Rayman arrived a little late to the platforming party. He was always looked down upon by the figureheads of his genre, pitied perhaps for his whimsical nature. For well over a decade he had been sidelined, never quite allowed to share the spotlight, the fame and the fortune that comes with universal recognition. Sure, he had his fans, but it was never that level of acclaim that he desired. Rayman, however, was not to be deterred by these overbearing giants with their blue spiky hair and tanooki suits. Smiling maniacally, he looked up with his disembodied head and laughed. He was here to show the world that there is still room for another master of the platforming world.
We were never entirely sure what Rayman had hidden up his intangible sleeves. There were rumours of an episodic arcade release, that then evaporated amid fears of the whole project being shelved. Then suddenly, with a large fanfare, out burst a shiny full retail release called Rayman Origins. And my word does it glitter.
Basking in radiant glory this release absolutely drips with ardent love and the sleek production values that Ubisoft has to offer. Despite its simple 2D side-scrolling platformer roots, every inch of this game has been polished to near perfection. The characters are charming, instantly drawing a smile to your face. The backgrounds are painstakingly hand-drawn, filled with eye-catching details and clever references. The animation is smoother than ancient worn marble. And the music and sound production (on which I shall come back to) is so extravagant and entertaining it could easily escape the game and take on a whole life of its own. Also, it is a whole shaking bundle of fun.
Recent platformers have always tried to bring something new to the table. Limbo crawled out of its eerie cave and offered us a creepy and often thrillingly scary experience. Meanwhile, 'Splosion man and wife blasted onto our screens with such boundless intensity we were blown away by its pure multiplayer entertainment. Even that blue haired hedgehog punk tried to mix things up by bouncing between dimensions and generations. However, Rayman Origins holds his detached hands up and freely admits he really has nothing original to show us. Sure, throughout the game, as you dance between worlds, you’ll discover new abilities and powers such as floating, diving or running up walls, but nothing you will not have seen a thousand times before. He has even eschewed his awkward 3D nature that has been following him over the last few iterations. Yet despite this, or perhaps entirely because of it, it simply feels right. Playing Rayman Origins makes you realise that perfecting an already established formula is far more effective than bundling in cumbersome gimmicks that add very little to the finished product. It feels like part of the family, like it should have always been with you.
Rayman Origins is not particularly difficult or painful. Everything seems to have been designed to stave off that constant frustration that is often found in platform games. The controls are exceptionally fluid and tight. Never will you be screaming blue bloody murder at how your character responded clumsily, and the hit detection seems to be so favourable that sometimes you wonder whether anything can actually touch you. It gives the overall sense of relaxation while playing, which for a platform game is something truly unique. Seasoned players will prance through the game’s approximately 8 hour campaign with very little trouble, although they will certainly enjoy the ride. This relatively short experience for a full retail release is upped marginally by the hidden cages in each level, which completionists may return to hunt down. Having said that, most are so blindingly obvious it is quite likely they will be found on the first run through. Fortunately, for the hardcore there are a huge number of lums to collect on each level and finding enough unlocks extra levels and characters to play. Also there are moments of insanely spiking difficulty to be found in the entirely optional, but highly recommended, chest runs and the night of the livid dead area.
One might claim that the game was developed with the intention to be enjoyed more by children than adults. However the presence of some of the most outrageously curvaceous fairies in gaming history seems to put a large dent in that argument. Still, if you’re willing to ignore this and sit down with your offspring, Rayman Origins allows you to play together with up to 4 gamers on the same screen (no online, I’m afraid), dropping in and out as they wish. Multiplayer is highly entertaining but it does not change much of the game’s formula. The levels are still identical, and the goals just the same. It does however make the game remarkably easier as the death of a single player simply balloons them into a floating entity, which can be popped by any other player, resurrecting them. Only the unlikely death of all the players results in the game loading the last save.
It would have been nice to have a little more interaction between the playable characters, with the ability to stand on each others’ shoulders about the only obvious ability available. Perhaps the multiplayer could have been more developed to include levels that required team work. However, if we have learnt anything from this game it is that tinkering with a perfect formula is a recipe for disaster.
Huge credit must be given to the sound department who have seemingly created one of the best auditory experiences in any video game. While it is true that none of the tracks will sneak their way onto a top ten of music from video games, every piece almost without exception, is brilliant. Often they gracefully skim the right side of whimsy, with catchy stick-in-your-head melodies and dance-around-the-living-room inducing rhythms. It is however the overall sound design that really livens up the game and steals the show. Every item you collect, every enemy you thwack, every flame you dodge sings in synchronicity with the music. Even the floors at times become musical as you dance along chiming out chords along with the beat. It is simply incredible how much a well designed sound experience can add to game.
I have been sitting now for quite some time, wrapped in my heavy critical cape, trying to jab holes into Rayman’s inane grinning face. But the truth is, there are so few flaws that I am really struggling. Sure, the idea and execution is entirely unoriginal. However this is almost the game’s secret. For once a series has learnt from its mistakes and allowed itself to take a few small steps backwards to allow it take a huge leap forwards. The world, and more accurately the non-nintendo consoles, needed a new lovingly crafted and perfected platforming game and finally Ubisoft have delivered.