Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Review: Rayman Origins (Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii, Nintendo 3DS, Playstation Vita)
When I was writing out my Top Games of 2011 entry, it occurred to me that I had missed out on many of the fan favorite games that were released over the past year. Given the shockingly high number of "must have" releases and my own financial limitations, some games had to slip through the cracks and Rayman Origins was one of them. Having never played a Rayman game in the past, I didn't feel any urgency in picking this up and I started to regret this after many gaming friends started raving about it. Having taken the plunge in making this my first game purchase of the new year, I can easily say that my hesitation in getting it was ill-advised. Had I played Rayman Origins at launch, it would have easily been near the top of my list for the best games of 2011.
For the uniitiated, Rayman Origins is a 2D platform action game that harkens back to the glory days of the 8-bit and 16-bit era, with the focus being less on fully-rendered 3D environments and more on challenging side-scrolling action that becomes increasingly more difficult as you progress through the levels. As is the custom for games like this, the story is cutesy, cartoonish and about as dense as helium, but the characters and overly stylized settings will have you smiling all the way. In a nutshell, the story involves the efforts of Rayman and his colorful friends to rid the Glad of Dreams from an evil army of nasties unleashed by an evil Magician and the nightmares of the Bubble Dreamer. These said nasties are called the Darktoons and they have captured the Electoons, and you are tasked with freeing traversing the dangerous levels in order to free them. Play through the levels, kill enemies, free captured friendlies and repeat. That's Rayman Origins in a nutshell. Other nuances exist in the story to keep the player engaged, however the platforming action is clearly the star of the show. You won't feel bogged down with lengthy cinematics or overly complex storylines woven throughout the game, and it's all the better for it.
Each level is divided into separate stages, each one offering a mix of environments and level designs to offset the tedium that some gamers might find with the "point A to point B" objective. The standard level-based platforming stages are complemented by areas where you must swim underwater, or take control of a giant mosquito that can both fire projectiles and suck up enemies like a vacuum. Similar to other platformers like Super Mario Brothers and Donkey Kong Country, the locales are also nicely varied, with lush jungles, levels in the clouds, wintry stages covered in ice and scorching deserts, just to name a few. Each level is beautifully hand-drawn and rendered, and Rayman Origins stands s a testament to how effective and striking a 2D platformer can be. The animation of the characters, the enemies and the backgrounds in the environments is also top notch, as is the wonderfully cartoony sountrack. Simply put, Rayman Origins is a colorful and beautiful feast for the senses, and proof that a game that pays homage to an older gaming style can still dazzle a new audience.
The gameplay in Rayman Origins emphasizes a mix of precise platforming and fast forward momentum. Some levels allow you to take your time and source out ever single collectible, while others feature dynamic environments that require you to keep moving without stopping. This is not to say that you are ill-equipped for the challenges you face. Rayman and his friends have a variety of melee attacks such as sucker punches and body slams, while releasing captured electoons affords you special abilities such as swimming, running up walls and hovering, all of which have must be used to get through certain stages. The object of each level, outside of simply passing it, is to collect colorful "Lums", which function as the games currency of sorts. You need to collect Lums to earn medals at the end of each level, and a certain number are required to unlock new areas. This leads to one of the games few weaknesses; the need to backtrack. Players who take the fast track through earlier levels will find themselves at a shortage of needed Lums, which will require you to replay levels that have already been completed. The upside to this is that each level is packed with secret areas, hidden skull coins, and hidden cages where pink Lums (more valuable) are held in large numbers. Replaying areas can seem like a chore, but there are enough rewards for repeatedly playing a level to make it worthwhile and feel like less of a grind.
While Rayman Origins looks approachable and simple in concept, it must be said that it can get very challenging at times. Many of the levels have dynamic environments that crumble around you, and some that continuously move forward, requiring you to think and use your abilities quickly. You also don't have a lot of health, so running into enemies or attacking certain ones head-on can lead to numerous deaths, as can misjudging a jump or moving too slow as you level makes a beeline for the right. As challenging as it can be, the frequent checkpoints and unlimited lives ensure that there is no harsh penalty for dying, however certain achievements and level bonuses do require you to make it through without dying or taking damage. To get the most out of your experience with Rayman Origins, replaying multiple levels is required as many secrets and rewards are easily missed on your first run-through. With the sheer volume of things to discover, there is plenty here to satisfy the completionist within. Rayman Origins also supports up to 4 player local co-op which, similar to New Super Mario Brothers Wii, can get incredibly chaotic and ridiculously fun or frustrating depending on how everyone plays.
For those who remember playing 2D platformers on older consoles, as well as those new to the experience, Rayman Origins is a game you need to have on your radar. The strikingly beautiful graphics, the intuitive and occasionally punishing level design and an incredible sense of reward and discovery all combine to make this one of the most satisfying and addictive games in recent memory. If you overlooked this game when it was first released or have been on the fence about getting it, believe me when I say that you owe it to yourself to pick it up. Rayman Origins combines some of the best elements that we love in video games and gives it you in an experience that is not to be missed.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Note: The Playstation Vita and Nintendo 3DS versions are both scheduled for release in March 2012. No PC version has been confirmed.