The last two years has been a great time for the 2D platforming genre with indie releases such as ‘Splosion Man and Super Meat Boy making their way to the Xbox Live market to huge sales. The classic genre has even seen a very important return to the big leagues thanks to Nintendo with titles like New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Donkey Kong Country Returns, and Kirby’s Epic Yarn.
2011 has been pretty good to this once forgotten old school style of game and November alone saw the release of two games that proved to be a return to form for their respective properties. Sonic Generations and Rayman Origins both came out to outstanding reviews, but one is certainly much better than the other. Rayman, the charming character without limbs returns for the first time since Hoodlum Havoc back in 2003. How does his re-debut fair?
In a word: Perfectly. Rayman Origins, in my opinion, is the pinnacle of everything 2D platforming. It is what every modern day project like this has built up towards. It is a wonder why he ever had to disappear in the first place and be replaced for a time by those snow like substance abusing Rabbids. Rayman by all means should have been a mascot on the level of Mario and Sonic, he is charming and he exists within a world that is easily one of the most imaginative within gaming. His games have largely been solid and praised for their precise controls and impeccable level design and he is an easily recognizable character.
From the moment the game is powered on, it is obvious the boys and girls at Ubisoft Montpellier have a particular love for this character and the world he resides in. The game is full to the brim with whimsy and charm, so much so that it is difficult not to smile and feel joyful about the opportunity to explore every nook and cranny of it. Every character, enemy, item, and level is hand-drawn with some of the best animations I have ever seen in a 2D space. The animations are alive with so much color and personality that the fact that there isn’t much of a story to follow is hardly an issue.
The amount of care and time in the animations and art is not wasted in anyway as the games mechanics are perfectly handled. Gone is the all too familiar double jump, but as the game progresses, Rayman and his friends are given other powers that continue to increase the challenges they will face in each level. Players will start the game with nothing more than a standard jump and wall jump. Later they will unlock the ability to punch, hover, swim, and even run on walls. With each move learned, the game stacks on the difficulty, and oh man does it get hard.
Don’t let Rayman Origins’ beautiful hand-drawn images fool you. This is not something just for kids, even for long time gamers, this game will kick your word that rhymes with crass. This is a platformer that will challenge players on a similar level that ‘Splosion Man and Super Meat Boy did, but what those games did well, Rayman Origins perfects. Just like with From Software’s Dark Souls, Rayman Origins’ difficulty is a big part of why this game is so good. Never does a death feel cheap, and never does a level or a challenge feel impossible. Every death, every misplaced jump, and every little slip is a chance to learn and get better.
Never is this more the case than with the secret levels unlocked by collecting a certain number of electoons. Just like the stars in Super Mario Galaxy, electoons are the goal to each level and can be collected by not only completing a stage, but by completing certain obstacles within that stage. There are hidden areas in each level whose location is given away by an audible cue, there are yellow floating looms which, if you take the time to collect a certain amount of, will unlock an electoon, and there is even a speed run that can be unlocked after completing the level the first time. Up to 5 electoons can be rewarded on each level, and it can easily become an obsession to get them all. For me, the time trials were often the most fun as each of them meant I had to rush forward as fast as I could, getting around each and every obstacle in the level without dying once in order to reach the goal. If you die during a time trial run, the level will restart from the beginning. That alone was a big part of the challenge, more so than hitting the goal in time.
Rayman can only be hit once before death, and the only thing that can protect him are hearts that will act as a shield, protecting our limbless hero and his friends from a single hit (only one heart can be collected at a time). If my warning of the difficulty wasn’t enough to go by, it is really easy to get hit in this game, and every time you do…it is your damn fault. I cannot stress enough how beautiful of a thing that is in a game like this, that the mechanics and the camera are so precise, that a death is never the games fault. One of the things that annoyed me the most about Sonic Generations was that often the camera or a screw up with the control would cost me a difficult challenge. Never is that the case here, its mechanics have been fine tuned to perfection.
Even though Rayman Origins level design is some of the best I have seen this side of Super Mario Galaxy’s, the game will sometimes throw you for a loop by introducing new level types. Most worlds will have a level that has Rayman or one of his pals flying around on the back of a mosquito (or in the case of his big blue pal Globox, a mosquito riding him) in a horizontal scrolling shooter like Gradius. These levels never cease to be just as fun as the platforming stages, and by the end of the game become nearly as difficult as Gradius itself. Be prepared to float around through a hail of fireballs and on-screen chaos.
If players become dedicated to collecting as many Electoons as they can, they will be rewarded with secret levels that will have Rayman chasing a treasure chest. The animation that begins these sequences, with the treasure chest seeing his foe and imagining what he will do to him if he catches him, is hilarious. What follows is a fast paced chase that is quite possibly one of the best parts of the game. Each of the ten chase levels in the game are designed to require quick and precise jumps. Later they will even call on the ability to lightly tap the jump button to clear certain obstacles, rather than hold the button down and correct in mid-air like mostly every other level in the game.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to remember this tip for these levels: Never use the hovering mechanic. It will slow you down and almost always guarantee failure. These chase levels are so well designed that every obstacle can be cleared with a perfectly timed regular jump. They are also so difficult that the smallest mistake will mean death. They have to be cleared just shy of perfectly.
Speaking of secret levels, if you are able to collect all ten jewels from these chests, they will unlock the Land of the Livid Dead hidden stage. This is by far the most difficult level in the game and will call on everything you’ve learned from playing through the game to this point. I had to take many smoke breaks during that level to clear my head and get back to it. It is seriously hard, but just like every level in this game, it is fun as hell.
Rayman Origins also has a multiplayer mechanic that can make life a little easier with two players, or chaotic with more than that. In Co-Op the other player can resurrect a fallen friend by popping a bubble they are stuck in. It makes some of the more difficult levels a tad bit easier. At least that is what I’ve heard, since I beat the entire game with all Electoons and the secret stages all by my little self. I never got the chance to play co-op, but I can say as a single player game. This is one of the best I’ve played. I will eventually sit one of my friends down (who are all too busy with Battlefield 3) to play some Rayman with me.
Final Call: Rayman Origins is one of the best games I have played this year, and in my opinion is the best 2D platformer I have ever played. I know I used the word “perfect” quite a few times in this review, yet it is a descriptive phrase with a lot of weight. A word that this game deserves, I truly can not find any flaws worth noting. It is everything I look for in this style of game. The art style is incredibly detailed, filled with charm, and one of the most beautiful things I have seen in execution. The soundtrack is whimsical and brimming with just as much personality as the rest of the game. The level design is impeccable from the first stage to the last, and the difficulty is one of the best things about it. As far as I’m concerned, Mario can have the 3D platformers, because Rayman has just taken the crown for the 2D kingdom.
- Beautifully hand drawn everything
- Perfect gameplay mechanics
- Great soundtrack
- Some of the best level design in the genre
- Plenty of replayability for those who need to complete every challenge
- May be a bit too difficult for casual gamers
- Might get confused for a kid’s game