Rayman Origins is a delirious platformer packed with delicious visuals and scrumptious level design. The legless protagonist's latest adventure is the perfect antidote to the industry's frustrating obsession with gritty war games, prompting some of the most fun you'll find on PlayStation 3 this year.
Games like Rayman Origins don't come around very often. As the industry's shifted its fixation towards dark, gritty worlds, the idea of fantastical, innocent landscapes has fallen to the wayside. The evolution of technology has steered game design away from the clever platforming that defined the industry's earlier years, driving the medium towards bombastic set pieces and realistic object physics. While we don't necessarily dislike the direction that video games have taken, we'd be lying if we suggested that we didn't miss the old days.
That's why Rayman Origins is so important. It's a game that channels the nostalgia of a bygone era, while still standing up to the scrutiny of modern day standards. Rayman Origins may well suffer from a commercial perception problem, but that's not the fault of the game.
The platformer is the brainchild of Ubisoft's under-utilised creative powerhouse Michel Ancel, and is one of the most artistically cohesive titles to ever appear on PlayStation 3. It's an astonishing achievement, with a thick, handpainted look occupying every inch of the game's presentation. It's vibrant and convincing, with cute animation cycles bringing the illustrated world to life. What's most astounding is how varied the game's visual style is, yet so consistently true to a core artistic idea. It's almost as if the entire world was borne out of a single piece of concept art, and it never leaves that initial idea throughout the entirety of its eight-to-ten hour running time.
It's a game that, despite its pace and madcap nature, demands you stop and drink in the scenery around you. The swaying foliage, the detailed backdrops and the mindless movement patterns of dragonflies and fish. It's a meticulously designed game that underlines the value of a high definition display, with its cartoony character design rivalling that of any Saturday morning kids' television show.
For all intents and purposes, Rayman Origins is every bit the successor to its PlayStation debut. The plot's shallow, almost non-existent, opening with the titular protagonist and friends catching some Zs in the Glade Of Dreams. Sadly, the crew's incessant snoring angers an old hag from the Underworld, who retaliates by populating the world with an army of evil no-gooders. With the chirpy Electoons and Nymphs captured, it's up to Rayman to rescue the friendly critters and restore the world to its former glory. Don't anticipate much exposition outside of the opening cutscene, as the narrative is merely context for the platforming within.
Rayman Origins is divided into a selection of unique districts, each structured around a core artistic theme and ability upgrade. Locales include an intelligently designed musical desert, an underwater labyrinth and a vibrant rural hill top. In each new area you'll unlock new abilities, giving you the opportunity to hover, dive or even run up walls. As these abilities are permanent, they give you the option to retry previous levels and collect previously unattainable Electoons. Each stage has a set quota of the cuddly caged characters to collect, requiring you to meet different conditions depending on the level.
Simply completing a stage will free a single cage of Electoons, but in order to fully complete the game you'll need to collect Lums — Rayman's equivalent of coins — as well as search for hidden cages and beat time trial style speedruns. Your Lum count can be multiplied by collecting King Lums, which prompt an infectious audio sound byte and doubles the value of the sleeping critters for a short period of time, encouraging mad dashes through sections of levels to take advantage of the multiplier.
Rayman Origins is a relatively simple game to play, but the level design is so intelligent that it becomes fiendishly challenging in places. You'll always understand exactly what's required of you, but some sequences demand such precise inputs that you'll need to replay sections over and over again before you nail them. Thankfully the game is appreciative of your investment. Should you die, restarts load within seconds and the checkpointing is fantastic, meaning you'll never be cursing the game for throwing you up against a brick wall. It's also extremely good at detecting when you're stuck, allowing you to skip challenging sequences and relieve any potential frustration.
Honestly though, you probably won't want to miss anything the game has to offer because Rayman Origins is just so fun. The way the character moves is ultra satisfying, making you feel like an acrobatic badass each time you connect a collection of energy intensive actions together. The fluidity of the game design is best presented in a selection of short time trial stages that challenge you to chase a runaway treasure chest in a single perfect run. Here you'll need to combine all of Rayman's skills in swift, memorable sprints to the exit that demand you learn each of the level's intricacies. Rayman is a difficult game, but it's never an anger-inducing one.
While great when played alone, Rayman Origins shines in multiplayer. Ubisoft borrow the mechanics from the brilliant New Super Mario Bros. Wii to great effect, prompting a platformer that's as much a social experience as it is a game. The mechanics and design remain the same when enjoyed in multiplayer, but it's the dynamic between players that adapts the experience. Simply filling the screen with players increases the chaotic nature of the gameplay, with downed accomplices demanding revival — via carefully placed slaps — from other participating players. It's easily some of the most fun local multiplayer available on PlayStation 3, enhanced by the fact that there's really nothing else like it on the system.
It's worth noting that Rayman Origins' strong visual direction isn't its only asset. The audio throughout is similarly appropriate and memorable, drawing on quirky motifs and unique sounds to create something individual and fitting. Like its visuals, the soundtrack explores many different styles — from a capella vocal riffs to ethereal layered pads — and yet still manages to fit together as a singular, cohesive style. You'll struggle to get some of the melodies out of your head.
It's frustrating, then, that the industry appears to have trained gamers that experiences like Rayman Origins don't deserve to be purchased at full-priced. It's just not true. With an enormous roster of stages, a selection of gorgeous boss fights and one of the most cohesive artistic directions on PlayStation 3, Rayman Origins is worth every penny of its asking price. Yet it's destined to get overlooked, and, sadly, dismissed as a game that should have released at a downloadable price point.
It's a shame because Rayman Origins is the real-deal. It elevates an under-represented genre to new highs, and offers something that's ultimately distinctly refreshing. Platformers are nothing new, but few feel as special as Rayman Origins. It's a triumph from start to finish, boasting outstanding presentation and game design that's enjoyable both alone or in multiplayer. The game's only flaw — and not one of its own choosing — is its dismal fate, and the implication that games of its kind are only set to get rarer in the future. If you've ever complained about the prominence of violent shooters in the video games industry, you owe it to yourself to give Rayman Origins a chance.