Beautiful, picturesque, genius; three words that best describe Ubisoft’s latest addition to the failing Rayman franchise, Rayman Origins. Origins is the first ‘true’ Rayman title in many years, and with new French developers Ubisoft Montpellier at the helm, a new direction for the classic character.
With Rayman’s absence from the modern market for over five years, the character, and his once renowned games have lost their relevance. But Origins undoubtedly puts Rayman back on the scene with one of the best platforming games I’ve played in years.
Origins has no story. It barely even introduces the game. It does however introduce the characters; vaguely. But, though it may seem like a poor, corner-cutting tactic, it’s actually incredibly intuitive of the developers. Origins’ story is told through its characters, and its characters don’t tell a story. Yourself, the player, creates their own story, interprets their own course of events from the character’s speechless actions. Rescuing Nymphs (including the original, head Nymph: Betilla) is the foundation, but beyond that, it can be whatever you want it to, which is why it’s so unique.
Starting the game, you’re shown a brief, musical introduction that shows all of the characters relaxing, and enjoying ‘laying about’, basically what Rayman has been doing for the past five-plus years; perhaps a subliminal insult from the new developers. Obviously there’s Rayman, then Globox, the blue trap-mouthed monster first introduced in Rayman 2, and two Royal Teensies, the small mage-like creatures also introduced in Rayman 2. These are the four playable characters in the game. In singleplayer, you can choose between either of the four characters and their unlockable costumes, as is the same for co-op, with no two people being able to choose the same. Each of the four characters all use the same ‘moveset’ of sprinting, jumping, and attacking, but they all have vastly different animations. The actions have been tailored to each one: Rayman’s floating fists, Globox’s enlarging hands, and the Teensie’s spell casting. Ubisoft’s attention to detail shines bright through these small touches.
Alongside the feature characters, memorable faces have also been pulled in from across Rayman’s history. Enemies including green skinned poachers, and maniacal hunters from the original game are all prominent main enemies, and some sections of the game feature ‘Moskito’, another of the original game’s most memorable creations. Origins has brought together only the most loved components from previous titles, to create one of the biggest gestures of fan service possible.
Do not, however, think for one moment that Origins is a collaboration of recycled and retextured content, it has its own, carefully thought out additions that perfectly slot in with the universe. One of the most apparent is the new inclusion of bosses. Of the five starting worlds, there are five bosses, one per world. The world’s all end with a boss, and instead of being a fight which changes up the gameplay entirely (see Deus Ex: Human Revolution), they’re actually merged into the platforming style. There’s ones where you’ll be running, swimming, and flying away, and others where you’ll be attacking the boss whilst also moving away from it and avoiding enemies. They start simple, but gradually get more challenging, and thus, more interesting. Not many platforming games have bosses integrated well into the gameplay like Origins, and so it excels in yet another respect.
Its vastly varying worlds only seek to back this up. All five of starting worlds stick to an individual, highly creative theme, none similar to the other. Jungles, singing deserts, and tribal villages are just some of the themes featured. Standard, expected environments, yes, but Origins pumps them full of life and vibrancy, all with unique gameplay twangs to even further diversify them. It’s not just the style that makes the levels so great, they’re actually well made and thoroughly enjoyable too. Although they’re reasonably short, it’s clear that each stage has been well thought out and planned just for the game. All of the many stages flow seamlessly, you could sprint cleanly through without making a mistake, and without getting hindered by a misshapen or misplaced ledge. They’re immensely polished, not falling into the trap of making stages appear ‘rushed’ like so many modern platforming games.
At its heart, Origins is a simplistic, sidescrolling, 2D platformer, but subtle touches give it depth and originality. The aim, as with many games of this genre, is to complete each level to the best of your ability collecting as much as you can and completing all of the various puzzles, and side-puzzles you encounter. Origins spruces up this occasionally monotonous routine by giving it the famous Rayman theme. ‘Lums’ have been around since the second Rayman game, and they are to Origins as rings are to Sonic, and as coins are to Mario. The ‘currency’ or score if you like. But rather than being a still, lifeless sprite that you simply grab, Lums are moving, dancing, singing creatures, brought to life with creativity. Most are easy to get a hold of, but some move along paths, and rotate around, so they actually can pose a challenge to the player. Getting these is the key to getting two of the seven Electoons on each level, which in standard Rayman fashion, fill up a medal, so it actually makes sense to collect them, unlike many platformers.
