Rayman Origins: New Year catchup review

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  • Format: Wii (version reviewed), PS3, 360
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: Ubisoft
  • Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
  • Players: 1-4 (offline only)
  • Site: http://raymanorigins.uk.ubi.com/#

If you owned a SNES and/or Mega Drive (AKA Genesis) way back when, your gaming life would have been spent riding a surfboard of pleasure over a stormy sea of side-scrolling platformers. Many were terrible. Many were not; many were carefully crafted adventures that considered fun and wonder rights rather than privileges where gamers are concerned. Do you remember these games? Rayman Origins certainly does.

The first thing to hit you about this game, long before you even get to take control, is the amount of time and love that has clearly been poured into the graphics. Hand-drawn, sumptuously animated and relentlessly detailed, it looks like no other commercial release of the last ten years or more. Though the shamelessly bright colours and bloodless violence invite comparisons to a cartoon, in truth it looks more like what it truly is; an inventive, aggressively non-aggressive videogame.

The sound too stands out for all the right reasons, with the nonsense language (including split-second snatches of real words) refusing to ever make you cringe, with the moments of unintelligible sing-song delightful rather than twee. The music too is wonderful. Rather than a looping soundtrack that could be slapped onto the end of any cutesy-looking game, this is a title that has been scored. Two orchestras, a wealth of instruments, and a range of styles ensure that you’re presented with a perfectly happy audio-visual marriage.

Despite running at a lower resolution than this, the Wii version still looks wonderful.

Children of the eighties will remember the best of the 16-bit platformers, and to say that Rayman Origins plays like one of these goes a long way to making any review redundant. For the benefit of the uninitiated, the basic premise runs thus: each level starts at the left of the screen, and the exit is somewhere (very) far to the right. A combination of enemies and tricky jumps – often resulting in instant death – stand between you and success. To get through you’ll be jumping on heads (and here, punching faces) and using a range of abilities, most of which are unlocked as you progress through the game. Many moments require very precise manoeuvres and lightning reflexes. You will die often, and be thankful for checkpoints. Above all, you will have an enormous amount of fun during the ride.

To an extent, difficulty is dictated by how much content you want to experience in your first run through the game. Like any platformer worth its proverbial salt, there are collectibles; ‘Lums’, vaguely fairy-like creatures which hang in mid-air (sometime stationery, sometimes not). Grab a king Lum and, for a brief period, all other Lums turn red – doubling their value. Do you go for the highest Lum total you can manage in the level – usually meaning close encounters with invincible enemies and bottomless pits – or just grab what you can while making your way safely to the exit as soon as possible?

Lums, in turn, unlock Electoons (think Super Mario’s stars/shines). There are 246 of these in total, though only a relatively small number are required to unlock each world; and collecting a total of 200 will allow access to an extra eleven levels. Almost all levels have three Lum target numbers to achieve; the first two will give you one Electoon each, while the third will award you with a medal to look at. Each level is ended by freeing an Electoon from its cage, and there are hidden areas sprinkled throughout the game hiding extra Lums or cages; and once completed, each level has one last Electoon to surrender as a reward for a speedrun.

Ah, underwater sections. You were never allowed to make a platformer without them.

Though it works superbly as a singleplayer game, up to four of you can run, jump, glide, wallrun, and walljump your way through simultaneously; and, of course, stop to slap each other about should you feel the need. Extra players can certainly help during the side-scrolling shooter sections (which, incidentally, somehow fit in perfectly). There are extra characters to unlock but, as many are too similar and there is no coherent story within the game at all, it doesn’t act as much of an incentive.

You won’t much care who you’re playing as. Partly because you’ll be having too much fun and/or concentrating too hard on a particularly tricky section, but also because you’ll want to see how many industry references you can spot. There are subtle, never-intrusive nods in the level designs to Mario, Sonic, Angry Birds, Snake, Super Meat Boy, and doubtless many more we’ve missed. These tasteful homages go hand-in-hand with the intricacy of the graphical detail and the power of the soundtrack to create levels that look, sound, and feel alive. It’s so much more than idiot smiles and squeaky voices. Every single level is bursting with character, energy, and an utterly unique sense of self.

It is, sadly, not an endless parade of positives. Though it took us a respectable ten hours or so to run through the story, collecting roughly 60% of the Electoons along the way, it was mostly fairly easy to get through. That’s not necessarily a problem; the fact that the game occasionally leans too heavily on trial and error – particularly for the bosses and the final leg of the story – is. There’s nothing wrong with the time-honoured balancing act of quick reflexes and unexpected circumstances, but the ball is now and again dropped here.

Replay value is a thorny issue. Many (though not all) will happily work for and play the ten exhilarating, peril-laden chase levels that must be completed for the final hidden area; but only the most hardcore platformer freaks (or trophy/achievement addicts) will go through the same levels again and again until they have every last Electoon, medal and speed trophy.

Considering the tidal wave of price cuts due to lack of sales, this last is perhaps not an issue. If you loved the platformers of the nineties you’ll love this; and if you weren’t there for that era, perhaps Rayman Origins will make you regret the fact that you missed out.

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Written by Luke K

He plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He’s the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value.

He doesn’t have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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