive, original, whimsical, and fun as shit. Excepting some minor control hiccups, it’s nearly the perfect platformer. If you think for one second that time has passed the platformer by, give Rayman: Origins a chance to prove you dead wrong, because it absolutely will.
9.5 / 10