Appearing on the Ray-dar
While today the first-person shooter rules supreme in videogames, once upon a time the platform game was king. Mario and Sonic may have been poster boys for this style of play, but behind them an entire cast of less well-known characters jostled for position in the hearts and minds of gamers - slowly slipping from fashion and relevance as their chosen genre did the same.
Rayman, created by Frenchman Michael Ancel, has been luckier than most in this respect, keeping a toe in the public limelight by way of the Raving Rabbids offshoot games. But it's been a while since the disjointed character has stepped back into his purebred platform game.
So Rayman Origins is a return home to a more traditional kind of platform game for Ubisoft's French mascot. Not only that but the game sees a return to the 2D cartoon aesthetic that defined games in the early 1990s, albeit this time rendered in pin-sharp HD pixels.
Very few full price games take the 2D approach (high resolution screens have multiplied the cost of creating hand drawn 2D graphics) but the full tragedy of this slide away from a traditional animated style is made abundantly clear by Rayman Origins. It's a beautiful game, like a cartoon come to life, filled with vivid expression, colour and vibrancy.
To achieve this effect, Ubisoft Montpelier has developed a revolutionary 2D graphics engine (in part funded by the French government) while Ancel hired ex-Disney animators to work on the game's visuals - a move well worth the expense as this is, without doubt, one of the most expressive and beautiful games of the year.
Behind the visuals, Rayman Origins marks a return to the series' 1995 beginnings; a somewhat orthodox platform game that has you moving the titular character from left to right through a series of stages, collecting items and finding keys to unlock doors. The game is divided into worlds, which are in turn divided into stages. In order to progress through those stages you're tasked with collecting Electoons, pink berries that act a little like Mario's stars, unlocking new stages when you've collected the prerequisite number.
Each stage has a number of different Electoons to be won for excelling in different areas. You earn one for simply completing the level, while others are awarded for doing so quickly, thoroughly, or by discovering the secret area that's hidden in each. As such there's incentive to return to every stage at least once as you mine each one for the full yield of Electoons.
You start the game with just the ability to run and jump, but as you complete worlds so you unlock the chance to glide through the air, shrink to half your size or run up walls and ceilings. This expanding tool-set enables the designers to keep adding new ideas into the level design pot, keeping things fresh and interesting. However, this is a sizeable game, and while there's a generous spread of ideas, Ubisoft Montpelier occasionally repeats itself a little too often.
View to a Thrill
At it's best though, Rayman Origins reaches the dizzying heights of some of the platform greats. The levels in which you chase a sprinting treasure chest at breakneck speed through caves are especially memorable, as is the underwater stage (usually the scourge of platformers) that has you swimming through the dark towards pockets of light that are emitted by deep sea angel fish.
The creativity on show delights, as do those times when the designers offer cheeky nods to Mario, Donkey Kong and Boulder Dash, twisting and subverting some well known platform game moments with typical French flair.
A challenging game that scales in difficulty quickly, Rayman Origins is arguably one that's best played co-operatively with a friend. While you won't be able to do this over Xbox Live or PSN, if you can rope a friend in to sit with you on the sofa, Rayman Origins offers a delightful multiplayer experience. Players are able to use one another as platforms, and combine abilities to make short work of some of those areas that are especially challenging in single player.
Everybody loves Rayman?
A smart, stunning-looking game, Rayman Origins is a bright return to form, not only for the series but also for the genre, and indeed the 2D art style. Playful, surprising, sometimes exhilarating, it's a game that falls a little short of Nintendo's best work, but which nevertheless provides a compelling argument for why the platform game is a creative mine, still filled with potential.
- Fantastic art style.
- Tight, responsive platforming.
- Excellent co-op.
- Lack of variety.
- AI consistent character design.
- Weaker shooting sections.