Dec 5, 2011

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Rayman Origins Review

Rayman Origins Review

Ubisoft and Michel Ancel’s Rayman has finally returned to his platforming roots.  After years of either re-releasing the arguably best in the series in Rayman 2 or making appearance in the Raving Rabbids series, Rayman is back in all of his 2D glory, much like the original titles released in the ’90s.  With an art style equal parts wacky and gorgeous, Rayman Origins is looking to stake a claim as being one of the best current-gen platformers alongside Nintendo’s pudgy plumber.

Rayman Origins’ story is typical of most platformers, and to be honest, doesn’t stray far from the standard.  Rayman, his best friend Globox, and a couple friends were hanging out one day in the Glade of Dreams.  Unfortunately, their volume seemed to upset an old granny deep below in the Land of the Livid Dead and in retaliation she releases an evil army of Darktoons who capture the Electoons and Nymphs that inhabit the world, turning it to chaos.  In order to set things right, Rayman and his friends set off to different parts of the Glade of Dreams to rescue the Electoons and Nymphs, and defeat all of the evil creatures.

Ubisoft Montpellier did a fantastic job creating a world that feels alive, with animated creatures aplenty surrounded by well detailed backdrops.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a side-scroller look as vibrant, or for that matter, another game that visually grabbed me the way Rayman Origins did.  This game is the first to use the new UbiArt framework engine, and as a debut title, it’s left me eagerly anticipating what else the engine is capable of.  Furthermore, the score is well put together and very complimentary of each level, setting the tone nicely for what’s in store.  I’ve read that some people feel Rayman and his friends look awkward along each backdrop, but I heartily disagree given the amount of cartoony characters littered around each level.  There’s an undeniable charm that each character brings, and rather then look odd, I feel that each environment and platform accent each other.  Speaking solely based on presentation, Rayman Origins is one of the best looking games released this year.

However, presentation can only take a game so far. Luckily, though, Rayman Origins has some very solid gameplay to back up its pretty graphics.  It’d be both incredibly hard and ignorant to not address the current king of side-scrolling platformers in New Super Mario Bros for the Wii when it comes to describing Rayman Origins gameplay.  Rayman Origins has borrowed some gameplay mechanics from Nintendo’s hit, which are instantly noticeable, like teammates getting trapped in bubbles when they’ve been damaged who can only rejoin the fray with a friend’s assistance.  Also, like New Super Mario Bros, the third and fourth players are stuck playing two palette swapped nobodies similar to the yellow and blue Toads (though Rayman Origins provides multiple characters to choose from once unlocked).  Rayman does control similarly to Mario, with wall jumps, butt stomps, and he can even defeat enemies by jumping on their heads.  However, one addition completely alters the gameplay and sets it apart from Nintendo’s plumber: the ability to strike.  With Rayman and friends are given the ability to punch and/or kick, level design is altered and often based on clever timing of your strikes.  Granted, this sometimes takes away from the flow of the levels since striking often slows players down, but it does enough to make it feel different from Mario and friends.

Each world has one of the scantily clad nymphs trapped, and upon rescuing them players are granted new abilities.  While some are kinda lame (the ability to shrink), others are quite useful, like the ability to run on walls or glide.  More often then not, these new-found abilities will be put to use in the boss battles of the respective worlds, which are also decently put together.  Upon rescuing each nymph, the world actually expands, opening up new levels to play and more objectives to accomplish on your journey to destroy the final evil boss.  Along the way there are multiple objectives to accomplish, like collecting a certain amount of Lums in each level (Rayman’s Coins or Rings), locating hidden cages to free electoons, or speedrunning each level.  Finishing each respective challenge grants players a pink smiley face token similar to Mario’s stars, and though it’s not entirely integral to snatch ‘em all, doing so rewards players with harder levels, more costumes, and the ability to play some of the more challenging areas.

Speaking of challenge, Rayman Origins is a lot harder then its pipe-dwelling counterpart (or Sonic Generations, for that matter).  I’ll readily admit that New Super Mario Bros is hardly the hardest Mario game out there, but even compared to some older generation platformers, Rayman Origins is a lot harder then it seems.  Growing up in the 8-bit and 16-bit generations, I was exposed to the best (and hardest) platformers.  Regardless of my experience, I have to admit that some of Rayman Origins levels provided a difficulty I haven’t felt in quite some time.  Often times some of the hardest challenges were just attempting to snatch up cleverly placed Lums surrounded by death-dealing baddies. The level design itself provides difficulty, though there were some areas that were frustrating.  These frustrations stemmed from some areas being more trial-and-error based, but upon learning each level’s nuances and carefully timing my maneuvers, finishing each level left me with a great feeling of accomplishment.  Peppered in between the platforming levels are horizontally shooter areas not unlike shmups Gradius or R-Type.  It’d be wrong to regard these solely as minigames because full levels were designed around the flying areas, and for the most part, they’re done quite well.  Like their platforming counterparts, these areas can become troublesome in the latter half of the game, but through careful controls, they shouldn’t trouble seasoned platformer fans.

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Though I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Rayman Origins, I can’t say that it isn’t without it’s flaws.  Sometimes when players jump to grab onto ledges, characters miss or even pass through them.  Also, at times jumping feels a bit floaty, resulting in controls that feel slippery.  While I praised the level design, most worlds involve overly used themes (ice world, jungle, under the sea) and some levels feel far too bland.  Lastly, even though the game boasts its multiplayer mode, action can get a little too frantic with three or four players, and it appears to impair the overall flow of each level (not unlike New Super Mario Bros Wii).

As a fan who regularly goes back to play Super Mario World and other older platformers, I can safely say that Rayman Origins is a well put together and enjoyable title.  The presentation is superb, as is the overall gameplay and level design.  Though there are some minor hiccups, for fans of platformers (or those that don’t own a Wii) I would definitely recommend you check Rayman Origins out.  Though some may feel that it’s only surpassed by New Super Mario Bros, personally, I’d prefer to play with Ubisoft’s limbless hero instead.

Rayman Origins
Platform: PS3, 360 (Reviewed), Wii
Genre: Platformer
Release Date: 11/15/11
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
Publisher: Ubisoft
ESRB Rating: E 10+ (Everyone 10+)
MSRP: $49.99-$59.99