These days it seems that almost every other game released at retail is a grim and gritty first person shooter featuring a cut-out carbon copy hero with a shaved head (and maybe a few scars) fighting against waves of Aliens/Terrorists/Nazis. Older gamers may remember a time when there was a greater variety of games available at retail, ranging from jousting to hospital waste management, and everything inbetween.
Those that miss the simple era of games should check out the latest entry in Ubisoft’s Rayman series. Rayman Origins is as old school as doing sums on a blackboard, a pure 2D side scrolling platformer in which Rayman and up to three friends jump, punch, swim, and glide through dozens of beautiful environments.
Despite the title this is not a game that deals with Rayman’s origins. Instead the game opens with Rayman and friends taking a nap in the Glade of Dreams at the Snoring Tree. Rayman and chums are snoring so loudly that it disturbs an mean spirited old woman in the underworld, who retaliates by sending a legion of monsters to take over Rayman’s home. It is up to you to clear the darkness from the land so that you can get back to the important business of going back to sleep.
The first thing that sticks out about this game is the art design. Graphically speaking there is nothing quite like it out there. The environments have a fantastic smooth quality to them that resembles something you would see in the best animated short category at the Oscars. Everything, from character designs to the levels themselves, is crystal clear and detailed, making this one of the best looking games of the year by far.
The basic aim of each level is to free captured Electoons, floating pink balls with smiling faces, and collect Lums, the game’s equivalent of Sonic’s rings and Mario’s coins. Simply completing the level grants you one Electoon, while up to two others can be found in-level by solving hidden puzzles. Meanwhile collecting as many Lums as possible can grant you up to a further two Electoons. Completing the level within set time limits can also award a further Electoon and a trophy, if you’re particularly fast.
Each world has a steady pace to it. You start each world by having to free a captured Nymph, who then grants you a new power, such as the ability to swim, glide, or shrink. The next section of the world revolves around using your new ability to solve some basic platforming puzzles. As well as basic platforming, each world has a level in which you ride on a mosquito and must shoot down a number of enemies. The mosquito can also suck up enemies and spit them out, turning foes in to additional projectiles.
During the first half of the game there is no major pressure to collect all of the Electoons, beyond granting you access to a bonus level in which you take part in a high speed chase. However, in the second half of the game you will need as many Electoons as possible to grant you access to the game’s main bosses. This means that you will likely replay many of the earlier levels over and over again in order to fulfil your Electoon quota for each of the boss encounters, because the new worlds that unlock after freeing all of the Nymphs are incredibly challenging.
It is during the second half of the game that the difficulty ramps up substantially. Early levels have incredibly generous windows of opportunity for each platforming section, so much so that my initial impressions were that the game was too easy. However, the later levels are populated with devilishly tough platforming sections, aggressive enemies, and instant-kill obstacles.
Playing in single player can be infuriatingly difficult because you can be hit a maximum of two times before you die (unless you manage to collect an extra heart somewhere along the way) and some of the later platforming puzzles require pinpoint precision. This can be incredibly frustrating at times, as the checkpoints are fairly far apart. During boss fights, in which you have to learn the boss’ pattern of moves before striking, it can be quite time consuming simply because one little error can lead to your death, taking you right back to the start.
Having said that, playing in co-op, with up to three other players, lightens the burden, as any player that dies can be revived by a team mate. If all players die then you have to restart from a checkpoint, but with a team of skilled players that shouldn’t be too much of an issue. In fact the only issue with the four player co-op is that, for the most part, there isn’t enough to do in each level to fully occupy every player. More often than not the player that is up front will take care of all of the enemies, leaving straggling players little to do other than pick up stray Lums.
The only real downside to the co-operative part of the game is that it only supports local play, meaning that you cannot go online and play with friends. Having said that the inclusion of online play may have gone against the spirit of the game, after all you couldn’t play online in the heyday of the Super Nintendo and Mega Drive, could you?
Graphics: 5/5 – Probably the most graphically impressive game to be released in a long time.
Sound: 3/5 - While the game’s music and sound effects are strong (the king of the Lums’ tune is quite catchy) there is no voice acting, beyond a few incomprehensible grunts.
Gameplay: 4/5 - Pure old school platforming, with plenty of objectives to complete in each level. One slight issue is the way the difficulty ramps up half way through, but this is lessened if you play with other players.
Longevity: 4/5 – With nearly 250 Electoons to collect in the game this will keep you busy for hours and hours.
Overall: 4 out of 5
Rayman Origins is a beautiful looking platformer that is evocative of a bygone era, crammed full with objectives and challenging gameplay. This is by far one of the best platformers available on Xbox 360 and PS3, and rivals some of Nintendo’s best offerings, which is a substantial achievement on Ubisoft’s part.