Alongside the plain Lums, there are a few other ways to build up your score in each level. King Lums double Lum value for a few seconds, as well as turning them a red colour, giving them an ecstatic expression, and making them manically dance. Timing the King Lums with Lum collection can be the difference between getting, or losing an Electoon on a level, creating a small element of tacticality. The other major collectable is giant coins. Once collected, they give a worthy bonus of 25 Lums, but are often hidden amongst a major hazard, or smaller puzzle. These coins add a larger element of tacticality, and force the player to take a risk, or lose out. Risk like this isn’t often posed in this way in platformers, and so Origins does a great job of implementing this small, yet subtly impactful gameplay touch.
Admittedly, constant platforming can sometimes become a little repetitive, especially when your aim is the same for each stage. Origins manages to keep its gameplay constantly fresh, and prevents it from ever getting ‘boring’. Mixed in with the stages within each world are ‘Chest Chases’, unlocked after so many Electoons are gained. In these sections, you have to chase down a living chest, which holds one of the game’s collectables ‘Skull Teeth’. The chest rapidly sprints away from you, and the aim is to chase it down whilst avoiding countless obstacles that appear, fall down, and challenge the player. These are perhaps the harder sections of the game, requiring quick, yet still well thought out reactions. So expect many restarts and retries. Collecting all of the ten Skull Teeth unlocks a secret level in the game; a secret level which is without a doubt one of the most mentally challenging and fast past stages of any platforming game I’ve ever played. Although shorter than most average stages, it took me over an hour to full complete, with my frustration gradually mounting making it all the more difficult.
Other varied sections include mounting ‘Moskito’, back from the original game, and amazingly styled in Origins’ cartoon goodness. These sections transform the game from a platformer into a twist on the ‘Shoot-em-up’ genre. Sidescrolling, shooting, dodging. These miniature sections, though not too prominent, break up the platforming gameplay of Origins, maintaining its brilliance without ever getting tedious or monotonous.
Originally, Ubisoft Montpelier had planned Rayman Origins as a downloadable title for both XBLA and PSN. Unfortunately, that becomes quite visible as you play through the game. It’s almost possible to see the divide between the planned content, and the added content when the change was implemented. Once you’ve completed what you thought was the entirety of the story plot, there’s a big twist in the narrative that makes the game almost double in size. This twist feels forcefully included. It doesn’t exactly pair well with the plot, and the story, which was already lacking, becomes even more vague and diluted. It’s not all bad, though. Luckily, Origins doesn’t need to rely on narrative to be successful, and what it lacks in this department, it more than makes up for in scale and quality.
Content wise, Raman Origins is jam packed full of everything you could want. The base story, from beginning to end, takes around 12 hours to complete. Seriously expansive for an average platformer. The 12 hours, as mentioned, is just for the main section of the game, you will be revisiting many of the stages to get those missed Electoons. Origins create an irrational level of addiction, and its replayability is unending.
Now, how could I write a Rayman Origins review without discussing its incredible art style? Origins is one of the most visually gorgeous games I’ve played of recent times. It uses the newly developed ‘Ubi Art’ framework which makes it appear as a moving cartoon. Every tiny little sprite is clearly hand drawn, and exquisitely so. Coupled with over-the-top, hilarious animations, Origins, if played so, actually manages to rival modern cartoons. Something I could never have anticipated with a videogame. It’s a delight to watch the game ‘flow’ so gracefully.
I played through Origins as a single player game, it does, however, have local co-op play. Although, it does not have online co-op, perhaps the only downfall Origins has. Although the developers were evidently passionate about this game, they likely knew that this game wouldn’t be as successful as it should be. Being released in November is practically asking to be overshadowed by other games. And so, the developers probably thought that online multiplayer wasn’t worth investing the time into. Though, if Origins gets the reception it deserves, I sincerely hope that it could be added later as DLC.
Overall, Rayman Origins is a sugar coated feast for the eyes and perhaps the most perfect platformer I’ve ever had the pleasure to play. It re-imagines classic characters in the most perfect light possible. Not only does Origins excel in reviving the classic limbless character, it excels in reinvigorating the platforming genre. Unfortunately, Origins has been serverly overshadowed and underestimated, so do not assist crime, go and buy it.
You can (should) purchase Rayman Origins on Xbox 360, PS3, or Wii from the following retailers: