Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Review: Rayman Origins....PLAY THIS GAME.

There was talk leading up to the release of Ubisoft's Rayman Origins about two things; its incredible hand-drawn art style, which has been the subject of universal praise, as well as controversy over its $60 price tag. What's so surprising to me is that in an industry where many seem to want to see the return of the Platformer genre to its old school 2D roots, these same people then hesitate to pay full price for it.

In the case of Rayman Origins, that's not only too bad, but considering how awesome this game has actually turned out, it's a downright shame. I'm a big supporter of the 3D platformer and have been for some time; that's not to say I haven't liked the 2D platformers we've seen this generation, but I've never felt that it was the direction I wanted the genre to head back in. Rayman Origins is the first game that's managed to make me stop and consider that maybe there really is something to be gained by cutting out all the fluff that has been building onto the platformer genre since it went 3D. This game is platforming reduced to its purest form, but refined to an incredible degree, and it's difficult not to be convinced by it.

Graphics: Rayman Origins is one of the prettiest games I've played this console generation, and that's due not only to the gorgeous hand-drawn visuals, but the inventive character and boss designs. This entire game has a certain whimsical look to it that applies to each and every aspect of its visual appearance, and the level variety's something to be admired. It all feels like one universe, even though levels range from a fire-heavy kitchen to stormy clouds, forests, underwater segments, and more. I didn't encounter any slowdown at all that I can remember, and while there certainly are load times, they aren't so annoying that they should be labeled as a flaw. Story sequences are presented with the same wackiness as the rest of the game, and everything feels so alive and zany that it's like reading a Dr. Seuss book. You never know what crazy sights will await you around the bend. Graphically, this is a flawless experience.

Gameplay: What helps to make Rayman Origins such a remarkable game is that the controls and physics feel so.....perfect. What ends up being a stumbling block for many platformers is made so easy here that it's almost hard to understand why so many other developers get it wrong. Rayman's hover works wonders and keeps you in the air for just the right amount of time. Jumping is pressure-sensitive and also feels just right. Deciding when to hover and when to simply perform a long jump is part of the fun, especially when in one of the many areas where the game requires you to move fast. Rayman has a dash ability that gets him moving quickly, and even combat, though it may be the game's most under-utilized feature, feels fun, with an amusing charge attack as Rayman winds up his swing. Fighting in the air is also an option. What amazes me the most about Rayman Origins is that *everything* involving the control of your character has been perfected. Each power you acquire as you progress through the game, including swimming and wall-running, not to mention flying, feels just as fun to control as everything else. And yes, this is a 2D platformer designed perfectly for an analog stick; a rarity, to be sure, but I couldn't picture anybody playing this with the D-pad.

It's good that the controls work so well, because this isn't a game that's afraid to challenge you. You're free to pass levels if you can't beat them, (though if you do this too often you'll fall behind on your rescuing of the Electoons, which will eventually bar your progress through the game until you go back and collect more) and the developers have been incredibly liberal with the checkpoints. The lack of lives is also a refreshing bit of game design. Still, Rayman Origins will definitely challenge you, but with that comes the feeling of satisfaction and reward when you do get past a particularly tricky part. There's some ingenious platforming here, and even if you find yourself cursing the game, you can't help but shake your head, pick up your controller again, and think, "I hate this part, but man, is this some brilliant game design."

What's nice about the challenge is how much satisfaction you get from playing well. Similar to past Rayman games, Lums are ever-present throughout the environments, and how many you collect is tallied up at the end of the level. When you hit certain points (say, 120 Lums, or 350 Lums) you'll earn an Electoon. You can find hidden Electoons on your travels as well, and at the end of each stage, you can see how many Electoons you have collected versus how many you would be able to collect per stage. Collecting Electoons unlocks bonus Treasure Run sections, which are fast-paced levels where you race a treasure chest through tough obstacle courses that will test even the most seasoned platformer fan. As with the rest of the game, the sense of reward here is high, as completing each one earns you a red ruby, which actually serve as teeth for one of the characters who lives in the Snoring Tree, your home base. Get him all his teeth, and you unlock a whole other area of the game. Getting enough Lums per stage also awards you with a medal for a top performance, and these aren't easy to get either, but it encourages you to collect as many as possible, and hitting certain triggers will give you limited time bonuses, like doubling the value of each Lum collected for a short time; Fun stuff.

Did I mention all the characters you can unlock by collecting Electoons? There's that too. Tons of characters, all chilling out in the Snoring Tree, waiting to be controlled by you. And though I played through Rayman Origins as a solo experience, I can imagine that the excitement of unlocking all the characters is much stronger in co-op multiplayer (up to 4 can team up). There's a lot here, and this isn't a short game, either. For all the skepticism surrounding whether it would be worth paying retail pricing for, this happens to be quite a lengthy experience, and that's just beating the main story.

If there's one weak point here it'd have to be the boss battles, which, despite looking cool, often come down to trial-and-error memorization and can even feel anti-climactic at times. In fact, there are a few moments over the course of this game that don't feel as if they were designed to be completed on a first try. Trial-and-error is certainly nothing new in this genre, but it's unfortunate whenever it does crop up here because even with relaxed penalties for it, dying's never particularly fun, and some sections (few, but some) wind up feeling frustrating.

Even with those flaws, Rayman Origins is a game that, for the most part, feels like platforming excellence. I beg anybody who has ever liked this type of game to give it a shot. You don't have to be familiar with Rayman to love the game's charm, and you don't have to be a platforming expert for the controls to feel almost instantly like second nature. Definitely a must-play.

Sound: Characters talk in that usual weird "Rayman Language" while you read text boxes but story here's minimal anyway. The music features plenty of orchestration with some weird vocals going on from time to time as well. While I could have done without the vocals, or at least done with less of them, some of the music here's excellent and fits the various levels to a T. Definitely a game with a look all its own and the audio to match. Sound effects are also handled well.

Story: Essentially, the loud snoring of Rayman and his friends angers an old woman nearby, and she sends her demons out into their world as a result. Rayman must go on a mission to free those she captured and turned evil, as well as stopping this demon granny once and for all. The story's presented in a very fun way but there's not a lot of it, and even with a plot twist that I just can't make any sense of, I enjoyed what little story was here. You don't really play a game like this one for the story, and Rayman Origins' story works very well for what it sets out to do.

Verdict: Reviewing this game for its single-player alone, it's possible that my score would be even higher had I gotten to experience its multiplayer. This is a great game that challenges you but rewards you well for your accomplishments. It has a constant charm, the visuals never cease to amaze, the controls work like a dream, and there's so much to play through and unlock here. Though the gameplay may not have quite the level of variety of something like the excellent Mario Galaxy series, and while there are some frustrating trial-and-error stuff and bosses who could have used some work, Rayman Origins succedes to a degree that I hadn't expected it to. This is an incredible 2D platformer, easily one of my favorites of this console generation, and one definitely worth whatever price you can find it for, so snap it up!


Presentation: Simple but entertaining story, easy to learn gameplay, and plenty to do even after the end credits.

Graphics: Beauty. That's all that needs to be said.

Gameplay: Great controls, lots of level variety, great system that rewards your skill. Some parts feel a little unfair but it's very difficult to hate this game even during those moments.

Sound: Solid music and your usual Rayman vocal delivery. Could have done without the vocal audio tracks though.

Replay Value: This is a long game just to complete, letalone to do all it has to offer.

Overall: 8.5/10

(My reviews go on a .5 scale)

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