Review by SSpectre

Reviewed: 07/17/12 | Updated: 10/04/13

Speedy, chaotic, and endearing, Rayman Origins is a solid revival of both its genre and its franchise.

Rayman Origins

The Good:
+ Platforming is fluid, challenging, and varied
+ Art, animation, and soundtrack are all delightful
+ Controls are simple and smooth
+ Lots and lots of content

The Bad:
- Takes most of its ideas from about 10 other games
- Levels are not designed with multiplayer in mind

I tend to get uncharacteristically excited whenever someone tries to revive the 2D platformer. Not just because it was the genre that permeated my childhood so much, but because it’s a technically simple genre, meaning developers can put more time into important things like fine-tuned level design or artistic expression, rather than debugging or photorealistic graphics.

One of a few recent revival attempts was New Super Mario Bros. Wii, an admirable effort with a couple of deal-breaking faults, namely its uncontrollable multiplayer and recycled...everything. Rayman Origins, on the other hand, is essentially NSMBW: Good Version. It’s got the same challenge level, the same structure, and the same four-player multiplayer, but it’s all wrapped in a gorgeous presentation, and, crucially, doesn’t bounce you in unexpected directions whenever you slightly graze another player.

But the multiplayer is by no means tame. Enemies, collectibles, and destructible objects fill every empty space, the animation is exaggerated and expressive, and the art style is overflowing with detail and cartoon flourishes. It’s almost too busy, but after the initial adjustment period, you'll grow to love its insanity.

Rayman Origins is unabashedly fun. Between the chaos, the speed, and the oddball sense of humour, it’s a game that’s impossible to dislike, and that’s whether you’re playing alone or as a group. That said, it did carry over one problem from its NSMBW heritage: the multiplayer is just kind of...there.

Many of the levels, especially the later ones, are very obviously designed with one player in mind, and trying to convince the people you’re playing with to slow down and find collectibles (which is just as important as survival in the long run) is tiresome at best. It’s still very entertaining, and there’s no ****ing bouncing mechanic, so it’s never frustrating, but it is a little disappointing.

What will not disappoint is the sheer size and variety of the game. There are dozens of long, secret-filled levels regularly injected with new mechanics like heavy wind or shifting vine platforms, and a unique enemy count that likely stretches into triple digits. The main platforming is broken up with the occasional swimming section, or high-speed chase after a sentient treasure chest through a steadily crumbling obstacle course, which is easily the highlight of the whole game.

But the most drastic shift comes in the form of a handful of scrolling shooter levels played out on the back of a giant, weaponized mosquito (just go with it; it’s that kind of game). These levels are a bit button-mashy, but I warmed up to them later when they got especially hectic and bizarre.

In addition to simply surviving the levels, much of the gameplay is focused on collecting creatures called Lums, and past levels can be revisited for time trials, which work extremely well with the speed and fluidity of the game’s controls. Speaking of the controls, Rayman Origins accomplishes the difficult task of being simple without being mindless. The platforming heavily incorporates wall jumping, running along curved walls and ceilings, hovering, and multiple attack types, all with just three buttons and an analog stick.

However, little quirks pop up now and then, like Rayman getting an initial burst of speed from holding down the run button before moving. These will take some practice getting used to, and will probably result in a few accidental deaths early on.

What I like most about Rayman Origins is that it constantly surprises you. And not just by introducing new mechanics. It’s a game of little discoveries, like realizing that platforms with bubbles emitting from them release Lums when stepped on. Even the animation, which was the first thing that caught everyone’s eye, is even better than it looks in trailers.

Characters have unique animations for everything, and unique transitions between each animation. Every moment of gameplay looks like a scripted animated film. The audio is also wonderfully offbeat and catchy, recalling one of the best and most sorely-missed aspects of the platformers of yore.

If there’s one thing that does irk me about the game, though, it’s that it’s less concerned with reinventing the 2D platformer than it is with just reiterating it. Aside the obvious NSMBW clone accusations, Rayman Origins seems to take inspiration from pretty much every popular 2D platformer ever: Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island, all of Rare’s platformer catalog, Super Meat Boy...Rayman Origins’ influences are obvious, from the controls to the levels to the soundtrack. Even the idea for out-of-place shooter levels came from the shamefully sub-par Super Mario Land.

Which is not to say the game is completely without ideas of its own. For example, enemies inflate into bubbles when hit, at which point they can be used as a rising platform. But most of these ideas are rather superfluous; the “bubblize” mechanic, to continue the example, requires that each enemy be hit twice to extract the maximum number of Lums, which breaks the game’s flow and further damages the multiplayer fun.

Because of this, it would be easy to say that if you’ve played a 2D platformer, you’ve played Rayman Origins, but that’s not really the case. The spectacular animation, level design, and overall personality make the game feel completely fresh, even when it’s not. And I can’t think of any platformer that’s this fun for multiplayer, whether it was designed for it or not.

Besides, even if you have played a 2D platformer, it was probably at least two years ago. How many dull first- and third-person shooters have you played just in the last year? Rayman Origins is an excellent celebration of the things games used to be about.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

Product Release: Rayman Origins (US, 11/15/11)

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