A Fun and Vibrant 2D Platformer
With the “golden age of platformers” a time long gone, and both the Rayman character and platforming mechanics having been largely absent from the franchise for a fair while now, it would be easy to conclude that the days of Rayman contributing anything significant to the platforming genre are over, but that would be a big mistake. Rayman: Origins is a 2D platformer which brings the series surging back in style and proves that a Rayman game can still play excellently in 2012.
Origins doesn’t step wildly far from the regular conventions of its genre, but it pulls off what it does with great finesse. You start with the basic ability to do little more than move and jump, and as you progress through the first four worlds you are granted the powers to attack, glide, wall run, and more. Some of these abilities feel like much more significant additions than others, but the game introduces them at a steady rate, meaning that even when your bag of tricks is frequently expanding, gameplay always feels blissfully simple.
Overall, controlling Rayman or one of the three other characters just feels good. The timing of everything feels natural, the controls are responsive, and while not all the characters move as fluidly as each other, when things are going well they breeze wonderfully through the world. Gameplay can become even more enjoyable when you play co-operatively and pull a second player into the mix. The level design is also very impressive; stages are well-paced, and have a great variation in the kind of obstacles they present. The only significant weakness here is that occasionally you’ll run into a level or area in a level that becomes more about trial and error than just reacting to what’s put in your way.
While the large majority of the game feels very fair, there will sometimes be a section where you’re pushed into clambering through the world as it’s still unpredictably changing around you, or moving through areas of a level faster than you can really tell what’s ahead. Dying repeatedly because it felt like you weren’t given the proper information about the environment can be a frustrating experience, but fortunately it’s not one that happens too often.
The ultimate goal of all this running, jumping, and enemy slapping is to collect “electoons”, which are used to open up new worlds. You’ll get one of these for completing a level, but there are further electoons to snag for finding the hidden cages in each level, collecting a certain number of lums (essentially the game’s equivalent of other platformer’s coins), and successfully completing the time trial for a level. This is an enjoyable twist that allows you to play one level but pursue a varied range of goals within it, and it’s satisfying to have a persistent score which shows your progress overall.
Collecting an exceptional number of lums will also earn you a medal, and making a particularly fast run through a time trial will net you a time trophy. These are some pleasant extras for those who really want a challenge out of the game, but earning them has no tangible benefit, nor does the game keep a running tally of how many you have, meaning you’re not awarded quite as well as you perhaps should be for collecting them.
Periodically, Origins will step out of it's usual role as a 2D platformer to present side-scrolling shooter sections. In these levels you move around the screen on the back of a mosquito as the stage automatically scrolls from left to right, able to swallow up enemies and launch them at other enemies, or take out troublesome foes by firing a continuous stream of projectiles. These make a nice change from regular gameplay , and there is some fun to be had in blasting pesky baddies out of the sky, but I found movement and general progression through the levels to not feel as smooth as those of the platforming stages.
Perhaps the area where Origins most succeeds is in it's visuals. I’m not usually one for “wacky” cartoon art styles, but there’s something irresistible about what the game does with it's graphics. Like many other platformers Origins has forest levels, underwater levels, desert levels and so on, but manages to pull off these themes fantastically, and throws in some original twists on them. For example, the desert levels have you using enormous drums as platforms and riding on giant flutes, while the ice levels have you dodging orange slices and breaking through ice cubes.
Across all stages, there’s a vibrant colour palette, the environments are detailed, foregrounds and backgrounds are beautiful, and the game has a wealth of graphical assets which feel really well done. A fair number of the later worlds recycle themes from previous ones, meaning they don’t feel quite as fresh, but they retain that great look none the less, and the light-hearted and upbeat soundtrack only serves to enhance the experience throughout. All in all, the components which comprise the levels add up in a way which feels delightfully polished.
Rayman: Origins does execute some parts of what it does better than others, but overall it’s a very finely crafted game. It’s great controls, simple platforming fun, and gorgeous aesthetics come together to make it an easy contender for one of the best platform games of recent years.