Rayman Origins

Platform: PS3*/Wii/Xbox 360
Genre: Side-Scrolling Platformer
Players: 1-4
ESRB: E10+ (Comic Mischief, Mild Cartoon Violence, Suggestive Themes)

I remember playing the original Rayman at a friend’s house very vaguely. We got stuck very early on – at this time I didn’t have a lot of experience with video games. When I heard about a new Rayman, I have to say I was a little surprised that this relatively dead franchise was making a return.

As the hype began to build, people couldn’t stop talking about how beautiful it was. I was a bit intrigued, but it looked an awful lot like another side-scrolling platformer.

Black Friday rolled around, and, feeling compelled to pick up something on sale, I went for Rayman Origins.

What a fantastic decision.

If this title had been released at some other point in the year, not surrounded by holiday blockbusters like Uncharted and Assassin’s Creed, this game would have received much more well-deserved hype. The game is beautiful, fun and an overall wonderful adventure.

Rayman is…well…I’m not sure anyone is really sure what he is. But he’s Rayman, and he and his world are musically inclined, and this is what separates Origins from the other platformers out there. The game has a rhythm to it, not just in the music, but in the overall fluidity of progression. As you master Rayman and his powers, you’ll find it simple to lead Rayman through each level with a free-flowing feel akin to the premise of Mirror’s Edge, but in a side-scrolling fashion. There’s never a point where you sit and wait for something to happen or you caught a platform on the upswing when you need it headed down. Once you grasp the ‘beat’ and ‘tempo’ of a level, you can fly through it with ease.

However, there is a fine line between fluidity and this sort of ‘trial by fire’ going on here. The user has the capability to really become deft at each stage, but I feel that this doesn’t mean the user should be required to. Unfortunately, that’s what occurs in several of the levels – particularly the ones where you have to keep up with the stage. It’s not uncommon to be going along only to be caught off guard by the next obstacle or to be unaware of the next grab point, which leads to certain death as there is no time allotted for recovery. I’m not suggesting that I should beat every level I play on the first try, but I believe the opportunity should be there. Here, it’s not.

This also stands true for boss battles, which are heavily scripted. It can be impossible to react to the opponent’s next move, and so you get to start over from the beginning of the battle. The same sequence of attacks occur every time, so it’s merely a matter of memorizing the pattern, but you’ll die several times doing it instead of being given a genuine chance to test your skill.

Also, the hover move is a bit counter-intuitive to the game in many ways. If you use it outside of a situation where it is implied by an updraft that you should, it will probably get you killed, since it seriously impedes your momentum. This is often a nuisance as it’s often hard to accept that you will always make a jump without using it.

Aside from mechanics, there is no plot to this game. Perhaps if I replayed the first one I would understand? There are certain things that a player can take and smile in these sorts of platformers – goombas have always been simply accepted, as are the enemies in Rayman. Ruby teeth in running treasure chests? Okay. Electoons trapped in cages that need rescuing? Sure, whatever. But who on earth are these fairies? Who is this short guy with the hat? Why is this thing with no teeth guarding this tree and who is he? What are all of these other characters? And why have all these tiny creatures become giant monstrosities? Finally, what is this giant Sauron’s-eye style thing at the end? The world may never know.

Right off the bat you see there are a lot of unlockable things, and you’ll probably get really excited. Don’t. It’s a bunch of bonus characters that are actually exactly like Rayman – only more frustrating because they’re shaped and sized awkwardly. You probably won’t use them.

But to finish the compliment sandwich, let’s talk about how Rayman has a voice without having a voice. Towards the end, you begin to feel like you know what he’d sound like if he talked. He exudes an aura of this cool, laid back guy without ever actually talking, so it’s easy to become quite fond of him. Definitely an attractive aspect.

Despite the flaws, this game is pretty great. They aren’t glaring oversights. Today we play games where we think tactically and problem-solve without knowing it. Rayman is perhaps just a throwback to a simpler time.

Bottom Line: 9/10
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