Rayman Origins (Wii) - Review by Chris
It's been some time since we last saw Rayman make more than a cameo appearance in a new game, and even longer since he was strutting his platforming stuff. With the Rabbids having gone off to do their own things, renowned French developer Michel Ancel and his Ubisoft studio have seen fit to finally bring the character back to the gameplay that started it off, with the new UbiArt framework being employed to help join the resurgence of excellent platformers we've been seeing over the last year or so. With a beautiful new art style and an excellent team behind it, can Rayman reclaim his place amongst platformings greatest or is this simply all looks and no substance?
Rayman Origin's story is largely moot, with the game going so far as to largely ignore any semblance of plot outside of an unspoken opening cutscene which sees Rayman and friend munching away on food, only to disturb a granny and causing her to unleash the Darktoons on the Glade of Dreams. The Fairy Council calls on the limbless hero and his friends to resolve the issue that they so created by rescuing the Electoons which have been kidnapped and imprisoned. As said, it's largely moot and you'll never encounter any story outside of the opening of the game, which allows the gameplay to speak for itself which is good because that is where the game truly shines.
Mixing old school side scrolling duties with modern level design and flair, Rayman Origins plays pretty much any other platformer on the market, which may sound run-of-the-mill but it is anything but. While the staple walking, sprinting and jumping mechanics are all in place, what sets the game apart is how they are all presented both separately and as incorporated actions. Your first run through of each level will be slow and measured as you track down the Lums and Electoons needed to keep moving forward but the further you go into the game, the more poetic the gameplay becomes. Sections of levels will have you joining together every ability you possess and where other titles may feel a bit stop and start, once this game gets flowing, it's incredibly hard to put down. You'll be stringing together wall jumps on crumbling walls only to then land an inch perfect jump on a miniscule ledge before having to swing across and gap, minding the enemies and then run up a section of wall. It bears some resemblance to Super Meat Boy in that once you get into the swing of things, you'll keep going thanks largely to some brilliant level design and a perfect understanding of what makes a platformer enjoyable.
Cues are definitely taken from the adventure genre with regards to how abilities are dished out. Just like other platformers which introduce new power-ups, Rayman Origins introduces new abilities for Rayman at the beginning of each new world and then crafts its levels around that new ability to make sure you've gotten to grips with it. It's a great way to keep you invested in the game as it starts as a straight forward platformer but slowly adds little touches, courtesy of the new abilities such as being able to fly, swim or even run on walls and ceilings. It keeps everything fresh and helps the replayability of earlier levels as you can go back in with these new abilities and track down any Electoons and Lums you missed out on first time around.
It's not all platforming, though. Alongside the drip feed of new abilities, each world ends with a flying section where Rayman will ride on a mosquito and take part in a shoot'em up style level, where you can do standard shots or suck up enemies and shoot them for more damage. For some games, it would help to alleviate the staleness which would come from the constant platforming but because of how brilliant that portion of the game already is, these flying sections act as a bonus of sort to extend the fun even further. Throw in some boss battles which again throw out the rules by changing the ways in which you're tasked with taking them out and you've got a game that even Nintendo would be proud to put out. It's as though the game is dialled to what the gamer is feeling, never having long stretches without adding something new or doing something different.
There's a distinct feeling of Donkey Kong Country Returns about this game, in terms of not only the gameplay but also the longevity of the game. The 60 or so levels will take upwards of 10 hours to clear but with bonus Electoon medals to collect in each level as well as trial levels which require inch perfect platforming courtesy of rote learning of the level layouts, you could easily double that time investment and you'll feel compelled to do so in the 'one-more-try' adage because you believe you'll nail it next time around. It's that pull that the game has on you that'll keep you playing and keep you enjoying everything, new and old, that the game throws at you. Multiplayer is included, allowing up to 4 players to play through the game but with 4, things can become too hectic even if everyone is cooperating with one another. Should you wish to play in multiplayer, 2 players is perhaps the best way to go to keep things enjoyable.
3 control options are included for use, Wii-mote solus, Wii-mote with the Nunchuk and the Classic Controller, all of which work as well as one another so the ultimate choice of what you use will come down to preferences. The d-pad or the analogue stick control your movement and while the d-pad is definitely more fitting for the gameplay and does provide better manoeuvrability, the stick is still serviceable even if it can be a little finicky for some of the platforming, although this is really a small issue which resonates throughout whichever setup you make use of.
The Wii has been no stranger to gorgeous looking side scrolling games over its life cycle, with the likes of Muramasa and Wario Land: Shake Dimension showing what the console can do with 2 dimensions. With Rayman Origins, the console can add another title to its repertoire of visually outstanding titles. The new UbiArt framework breathes a new lease of life into the license and creates some of the best looking visuals we've seen ever with crisp, clear multilayered locations that burst with colour giving a level of charm and character to the levels that few games can match. There are some blurred images occasionally cropping up in the foreground but despite the lack of HD crispness, the game runs toe to toe with the bigger versions and looks every bit the part.
Level design runs the gambit and while there are some tried and tested locales, such as the obligatory grassy, fire and ice locations, each is given its own twist that makes it its own being. For example, the ice locations are designed to remind you of those long, hot summer days with cubes of ice and fruits wedges and slices placed around. The fire levels, which blend effortlessly into those ice levels later, are all carried out in a kitchen style environment and the musical themed levels are brilliant in their ingenuity for making use of instruments and musical notes. It's through the levels that we can see exactly why Ancel has been dubbed the French Miyamoto as there's definite sparks of creativity that the two share.
Characters are superbly animated in their 2D styling, reminding of Rayman's beginnings but also making it feel very fresh. Smooth transition from all actions, from flying to punching to swimming, shows the designers brilliant effort in bringing everything together and a pervading sense of humour throughout it all, not only with Rayman and Globox but even the enemies, will never cease to bring a smile to your face as you continue to marvel in the game's visuals.
The game's soundtrack is perhaps one of the most laidback you'll find in any game but it is pitch perfect in its pairing with the levels and the gameplay. It's quiet and withdrawn in levels that are more open, with plenty of greenery, and changes tempo completely when the action dictates it or when the theme changes completely. Some may feel that it blends into the background a bit too much but that speaks more for the game than it does against it because of how well matched everything is. Some of the faux speech for the characters may irritate after awhile as it's simply babbling but it does fit with the character of the game.
Rayman returns triumphantly to consoles in perhaps his most enjoyable game yet with Origins. It's not just the look of the game that makes it so good, although to say that doesn't help would be lying. Everything is crafted with an expertise that only Ancel and his team could achieve, with brilliant and ingenious level design that drip feeds you new gameplay additions and ideas to keep you hooked, minimising the gulf that has existed between Nintendo's side scrolling efforts and those from other teams. It's an absolute joy from start to finish and if this is the future of Rayman games, then it's an absolute yes please to seeing more of this on consoles. Don't let this one go unnoticed, as it really is a must play.
Pro: Plays like a dream, ingenious level design, presentation is up there with the be
Con: 3 and 4 player multiplayer can be too hectic, the Trial levels will frustrate so
Final score: 9