For much of Rayman’s life, he’s suffered from an identity crisis. After his stunning debut outing, Super Mario 64 seemingly made 2D platformers obsolete. Ubisoft felt obligated to move Rayman into the third dimension, which led to a string of mediocre 3D platformers. Eventually, Rayman would find his name slapped on the Raving Rabbids mini-game collections, where he ultimately got out-shined by his insane rabbit compadres.
With seemingly nowhere else to go with the franchise, Ubisoft takes him back to his 2D platforming roots with Rayman Origins. Within minutes of playing this reboot, it’s clear that he never should have left.
Back in its heyday, the original Rayman was a visual tour de force. I’ll never forget how jaw-dropping its graphics were back in the day. To my surprise, this reboot managed to do the same thing. Everything about Rayman Origins looks like you’re playing a modern cartoon. It’s easily one of the prettiest games I’ve seen in awhile.
Beyond the presentation layer, Rayman Origins shares a lot of gameplay elements with the original. You’re exploring 2D worlds to free Electoons from cages, and you gain a number of different abilities along the way. The level designs and the abilities you gain make for some really fun platforming action. Unlike the original, which I felt had overly loose controls, this Rayman and his allies definitely handle with a good amount of precision that most people should be happy with. In general, I prefer the feel of a Mario platformer, but it’s simply a matter of taste.
In the early stages, its a fairly light romp through its lush environments that shouldn’t cause anyone to break a sweat. That notion of easiness fades quickly, as the difficulty ratchets up to extreme levels. Once you’ve hit the second half of the game, anything less than perfect platforming will usually end in instant death. You will die often, and you will only succeed after learning every nuance of each level, then executing to perfection. As someone who has been a bit disappointed with how easy the New Super Mario Bros. series of games have been, this was a welcome change of pace. However, if you die too often in a particular level, the game will give you the option to skip it. This may prove to be a short-term fix, as you could put yourself in a situation where you won’t have the minimum number of Electoons required to unlock the later segments of the game. My word of advice would be to suck it up, and power through each level as they come your way to save yourself the stress of backtracking.
With up to three of your friends, you also play through all of the game’s levels in co-op. While enjoyable by proxy, it’s evident that the game wasn’t really tuned with multiplayer in mind. Some of the levels (particularly the fast forced-scrolling ones) are really difficult to complete as a team, as it’s really hard not to sabotage your teammates progress when characters can make contact with each other. During my time of playing this game with Steff, I would constantly hit her off platforms by accident while trying to hit enemies or other elements in the world. With Rayman Legends coming soon for Wii U, I hope that Ubisoft makes more of an effort to optimize the levels and gameplay systems to work better as a co-op experience.
In a generation filled with great 2D platformers, Rayman Origins stands near (if not at) the top of its class. Besides having a pretty face, its a blast to play, as long as you’ve got the guts to work through the challenge. It doesn’t work as well as a party experience, but you can keep a copy of New Super Mario Bros. on the side for that. In any case, this is a must-play title worth going out of your way for.