Slide to the side, Mario; Rayman just got a piece of your throne
There are many reasons for which the Wii, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360 generation might be remembered down the line: high definition graphics, the growing significance of online play, and the advent of motion controls. By digging a little deeper, though, it is possible to notice that, on the software side of things and in the midst of an arms race towards ever more realistic graphics, that gaming era saw the rebirth of 2-D platformers as a mainstream genre.
It was a movement that started in the technically limited realm of downloadable games, moved into the Nintendo Wii, and squeezed itself into the HD twins. With Rayman Origins, the widespread sidescrolling fever gained even more force, because in the midst of Mario going back to his roots with New Super Mario Bros.; Donkey Kong reappearing in great shape on Donkey Kong Country Returns; Kirby reaching his cutest level on Kirby’s Epic Yarn; and indie developers being more artsy and creative than ever; Rayman managed to outdo them all.
With this multiplatform release, the limbless hero was crowned the 2-D platforming king of all of that generation’s systems, achieving what is gaming’s version of the unification of a boxing belt.
The first thing players will notice about Rayman Origins is its immature nature, but that is by no means a negative statement. Rayman Origins is not immature like that young cousin of yours who cries whenever he loses a videogame match; it is immature like a Saturday morning cartoon from the 90s. It is silly and wacky without worrying about consequences or impressions. It will not hesitate in throwing a one-ton anvil on its dearest friend’s head, and, after that, proceed to put an arm around him and laugh it off into the sunset.
The insanity is not restricted to its bright colorful vivid visuals, it is in how the characters move, how they act after clearing a stage, how music seems to pour into the stage design, and how even the mightiest fire blowing monsters have a “let’s go out there and have some fun while slaying a huge angry beast” vibe to them. Rayman Origins is one extravagant party wrapped into platforming goodness.
Like all good Saturday morning cartoons, our beloved heroes get in big trouble quickly and by accident. Rayman, Globox and two Teensies (the four playable characters in this adventure) are relaxing in the friendly Glade of Dreams when their symphony of breathing and snoring gets broadcasted through the inside of a hollow tree into the underground world where a bitter old lady – maddened by their constant loudness – unleashes an army of devilish underground beings into the once peaceful world. With chaos established, Rayman has to go out there beat down some foes and release his friends from cages hidden within the game’s stages.
True to its insane humor, there is a lot of variety to be found in Rayman Origins, and it all starts with its unique worlds. Sure, one will find the traditional jungle, the dark underwater caves and the sunny shore, but due to the game’s artistic personality, players will never feel like they are being dragged through more-of-the-same platforming scenarios; on the contrary, the colors, lights and lines of the background will more often than not wow even the most experienced gamers.
However, it is not rare to see Rayman Origins step out of the ordinary and venture into new territory with a world centered around musical instruments in the sky, a fiery kitchen filled with pepper and fire-breathing chefs and a factory with delirious machines. There is no shortage of amusement.
Rayman Origins is accessible and, at the same time, it achieves a great degree of challenge. That balance is struck thanks to the alluring Lums, which – aside from the big clueless smile they carry – look pretty much like the fairies from the Zelda series. Each stage has about 400 of them to collect, and depending on the amount of Lums Rayman has by the end of the stage, he will be awarded a certain quantity of pink smiley medals that unlock secret stages.
Ignoring the Lums means stages will be cleared fairly quickly and relatively easily, even if it is done with a certain degree of trouble due to enemies and obstacles. However, attempting to collect as many Lums as possible during a run through a stage will lead to a lot of deaths, because getting all of them requires speed, ridiculously precise jumps, and amazing skills. As worlds go by, the intensity with which those qualities are needed gets higher.
That constant progression in challenge is closely tied to how Rayman Origins’ gameplay is invariably moving forward and how there is an ever-present feeling that – with every passing second – the game is getting better; Rayman Origins is constantly renewing and reinventing itself. The character starts with the abilities to jump and hit enemies as his sole weapons; even the signature helicopter move is initially absent. However, as each world begins, Rayman releases a fairy that teaches him a new skill – such as swimming, using funnels to grow smaller or bigger, and running on walls.
Consequently, each set of levels focuses on one of those abilities, and – with the support of other previously learned skills – as worlds progress, the way in which the stages are designed changes radically due to the new unlocked possibilities. As a consequence, not only does the game slap players on the face with glorious scenarios as the story progresses, but it also throws new designs on the screen with amazing consistency. All moves, being critical to achieve success in collecting a good amount of Lums, work wonderfully and are very responsive, and the controls are as tight as the room for error found in the hardest parts of the game.
Rayman Origins’ challenge reaches its pinnacle on its ten secret stages, where players must chase a fearful treasure chest through obstacles, tumbling scenarios, and jumps that demand fine accuracy. Everything is done with no checkpoints and without being able to acquire extra hearts, turning the whole stage into a one-hit KO machine that forces players to go as fast as possible because of their collapsing structure. It is as tough as nails, and more rewarding than pretty much all gaming experiences out there.
In spite of its challenge, Rayman Origins never really gets frustrating, because – due to the abundance of checkpoints – the stages are divided into small segments, making them feel like a series of wacky obstacle courses. Therefore, significant progress is never lost when players try a radical maneuver to catch a trickily placed 25-Lum coin. Even though gathering Lums is optional, the game warmly invites players into the challenge, and the invitation is hard to decline.
As the curtain closes, most players will come to very same conclusion: Rayman Origins is the best 2-D platformer of its generation. It lands in Kirby’s Epic Yarn territory with its stunning art, it pulls off old-school moments that had only been achieved by New Super Mario Bros Wii, it holds as many level design surprises as Donkey Kong Country Returns, it features puzzle elements absent from those titles, and it manages to be more challenging than all of them. The fact that it features the option to play with another 3 friends works as the icing on the cake.
Rayman Origins is beautiful, features a good soundtrack that ranges from catchy to gorgeous, has over fifteen hours of gameplay, tons of extras, ten worlds, many bosses, stages that play like space-shooting arcade games, and much more, all packed into one hard-to-surpass package of platforming goodness. It is absolutely glorious.