theuselessgod's Rayman Origins (Xbox 360) review

Excellent on every level, Rayman is a delight

The Short

Pros

- Fantastic art design

- Absolutely beautiful graphics and animations

- Precise platforming control

- 2-4 player co-op that is actually not frustrating

- Amazing soundtrack

- 60+ levels including secret and bonus levels

- High replayability

- Good difficulty curve; appeals to both beginners and the hardcore

- Lots of characters, skins, and bonuses to unlock

- Lots of variety in the levels

Cons

- The final level is freaking impossible

- Only three unique character models for a four player game

- Only the first player gets achievements

- Nobody bought it so it'll probably not get a sequel

Rayman: Origins is a really good looking game

The Long

I'll get this off my chest right now: I love this game. Rayman: Origins is one of the weirdest, silliest, and most straight up bizarre games I've played in recent memory. It's a straight-playing 2D platformer (like New Super Mario Bros or Super Meat Boy) that somehow manages to trump most everything else on the market and deliver a perfectly crafted single and multiplayer experience.

So let's get to the details, hmm?

First off, as you can see from the screenshots in this review, the game looks fantastic. It's published by Ubisoft under their new "UbiArt" engine, which means it is chock full of hand drawn animation, backgrounds, and characters. Just because something is hand drawn doesn't mean it's good, but Rayman managed to look fantastic. You can see the amount of detail they put into this game because of their dedication to keeping the whole thing looking consistant. For example, most platforming games have spikes of some sort in them. Often they are a bland affair, with just little pokey things coming out of them. Not in Rayman! In Rayman, if you are on the air level (which has a distinct "bird + musical instrument" theme for some reason), all the spikes are actually spiky birds. In the food world (which covers both fire and ice variety), you have to watch out for angry forks and pots of bubbling soup. In the underwater/dock levels, swordfish and sea urchins are poking out at you. It's a small thing, but seeing such dedication put into the design really makes the title stand out (and you can see in the picture above that even the charcoal slabs have eyes with varying expressions).

This level of dedication goes on to the music, as well. I remember in one scene where I was collecting Lums (the game's collectable and the equivalent of coins in a Mario game), and as I collected several in a row I realized that each "ping" they were playing when I grabbed them was forming a song that perfectly was in synch with the background music. The music is heavy whimsical, with lots of mouthharp, kazoo, banjo, and silly voices. When you are in the first grass levels, the music has a sort of southern feel to it. When you then get to gourmet world, in the fire/oven levels you hear an italian chef tenor singing along with the weird cha-cha music. It's hilarious and fantastic.

The return of the trololo guy

But all this outside stuff aside, what about the game? Is it really that great? Should you bother? It was originally slated as an episodic XBLA release, but after seeing how many episodic games failed on the platform Ubisoft decided to release the full game as a disc product. This pissed off a bunch of gamers for some reason (because gamers are cheap) who felt like (without having played it) that it was overpriced at $60. It further didn't help the point that Ubisoft, determined to screw this game over, released it the week after Skyrim and Modern Warfare 3 and on the same day as the next installment in their powerhouse series, Assassin's Creed. Needless to say, nobody bought this game, which is too bad, because it iscertainly worth $60 for the amount of content you get.

The game has four major worlds and two minor ones. The first run through the major worlds gives you about 12-15 levels on each. After you beat them, however, it unlocks another 12-15 levels on these four worlds, where you use the powers you've been accumulating throughout the game (power to hover, run up walls from a sprint, dive, and shrink/grow) back in familiar settings. After you beat all of these you unlock the final area, which is balls hard and incredibly satisfying when you beat it.

But that isn't all. As you beat levels you collect these little purple things that I can't remember the name of, and these unlock alternate costumes and (more importantly) the incredibly difficult Treasure Chest levels. These basically consist if you (and your friends) running down a fast-moving chest as the world around you gets harder and harder, the screen at your back ready to catch you if you make just one mistake. With four players its frantic, fast-paced, and totally insane. These are some of the best and most challenging levels in the game, though none of them compare to The Land of the Livid Dead, a one level world unlocked after getting all the treasure chests. I have beaten every level in this game except this one, and I have no idea if it is even possible (and I beat Super Meat Boy!).

