Rayman makes his triumphant return to platforming
Ever since Ubisoft introduced us to the lovably psychotic rabbids, Rayman, who was technically the star of the first couple of Raving Rabbids games, has gone into an unexpected retirement. The limbless wonder was the star of a couple well-renowned platformers during the PlayStation and Nintendo 64 days, but has had a very small presence in console generations since.
Well, he's back now, in what can only be described as Rayman the original meets the multiplayer of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, if it were designed by crazy people. (Or crazier people, as the case may be.) It's a fantastic game, delivering a true return to form for Rayman and company, where platforming feels solid and graceful while also feeling completely off-the-wall and zany. It's also charming as heck, with a gorgeous hand-drawn art style being employed here to incredible effect, the game oozing with personality from every pore. It's a game rife with brilliance, every facet of its design showing the utmost craft. And on top of all that, it's just a lot of good, doofy fun.
Rayman Origins begins with our titular protagonist and his pals just chilling on the branch of some large tree. Unfortunately, their neighbors aren't very appreciative of all the noise they make while sleeping, causing them, in a attempt to quiet the noise, to release a great evil known as "the darkness" upon the world... or something to that effect. Honestly, the story in Rayman Origins is entirely inconsequential. It's relevance is minimum at best. It's merely there for the sake of context. All you need to know is that the faeries of each land have been imprisoned and it's up to you, your buddy Globox, and a couple of teensies to save them so that you can confront the big bad evil in charge of this whole mess. Simple enough, right?
The journey takes you across six distinct locales, such as a lush jungle, a desert with musical inspired architecture, icy mountains littered with food, and more, each containing a wealth of levels to explore. You move through levels with one goal in mind: freeing caged electoons, which are small, pink beings who possess magical properties. Almost every level has three cages to find, two of them being hidden behind cleverly obscured paths. They're found by listening for the electoons' cries for help, for they signal that you're close to finding them. Freeing them has no bearing on the progression of the story, but doing so unlocks extra levels, so you're encouraged to do so purely for the sake of curiosity.
Between you and your goals lie many trials to test your platforming prowess on. Though Rayman Origins is mostly a cakewalk, it still produces a modest challenge, particularly when playing with another player or three by your side. The game throws the usual assortment of obstacles your way: collapsing platforms, spike lined walls to carefully climb, long bottomless pits where enemies must be used as stepping stones to gain safe passage; you name it. Rayman Origins doesn't just throw all that at you all at once, though. It slowly and deliberately introduces them, easing you into the more tricky traversal sequences by getting you properly acquainted with moving about.
Most of Rayman's abilities are locked from the start. At first, there's very little he and his companions can do. As you free the faeries of each world, however, more means of traipsing become available, such as wall running, gliding, and swimming, to name a few. Each one's introduction brings another wrinkle or two to the level dynamics, increasing the complexity of navigating the wondrous locales of Rayman Origins at a steady clip. The late-game content in particular demonstrates the devious ingenuity of the level design by forcing you to employ all your skills simultaneously, but never in a way that feels overwhelming. It's deliberate in doling out new obstacles and challenges, letting you learn how to aptly use your new abilities before throwing you into the very thick of it.
Rayman is a very nuanced platformer. Momentum is easy to lose and tough to gain. The game rarely puts huge emphasis on keeping a steady speed, allowing you to hop your way through most of the early goings with little difficulty. When it does, however, any slight hiccup spells your doom. In chase sequences especially, Origins demands the utmost perfection when dashing through their treacherous courses. You're expected to react quickly and assess the correct amount of push to put into your leaps and bounds with lightning-fast reflexes, obtained only through a bit of trial-and-error. It's through these sequences, however, that the brilliance of the game's mechanics shine.
Traversing the worlds of Rayman Origins exhibits a certain grace. Every action feels perfectly tuned. Jumps strike a fine balance between being floaty and tight, making it easy to judge how much push you need to insert into each leap and how fast you need to be going to cross whatever obstacle lie before you. It's a pitch-perfect game, mechanically. Everything flows with absolute finesse, Rayman and company segueing between animations with much fluidity, complementing the smooth gameplay marvelously.
A madcap attitude give the game a very jubilant and uplifting tone. From the expressive, comical actions of the characters to the vibrant art direction that brings the whimsical worlds of Rayman to life, the game is very much in a playful mood at all times; the type that's so sickeningly joyful that you can't help buy carry a big, doofy smile on your face at all times. Springy, invigorating music perpetuates that sense, its catchy beats sticking in your head long after you've stopped playing. It all instills the feeling of being in a living cartoon; a more than welcome atmosphere for all the crazy hijinks that occur throughout.
Best of all is just how much there is in Rayman Origins. This is a game that does more than it's share of justifies its worth. Time trials to compete in, ribbons to earn, hidden levels to discover -- there's quite a suite of activities past the usual level-to-level progression. Variety is very much the spice of life for Rayman, it doing everything it can to keep things new and interesting throughout. The aforementioned chase scenes are just one example; side-scrolling shooter levels and inventive boss battles supplement the day-to-day platforming nicely, and are quite fun as well.
The only real drawback, and it's a very minor one, is that multiplayer is limited only to local play. It's a totally understandable choice -- a game as fluid as this would be destroyed by even the slightest touch of lag -- but it still disappoints to think about what could have been. Even so, don't let that hold you back, for Rayman Origins is a brilliant return to form for Ubisoft's limbless wonder, and a remarkably good platformer to boot. He may have been out of work for a while there, but Rayman's still got plenty of life left in him.