Rayman is an irritant. No, really – the entire concept behind why he and his friends have to battle the invading Darktoon army is because the unlimbed berk is a noisy neighbour, incapable of heeding the call for he and his chums to just shut up. But then, if they had kept schtum, we wouldn’t have been able to play through this engaging and utterly beautiful platformer. So thanks for being a berk then, Rayman.
Origins is a platformer in the classic sense, lacking almost entirely in gimmicks and resorting to well-implemented – if not exactly unique – mechanics. You will begin the game underpowered, without even the ability to attack, but as the game progresses you will unlock new abilities. Punches and kicks, swimming, gliding, shrinking and running up walls are these very powers, unlocked through the first half of the game and introduced in a way that is never overwhelming and always encourages the player to go back to previous levels and see what they can do with their new talents.
And what can be done with these abilities? It’s traditional run-and-jump fare with a few twists and some fine level design to keep things feeling fresh. Admittedly it’s not going to have people jumping for joy at how utterly unique it is like, say, Mario Galaxy – but it is creative with the elements it uses. While initially undemanding and rather simple – Michel Ancel and his team at Ubisoft Montpellier wanted to make a more accessible title than earlier, more difficult Rayman games – it soon develops into a marathon of split-second acrobatic button presses as you try to keep up with everything thrown your way. It’s rare that things feel unfair, and even though there will be times where death comes frequently, it’s always possible to overcome with that bit more care and patience.
It’s in the extras, though, where things get really very challenging. Replay levels and you are shown a par time to beat – do so and be rewarded a trophy. As with the main game these start out simple enough, but halfway into the 60 levels you will have to be near superhuman – or just have a very good memory – to be successful. Similarly the treasure chest chases require dexterity, good reactions and decent memory skills to succeed. And it’s so very addictive.
There are five different settings for levels in Origins, and each world follows a pattern – a few standard levels, a shoot-’em-up that sees Rayman riding on the back of a mosquito, a bonus level and sometimes a boss fight. It can get a bit samey to play through and see the same routine each time, but there are enough rewards and enough temptation to want to see what’s coming next that you will press on regardless.
Obviously it’s not the sort of thing you want to focus too much on – we’re not superficial here, of course – but Rayman Origins is a looker. The UbiArt Framework used to create the game’s visuals is something we want to see used a lot more in future if it’s capable of helping to make things look like this. Origins has the sort of adorably cute good looks that will melt the coldest of hearts and enough character – be it through the wonderful animations or the goofy design ethos behind everything – to bring an equally goofy smile to anyone that plays it. There are good looks, then there are good looks that bring something, that add something to the experience. This is very much in the latter camp, and the fact Origins runs at 1080p and 60 frames per second is just the icing on this particular graphical cake.
One of the main draws of Origins is the four-player drop-in/drop-out co-op mode, where players can take control of four main characters or the dozen or so unlockable ones (this also applies to single-player, actually). Here things get a bit more chaotic than in single-player, for obvious reasons, but the game does a good job of helping everyone keep track of what on earth is going on. It can become confusing, even a little annoying at times, especially when playing with someone who insists on pushing forward as fast as possible, but it’s rarely anything other than a good laugh. While it isn’t a case of having to help each other make big jumps or solve puzzles together – it’s more just the standard game with more people playing – it is fun and a nice little extra to the package. Plus you can slap each other, which is always funny.
Of course, there are things that hold Origins back – it doesn’t bring much at all new to the table and can feel derivative at times, even old. Also, while rarely unfair as such, that doesn’t stop it from being frustrating at times – and the shooter sections, while fun, do feel a bit overplayed. Just look at Globox’s face when he runs, though, and all is forgiven. Almost.
It could be easy for some to write off Rayman Origins as a case of publisher greed – opting to release something intended as a digital-only release for full price in shops around the world. But playing the game you soon realise this absolutely isn’t the case. It isn’t cheeky, or greedy or even slightly cynical: it’s a very, very good game with a lot to do, an addictive nature that will keep you playing, a fun cooperative mode and some of the most beautiful artwork we’ve ever seen in a game. Rayman Origins is a very welcome addition to the world of gaming and it’s great to see Michel Ancel on form once more.