In all honesty, looking back at Rayman over the years, one of Ubisoft’s key mascots has a somewhat sketchy track record. Rayman 2 is clearly the highlight from years gone by, and Ubisoft obviously realises this, which is why it has been remade and ported all over the place time and time again to the point where many people are almost sick of the sight of it. However, original creator, Michel Ancel, was given the chance to drag his character back from the depths of near obscurity with Rayman Origins.
Starting off as a download only title, someone in the management department wisely made the decision to refit the game for all retail formats, whilst getting the development team to polish the platform adventure as much as possible in the extra time provided by the platform shift. What has been delivered is nothing short of stunning given the mediocrity of Rayman‘s last few outings, and places Rayman Origins as one of those games any 2D platform fan should definitely add to their collection.
Right from the start, what hits you about Rayman Origins is how it is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful 2D platform games on the market. However, even in gloriously crisp high definition, it actually only just about matches the likes of A Boy and his Blob and Wario Land: The Shake Dimension on Wii. In fact, add Muramasa: The Demon Blade to that list of jaw-dropping, gorgeous side-scrolling adventures as well. That is not a slur on the quality of the development team at Ubisoft, but more a credit to how games in this genre have grown, coming on in leaps and bounds over the past few years thanks to technological advancements that finally allow artists to convey their true talent on-screen.
A massive part of Rayman Origins‘ charm lies in the layering effect most recently seen in Donkey Kong Country Returns, where Rayman can leap from the foreground to the background to great effect whilst progressing through a level. The depth to each stage is wondrous, and even when in the near-distance there are objects almost popping out of the screen to mimic the effect of Rayman working his way through lifelike locations. Equally as breath-taking is the level of detail crammed in, with crumbling rocks, windswept vegetation and undulating waves being just a few examples of the lively nature of the world surrounding the eponymous hero.
Perhaps eponymous is not quite the word for Rayman in Rayman Origins, though, since he is not the only character available for selection. There are three other friends to choose from, all of whom have the same basic attack functionality as Rayman, and as more progress is made, and more of the yellow Lums and pink Electoons (in-game currency and special collectibles) are snatched. Variations on the available characters open up for those looking to garner more for their money after working through the main story, which should take approximately no longer than eight-to-ten hours, dependent on skill level.
The more collected during a level, the higher the chance of unlocking more content. Therefore, those wishing to do speed runs will be pleased to know that each area can be blitzed through thanks to pixel-perfect jumps and cleverly placed enemies, whilst those hoping for more depth, longevity, and overall value for money, can wander around searching every nook and cranny without fear of time limits or cheap deaths.
Doing wall-jumps, pounding weak areas of ground, and seeking out hidden portals en-route to the final goal can be done in peace and without stress. Life restrictions are not an issue either, since deaths merely result in restarts at one of the plentiful checkpoints, rather than having to redo a level completely each time an enemy is bumped into, or a hole is fallen in to. Ancel and his minions have strived hard to produce an all-encompassing experience, and succeeded on every front, making Rayman Origins ideal for all members of the gaming community.
Treacherous leaps over bottomless pits abound, delving deep underground to traverse gloomy caverns, bouncing from wall-to-wall to scale new heights, precariously jumping from tiny platform to moving objects, all the while dodging incoming dangers, navigating underwater labyrinths. Rayman Origins is filled to the brim with classic elements, all served up in a superbly crafted package that whets those nostalgic taste-buds, yet does not quite add anything extra to the recipe. The major bonus is that three friends can tag along for the ride, which definitely distracts from the fact that no matter how special the game is, there is a distinct feeling of too much familiarity in places.
Perhaps Rayman Rebirth may have been a more apt title for this project, with its removal of the contrived elements that started to bog down the series’ previous releases and the replacement of them with nearly all of the positives found in other genre stable-mates of the last five or so years. Whatever the case, the Rayman series is definitely back to its best, if not better than ever before, and it’s certainly capable of playing with the big boys, despite not revolutionising the genre.
Ubisoft now has the mammoth task of taking this idea and building upon it considerably, rather than merely milking a good product too much, as was done with the very first Rayman Raving Rabbids. Rayman himself has, fortunately, managed to survive blatant whoring out once before, but a second round of being battered could leave him out for the count, ultimately residing alongside Bubsy, Mr. Nutz, Boogerman, and the plethora of other old stars that are firmly buried in the platform graveyard. Poor equally loose-limbed Plok must be turning in his grave, however, wondering why the Pickford Brothers have yet to give him another shot at stardom…