The best platformer of the decade?
After a long absence, Rayman is finally back! The last release in the main series of platforming Rayman games, Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc, was released
in 2003. Since then, the Rayman franchise had fallen into despair with the resources being used on Rabbids party games and endless remakes and re-releases of the first three games on other platforms.
Enter Rayman Origins. This game is a revitalization of the main series of Rayman games (hence the ‘Origins’), a two-dimensional platformer in the style of the very first iteration of the series, and I think it’s safe to say this game is the best one yet.
What makes this game outstanding? First of all, the presentation is great. The cutscenes display a loose appreciation of silly childish humour, which is a breath of fresh air in an era where many games seem to favour dark and gritty realism over colourful imagination and fantasy. The folks at Ubisoft have also done a great job at crafting the best looking game on the Vita. It may not be as visually impressive as WipEout 2048, NFS: Most Wanted or AC3: Liberation because it is set in a 2D side-scrolling world, but the graphics are crystal clear and the rich palette full of lush colours is extremely pleasing to the eyes and shows the capability of the Vita’s vibrant OLED screen. Rayman and his pals have been animated very well, and their silly movements and dances fit very well in the overall light-hearted tone the game presents you with.
The foreground in which you jump around feels alive; plants rustle, water flows quietly, birds jitter around singing their little songs and jets of fire rushing around. The background features beautifully drawn static paintings in the same theme as the rest of the level. Sometimes, the characters seem a bit tiny on the Vita’s screen, but pinching the touchscreen allows you to zoom in and out, eliminating this issue. This visual festival is accompanied by a lively and varied soundtrack, ranging from the soothing sound of guitar strings being plucked to exhilarating and upbeat saxophone music which would not misfit a Brazilian carnival.
This excellent preparation in combination with great controls produces a smooth platforming experience. The flow in Rayman Origins is great, which is mainly caused by the brilliant level design; platforms and objects are placed exactly where they should be. The controls are loose but precise and work perfectly. Getting through the levels is fairly easy, but you want to collect enough Lums (Rayman’s take on coins) which gain you Electoons, and to gather these you need to catch the rhythm of the game; time your jumps right, search for Lum Medals and Hidden Cages containing Electoons in every nook and cranny.
There are a grand total of 11 worlds (with around 4-8 levels in each world!) in the Glade of Dreams, the Rayman dimension. Each world has its own setting, such as the jungle, the desert or the ocean. The playstyle, enemies and obstacles in these worlds vary, keeping the game fresh. There are roughly four different types of levels, the most common being standard levels platform levels quite similar to those in the first Rayman, where you casually make your way to the end while trying to collects as many Lums as possible and beat up enemies in the process. Then we have the mosquito levels, which are side-scrolling shoot ‘em ups. The early ones are fairly easy, but near the end of the game you’ll be presented with some that will pose a serious challenge and will throw many enemies and projectiles at you.
Next up are the Tricky Treasure levels that are unlocked by collecting the required amount of Electoons Electoons, which can be used to unlock additional ‘Tricky Treasure’ levels. And those are fun, as in ‘they need to make a game only consisting of Tricky Treasure levels’ fun. They’re also very challenging. You’re chasing a treasure through a level and obstacles appear as you run; one mistake and you’ve got to start over again. It is an excellent example of the great flow in the game; you’ll need expert timing and the obstacle placement is superbe. These levels are a great attraction for the gamer who loves Super Meat Boy (PC); they’re fast, they’re frantic, they’re fun and you need to ‘learn’ how the level works before you can beat it.
Do not let the colourful graphics and cheeky humour fool you; the gameplay of the main levels isn’t solely for little kids either. The difficulty ramps up nicely; the first
worlds are relatively easy while the last levels are excruciatingly hard, not to mention the unlockable bonus world which is a major challenge. As you progress, you gain new abilities, such as attacking, wall-running and double-jumping, which allow for some neat level designs and sometimes it’s hard to decide what to do in the split second you have to make a decision.
The game never gets frustratingly difficult, though, and beating the harder levels or collecting enough Lums to earn a medal is very rewarding and satisfying.
Finally, there are the swimming levels. They throw the overall pacing in the game down by a quite a bit, and controlling your character doesn’t work quite as well as it does with solid ground under your feet or while riding a mosquito’s back. These levels are therefore more focused on precise movement of your character instead of timing your jumps right.
One thing that I miss in the Vita version is multi-player. One of the great features on consoles was that you play levels together with your friends. This allowed for almost endless replay value. The Vita version replaces the online multiplayer with a Ghost mode, where you’ll try to beat your friends best times on a level. However, this does not really suit the game since the levels are mostly based on survival and Lum-collecting and aren’t designed to be raced through.
All in all, Rayman Origins is a must have. It sports a unique and brilliant visual style in combination with enthralling gameplay and atmosphere-enhancing music. It packs a lot of varied content and revitalizes both the Rayman series and the 2D-platforming genre, which has featured few notable releases outside from the standard and safe Mario games and was in desperate need of a new injection of originality. Rayman Origins on the PS Vita may be the salvation of the genre and outside of the lack of multiplayer this Vita game is a perfect port. This game is one of the few games that induces a warm, fuzzy feeling similar to nostalgia- while I have never played the original Rayman. It’s that good, and if you do not possess a giant hatred towards platformers then I urge you to play this game.