I’m just going to get this out of the way up front – Rayman Origins is one of the finest platformers of this generation. The art direction, the music, the gameplay, the level design, the sheer variety, all add up to create an experience that should not be missed.
And yet, many people will miss this game. Most have likely never even heard of it, or are too busy playing this season’s other blockbusters to care. I’m here to help you see the error of your ways, because Rayman Origins is as deserving of your time as anything else.
The game begins with Rayman, his big, blue buddy, Globox, and their Teensy friends, all sleeping peacefully, but noisily, on the branches of the Snoring Tree. Their snoring awakens the denizens of the underworld, who show up to kidnap a bunch of fairy princesses as some sort of retribution. It’s up to Rayman and friends to rescue the fairies and send all the underworld monsters back where they came from.
While the story is not particularly engaging, and there is not a ton of exposition, what’s there is funny and charming. Characters all speak pig-latin, so if you’re familiar with everyone’s favorite elementary school dialect, it makes for some pretty amusing dialogue. It doesn’t hurt that every character is ridiculously charming in their design, making for a very whimsical cast.
That same, cartoonish charm permeates the entire game, not just the storyline. The things you’ll see scattered about the game’s 60+ levels will never fail to delight you. Whether it’s talking forks, ice-skating dragon waiters, or unpopped corn kernels that turn into popcorn platforms when they drop into lava, every inch of this game is practically overflowing with character.
Of course, a game can not live on charm alone, so it’s fortunate then that Rayman Origins plays extremely well to boot. Gameplay is strictly on a two-dimensional plane, and the controls are simple, tight, and responsive, ensuring that any error you make is your own. You’ll also slowly unlock abilities as you progress, such as floating, wall-running, and shrinking. You need to master them all to survive the game’s increasingly challenging, expertly designed levels.
Whether you’re sliding around on an icy landscape full of frozen fruits, swimming through an underwater labyrinth, darting between points of light to fend off swarms of insects, or flying through strong winds and falling debris, there is not a bad level in the entire bunch. My favorite levels, musically, design-wise, and gameplay-wise, had to be the handful of lava levels. They’re full of catchy, Spanish guitar tunes, the aforementioned dragon waiters (and chefs!) and popcorn, as well as rising cornbread, hanging chili peppers, jumping kidney beans, and bouncy sausages flopping happily in the deadly fires. It also doesn’t hurt that the fire and lava effects are some of the best in the entire game.
As you progress through each level, you’ll do as you’ve done in pretty much every Rayman game – collect Lums, little, yellow, winged orbs that are tallied into your final score. At the end of each level, you’ll smash open a cage full of Electoons – little, round, pink…things with blonde ponytails. You’ll also find cages full of them hidden away in most levels, and collecting them will allow you unlock Tricky Treasure Challenges and new characters to play as.
The Tricky Treasure Challenges are, as their name implies, incredibly tricky. You’re tasked with chasing a treasure chest through the level, and one simple mistake can lead to instant failure. Since there are no checkpoints in these levels, that means you’ll be starting all over in the likely event that you screw something up. As a result, these challenges require more than a little bit of trial and error to complete.
The boss fights, too, are challenging, pattern-based affairs. Whether you’re fighting off a giant song bird, running from a killer rose bush, or battling the bodily functions of a giant dragon, each fight requires a specific strategy to win. I only wish there were more of them, as the boss fights make up some of the game’s most fun, funny, and challenging moments.
It’s not just the bosses that are tough, though. The game is expertly paced and full of variety, starting off simple and easy, but approaching Super Meat Boy levels of difficulty in the final hours. You will die, but your deaths are always your own fault – the game is not cheap. Fortunately, you can offset this somewhat by inviting a friend or three to join you.
Rayman Origins is built for cooperative play. While it’s plenty of fun by yourself, the hijinks that ensue with multiple players makes it an even more enjoyable experience. You can drop in or out at any time, and players can use one another as platforms to reach secret objects, as well as punch each other up into the air or across gaps. Or you can just slap each other silly. Playing the game on Xbox 360, I found it odd that only player 1 actually gets achievements for progression when you’re playing locally, even if other players are signed in. A minor complaint, but worth mentioning just the same.
One thing you’ll notice about Rayman Origins right away is how beautiful it all looks and how great it all sounds. The game’s presentation is, in a word, masterful. I am a sucker for high-definition, 2D sprites, and in this regard, Rayman Origins is, perhaps, the best looking game I’ve ever laid eyes on. The colors are bright and crisp, the animations are smooth and comical, and it runs at 60 frames per second without a single hitch. The Ubi Art Framework engine is truly a marvel to behold – it’s like playing a Saturday morning cartoon.
Similarly, the game’s soundtrack is superb and packed with incredibly well-composed and catchy tunes. From the mellow ukuleles of World Map, to the didgeridoos of the Jibberish Jungle, to the singing Lums of a mosquito level, you will find yourself humming the game’s tunes. There really isn’t a bad song in the entire game and every level is made more enjoyable thanks to the excellent soundtrack.
That isn’t to say there are no problems with Rayman Origins. Ubisoft has made several costly errors with the game, first and foremost – price. Rayman Origins was originally intended as a downloadable title, likely in the $15-$20 range. Somewhere along the line, that plan was scrapped in favor of a retail release – a fully priced retail release. The issue is that the game is simply too short to justify a $60 price tag. There are no extra modes to play when you finish the story, and the only incentive to go back and collect all the Electoons, is just to unlock new character skins. Ubisoft would have been smart to follow Sega’s lead and released the game at a discount, just like the similarly short-but-sweet Sonic Generations.
The other mistakes here have less to do with the actual game, and more to do with the way it’s been marketed. That is to say, there has been effectively none of it. I haven’t seen a single commercial, online ad or even print ad for Rayman Origins. Ubisoft threw the game to the wolves and left it to die in the shadow of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, a game they’ve advertised quite heavily. When it comes time to look at sales numbers, they’re going to wonder why no one bothered to play this beautiful little masterpiece of a game. It’s the same thing that happened to Beyond Good and Evil. Ubisoft clearly doesn’t know when it’s got something special on its hands.
You shouldn’t allow Ubisoft’s lack of faith disturb you, though. Rayman Origins is very much worth your time, as difficult as that may be during this crowded, pre-holiday release season. It would truly be a shame to let it fade into obscurity, because even though it could have been longer and/or cost less, what’s here is uniformly excellent. Rayman games have always been good, great even, but Rayman Origins stands above them all. Don’t miss out on this fantastic platformer – you will regret it.
Rayman Origins was released on November 15th, 2011 for Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii. Review is based on the Xbox 360 version.