Oh, and after you beat each level you unlock a "Time Trial" version, which challenges you to go through as fast as possible for even more rewards. Which is also really fun (and total mayhem) with four people.

The game also has side-scrolling shooter levels, ala R-Type or Gradius

So you are getting boatloads of levels, a beautiful art style, and a game that controls near-perfectly and scales from "easy" to "impossible" in terms of difficulty. And I haven't even talked about my favorite part: the four-player co-op.

This game essentially lifts the co-op from New Super Mario Bros on the Wii and improves on it immensely. For anyone who hasn't played that, know that it's basically four-player 2D Mario, with lives, coins, and the ability to shove your friends off cliffs. In my experience playing it, adding more players only adds to the game's stress, because every character in that game takes up physical space. So if you had a small platform, it was very easy to accidentally knock somebody off, or jump on them, or steal their lives. I honestly didn't think it was very fun and much rather preferred to play alone.

Rayman fixes all of this. You have four players, but you can run on top of or next to each other without shoving. The only real way to interact with the other players is to physically attack them, which can be used to mess them up, but at least in that case you know they are doing so intentionally (smack your friend off a cliff if he stole your Lums!). You can also work together to lift each other up or punch each other up in the air, making the harder to get collectables a lot easier.

But what Rayman really does right is the fact that there are no lives. None at all. New Super Mario Bros sort of tries this by giving people limited lives but infinite continues, but then the lives are more like another annoyance to keep up with rather than incentive to not die. Rayman encourages you to die in attempts to get tricky coins, find secrets, and generally enjoy exploring their beautiful world. When you die you turn into a bubble (much like New Super Mario Bros) and your friends have to either jump on you or smack you to revive you. That's it. No headaches, no real frustrations. And, with generous checkpoints, even if you all die at the same time you won't have to go too far back. It's the Super Meat Boy approach to platforming: rather than put in arbitrary game lives to limit you, instead focus on short, difficult bursts and instant restarts. That encourages the whole "One more try!" thing without having to choose to "Continue?" every half-dozen deaths.

Grab your friends and start slappin'

That being said, it is worth noting that playing this game by yourself is substantially more difficult than playing with friends. It still manages to work because of it's generous checkpoints and excellent level design, but you can tell they intended the game to be played co-op. Four players is total chaos, which makes getting through the levels easier (more people to revive you) but collecting all the secrets harder (you always have that one guy who keeps running forward and leaving stuff behind in his attempt to beat you to the end reward). We found that two players is the sweet spot if you want to both collect all the Lums (each level has a goal of 150 and 300 collected, where each nets you more points for unlocking stuff) while still staying alive.

Not to diss four-players, though. We played through the entire game the first time four-player (and with different batches of players) and it was a laugh riot. Playing with friends makes the more difficult levels more manageable, both for revives and general group support. My only complaint with four player is the fact there are only three unique character models: Rayman, the big blue guy, and the Teenies (the dudes with blue noses). Sure you can get different costumes, but why didn't they just make a fourth guy so it was easy to tell them apart? It's like how New Super Mario Bros had two toads instead of...oh I don't know, Wario? Daisy? Peach? Donkey Kong? Anybody except another Toad? As if it wasn't confusing enough.

You really should go buy this game

If I haven't somehow sold you on this game, then I probably won't ever. The fact of the matter is this is one of the best co-op games I've ever played, and it is certainly one of the best platformers. The idea of multiplayer Super Meat Boy is awesome, but since that doesn't exist we'll take Rayman instead. The game is beautiful and silly, the music is fantastic, the level design is top-of-the-line, and the multiplayer is just another layer of hilarity and fun stacked on an already complete package. This is one of the best platformers ever, and I'd go so far as to say it trumps any 2D Mario game I've played since the Super Nintendo.

This game is very much worth the $60 asking price, but the fact it was a commercial flop made the price drop super fast. I'm fairly certain the standard price for it now is $30 on Amazon (might be less for the Wii version), which is a complete and total steal to say the very least. If you get it for $30 on Amazon you get free shipping, so now you have no excuse and should go buy it right now.

If I were to give it a star rating, it would absolutely be 5 out of 5.

And as an added bonus, here is a video of somebody doing the final impossible level from the game, complete with its awesome music. I can't even get past the first section.

Read more reviews like this at www.nathanvsvideogames.blogspot.com

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