Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier | Publisher: Ubisoft | Release Date: 2011 | Genre: 2D Platformer | Website: n/a | Purchase: Amazon
During the 8- and 16bit era platform games ruled the roost. The genre quickly fell out of favour with the advent of consoles capable of flinging around textured polygons, but in recent years platformers have once again crept back thanks to indie developers. If you have been hankering for a dose of pure 2D platform fun, packed with imagination and challenge then Rayman Origins should be high on your list.
The storyline, which involves Rayman and his friends upsetting the inhabitants of the Land of the Livid Dead through snoring isn’t exactly what I would call gripping, but then again this is a game where the plot hardly matters. The basic idea is that some baddies have plunged the Glade of Dreams into chaos, capturing Electoons and kidnapping nymphs which means Rayman and company has to set things right.
The result is a high definition 2D platformer that ticks all the right boxes for a blast of nostalgia. Initially you simply make your way across some imaginative levels, collecting Lums and freeing the captured Electoons at the end of each stage. Then you realize that you can earn more Electoons by collecting enough Lums on each level, beating the time trials and finding all the hidden cages. Refreshingly, this is rather easier said than done with the game ramping up the difficulty in no time. You will die a lot and the game knows this as it provides you with infinite lives and a quick restart once your character inevitably kicks the bucket.
The game supports local co-op for up to four players which can decrease the challenge significantly. Ordinarily one hit will kill your character (two if you have a heart power-up) but in co-op your character floats around in a bubble when offed. If one of your friends is fast enough, they can slap your character back into the game. Collecting all the Lums and discovering the secret areas is also a bit easier with more friends helping out. Unfortunately the co-op mode supports local players only so you can forget about playing with someone online.
Apart from the platforming stages, some levels place you on the back of a giant mosquito to shoot at enemies or suck them in before spitting them at their friends. Some of the most challenging levels see you chasing down a treasure chest that has decided it doesn’t want to get smashed by your character for its contents. Levels follow the usual ice, lava, jungle, desert and underwater themes so beloved of the genre, but it does it with so much style and attention to detail that few will mind. The use of color and animation is simply amazing and puts a lot of 3D titles to shame. Every part of the gameworld feels vibrant and alive, making them a pleasure to play through even if you are repeatedly dying.
Freeing the nymphs unlocks new abilities such as attacking, swimming and hovering. Eventually you will even gain the ability to run up walls, which compliments your wall jumping perfectly. The game might appear cartoonish but don’t let this fool you, beneath the cute exterior beats the heart of a classic platform game. Levels are split into smaller chunks so dying isn’t that much of a chore, but there were times where the challenge really ramped up. Finishing the game is tough enough, but to unlock the hidden level and beat the secret boss you are going to need some serious skills. Those suffering from OCD when it comes to collecting items in games are also in for a bit of a nightmare as the game can be quite sadistic with its item placement at times.
It took me a while to get used to the controls as Rayman is at his best when moving fast. Coming to a stop breaks your momentum, making it harder to get going again and making him less maneuverable. This is fatal in the chase levels where you barely have time to catch your breath between all the traps and gaps. There is maybe a bit too much trial-and-error involved in some levels, especially the boss fights, but if your reflexes are good enough you might struggle less. Newcomers to the genre will definitely be in for a tough challenge however.
The audio is brilliant and compliments the visuals perfectly. Each level not only has some wacky background music playing, but the environments and your character’s actions also generate sound effects that blend in perfectly. There are plenty of memorable tunes and some will stay in your head for days after playing.
Rayman Origins is a dream come true for players that miss the glory days of platforming. The challenge will ensure that you don’t complete the game in one sitting, but it is entertaining enough to ensure that you will come back for more even after the most frustrating levels. I had a blast playing the game and have no hesitation recommending it to fans of the genre.
*Review originally published December 2011.