With games like Skyrim, Uncharted 3, Call of Duty, or Assassin’s Creed releasing in the prime holiday window, a game like Rayman: Origins is likely not on your radar. It wasn’t on mine… at all. Which is why Rayman: Origins is the biggest and most pleasant surprise of the entire year.
The original Rayman was born when sidescrolling platformers were a dime-a-dozen. Even then Rayman stood out among the crowd. Sure he was no Mario, but he’s built a decent legacy all on his own. More recently, Rayman’s take a backseat to the Raving Rabbids, but now it’s time for the limb-less hero to take the center stage once again.
Staying true to its origins, Rayman is a sidescrolling platformer – something that’s definitely not common anymore. Like many games in 2011, Rayman: Origins has went back to the tried-and-true 2D formula, but is set over a gorgeous 3D background. The gameplay is simplistic, yet deep. The main goal, like all games in the genre, is to make it to the end of each level, all while collecting something along the way. In Rayman’s case, it’s not coins, it’s “Lums” and instead of getting stars, you’re freeing imprisoned “electoons”. But that’s the only similarities you can draw between another iconic platformer.
The story is laughable. Rayman and his pals are snoring so loudly, that it wakes a Skull from the Land of the Livid Dead. Pissed that her slumber was disturbed, she sends an army of Darktoons to the Glade of Dreams to capture the Electoons and the bodacious Nymphs. It’s up to Rayman, and up to three other players (local play only) to release the Electoons, and restore harmony to the gorgeous Glade.
You probably won’t pay much, if any, attention to the story, and will dive right into the gameplay. Rayman: Origins starts off feeling overly simple, but due to how fun the game is to play, and how pretty the world is, it’s easy to get caught up in it in no time. After a few levels, the difficulty and depth really picks up. As you progress and save Nymphs, Rayman’s arsenal of moves will grow, allowing you to do things like hover or run along walls and ceilings. Obstacles are constantly challenging you to use these moves in ways that aren’t always noticeable right off the bat – so there’s a lot of trial and error. And despite looking and starting off simple and childish, Rayman: Origins gets very difficult from the middle to the end of the game.
Most of the difficulty is in timing and speed. Especially in the treasure chest chase stages, which get so intense my sweaty thumbs would often slip off the analog stick. In these challenges, Rayman must rush through a level at full speed, hitting every jump, every swing, and dodging every obstacle with swiftness and accuracy. And I’m not kidding when I say full speed, either. You have to hold right on the analog stick and the run button the entire time, or else you risk missing the timing, and starting all over again. But you won’t mind so much, as these levels are a refreshing break from the regular stages.
More variety is added during the flying stages. Rayman hops on the back of a mosquito to glide through a Gradius-style sidescrolling shooter. Some of the game’s boss fights are presented this way, and again, serve as a perfect break to the main progression.
The enjoyment and fun-factor is turned up to max throughout the entire game, and rarely waivers even with difficulty spikes. Even tasks that would otherwise feel tedious, such as collecting Lums is a joy. While collecting the Lums isn’t necessary to make it through the story, because they’re fun to grab and offer yet another challenge, you’ll find yourself spending a good deal of time getting them. Depending on how many you’ve collected, there are levels of rewards at the end of each stage. It’s not much, but it does give the game a good deal of replayability.
Rayman: Origins has everything you normally find in a platformer and more. There’s an underwater section, which is always a thorn in my side for almost every platformer I’ve ever played. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the controls even then, are just as fluid and precise as the rest of the game. There are also plenty of hidden goodies to be on the lookout for.
Four-player drop-in and drop-out co-op is added, which is great for local fun with friends. The only problem is that the game’s difficulty varies so much from the beginning of the game to the end, that anyone dropping in toward the end when the difficulty really ramps up, will struggle to keep up with the player who’s been trucking along the entire time.
The game is absolutely stunning. The animations are crisp and cartoony – on par with feature animated films. The backgrounds and environments are detailed and varied, and each one is as beautiful as the next. The sound and music are fitting for such a whimsical adventure, but at times can get annoying. If you happen to grab a sleeping Lum king, it’ll wake up any other Lums nearby and turn them red. It also prompts them to start this cute chant – a chant that you end up hearing all too much, quickly turning cuteness into “please make this stop!”.
For the game’s only con to be the music and a silly tune that plays too often, that’s really saying something. Everything else, is nearly flawless. Rayman: Origins‘ platforming is as good as anything Mario’s put out in years, but looks better doing it. Its simplicity makes it accessible and fun, but its depth and difficulty keep you engaged and entertained. Rayman: Origins is easily the sleeper hit of 2011.
PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score
+ Simple, yet deep and challenging
+ Fun from beginning until the end