It?s hard to believe that it?s been over 15 years since I first played Rayman back on the original Playstation. It was a 2D sidescrolling platform game that eventually got a number of sequels and even made the move to a 3D approach. Rayman Origins arrives and goes back to its 2D sidescrolling brilliance. It?s funny, Rayman originally had no limbs due to technical limitations back in the mid 90?s, now with Rayman Origins, a simple explanation is given to why he is limbless; There simply wasn?t enough Lums when he was born. While the game is titled Origins, it?s not going to give you a deep backstory and look into Rayman?s world, though it does take place before some of the earlier games.
I?m not sure why Rayman?s popularity didn?t become big enough for him to be a mascot, as he always had solid games and he seems as if he?s a likable character and is marketable. Either way, he returns now limbless and with his helicopter hair with a bunch of his friends, and he just happens to bring us one of the best 2D sidescrolling platform games that I?ve played in quite some time. It?s been quite some time since I?ve played such a memorable platforming game with such unique and gorgeous hand drawn visuals.
Rayman games have never been known for their amazing story telling or plots, but they are known for their great game mechanics, tight controls, and unique art styles. In Rayman Origins, this is no different, the story is a wacky Saturday cartoon plot-line, but that won?t matter once you?re running and jumping all over the place trying to collect as many Lums as you can. Rayman and friends reside in a tree in the Glade of Dreams, and it turns out they were snoring way too loudly for their underground neighbor, an evil old granny, and she retaliates by letting loose an army of evil creatures across the land. All of the Electoons and Nymphs have been taken hostage and it?s up to Rayman and his friends to set things right by rescuing them. Again, it won?t win any awards for its story, but like I said, it won?t matter as the gameplay and distinctive visuals vastly outweighs everything else. It?ll take you around a dozen hours or so to get through the main levels, though you can add infinitely more depending on how compulsive you are trying to collect every last Lum and Electoon to try and 100% the game.
The first thing we need to talk about is the absolutely stunning visuals you?ll notice from the first level you play. Every character, animation and background is masterfully hand drawn and simply stunning to look at. Everything is so bright and vibrant; it reminded me a lot of Bastion?s art direction and doesn?t disappoint. It?s rare to find a game that?s so simple yet intricate at the same time, Origins visuals makes it had to not randomly stop during a level and just admire everything on screen.
There are five worlds that need to be completed to move to the next, and each world is broken into six or so individual levels. Each level is then broken into five or six smaller segments (that also act as your checkpoints) that flow together naturally. At the end of a level, there?s not a boss, but you need to defeat all of the enemies guarding the cage holding Electoons before you can move onto the next stage.
As Rayman run, jumps, swims, and more throughout the different levels, the platforming itself never becomes stale due to the precise controls that never have you feel like you?re doing something wrong (due to controls). Each world has a voluptuous nymph to save, and doing so will have her bestow a special power unto Rayman, such as running up walls, swimming, shrinking, and more abilities you?ll need to progress. Each world usually caters around one of the specific abilities and near the end of the game you?ll be using them all in succession to proceed forward. The pacing is done perfectly, as you get enough time to get used to each ability and won?t ever worry about forgetting how to use it in the latter levels. With more than sixty levels to progress through and no difficulty settings to worry about, you?ll just be progressing through ingenious level design with a solid platforming base.
As you progress through each level and segment, you?ll be attempting to rescue imprisoned Electoons (they are the pink dots with smiling faces). During each level you?ll also be collecting Lums (the gold colored smiling dots) that will go towards your tally at the end of the level. If you find a large Lum, it will temporarily make any Lum gathered valued at two instead of one. There?s some strategy required if you want to collect every Lum at the end of a level for the bonuses at the end of stages.
To progress through the later world levels you?ll need a specific amount of Electoons. You have a chance to collect one to 5 Electoons in each stage if you?re vigilant and can find all the hidden areas that will next you extra caged Electoons at the end. You?ll also gain Electoons based on how many Lums you find during a level; manage to gather a specific around by the end of the stage (usually 300 to 350 or so) and you?ll get the bonus Electoons. If you?re very diligent, you can even earn medals if they collect every Lum which will allow you to attempt a time trial of that stage.
As you meet set Electoon counts, you are given the option to play special treasure-chase levels that will have you running as fast as possible trying to catch the legged treasure chest and get its precious Ruby Tooth. Manage to collect all ten teeth and you?ll gain access to the final bonus world, though getting all the teeth will be quite challenging. These treasure-chase levels are some of the most difficult stages in the whole game (aside from the bosses that come much later in the game). There are no player life counts, so you can try as many times as you want in each stage, but you?ll be playing these specific stages many times as you memorize each obstacle and timing of jumps. One mess up and you?ll basically have to restart the level. Not controller throwing frustrating, but it will definitely make you grit your teeth when you get so close.
To break up the monotony of running, jumping, and attacking, there are some levels that have Rayman riding a large mosquito that turns into a 2D sidescrolling shooter. You?re able to suck up enemies and spit them out and can rapidly shoot at enemies as well. It?s a great tool to break up the pacing a little bit, and I found myself looking forward to these levels for just a quick change of pace.
The only real issue I had with Origins is that the later end-game is blocked off until you?ve collected enough Electoons to progress. This means you?ll be replaying many levels, trying to find those hidden Electoons (and collecting enough Lums) so that you can get a certain amount to try and get another ruby tooth.
Have friends over that want to do more than just watch you jumping around? You and three other friends can simultaneously play alongside you, each with their own character. Players can choose between Rayman, Globox (Rayman?s longtime friend), and multiple Teensies. You?ll unlock addition skins and costumes for each character as you progress through the game, though I?ve always been partial to the leading man himself, Rayman. If a player is hit by an enemy or falls to their doom, they?ll become encompassed in a bubble that any of the other players need to pop to get him back into the game. The best part is that the co-op is drop in and drop out whenever you want, though game progress will only count towards the main profile.
Nothing can ruin a platforming game more so than shoddy and unresponsive controls. Luckily, you won?t ever have to worry about this in Origins as every animation is done wonderfully and you?re always in control of Rayman at all times. This doesn?t mean that you won?t miss platforms, ledges, and wall jumps; you will, many times, but not because of loose controls. Because the levels are segmented into smaller sections, you?ll never have to redo a section of great length due to the checkpoint system that?s done perfectly as well. Don?t let the infinite lives, frequent checkpoints, and colorful artworks fool you though, this isn?t an easy kids game, and does become quite challenging in the later half and some levels (usually he treasure chases) will have you replaying stages many times until you learn it to perfection.
This is where some of the charm comes from though. I?m glad I wasn?t able to breeze right through it and even though you?ll hit random spikes of difficulty, overcoming those levels makes you feel accomplished. Some levels really gave me a vibe of playing Battletoads (with the falling and climbing levels), and others even made me reminisce of Earthworm Jim; both are two of my favorite games of all time.
I do wish there was online co-op over Xbox Live, but I?ll live without it. Frame rate never once slowed down and hearing the Nymphs speak pig latin always put a smile on my face. The music for each world is very distinct and masterfully done and I really wish that I could by the official soundtrack for Rayman Origins (like I did Bastion), it?s that well done.
It?s a shame Rayman Origins came out during the busiest time of year with all the other huge games now out, as it?s sure to be overlooked, but if you love platforming games, pick this up without hesitation. If you?re strapped for cash because of the holidays, get it as soon as you?re able, it?s that good and easily justifies its price tag. You won?t find a better 2D platformer with a more unique visual style. I?m glad this game landed on my desk to review, as I really enjoyed this stand out title in this busy season.