Review: Rayman: Origins Impresses With Amazing Graphics
At a Glance
If you were one of the folks who bought a PlayStation when it was first released, one of the best games you likely had available to you was the platformer Rayman. With its beautifully drawn backgrounds and multiple layers of action, Rayman seemed leaps and bounds beyond anything that had been done on previous consoles.
Rayman: Origins, while set early in the series' continuity, is leaps and bounds beyond even the excellence of the original Rayman game. Everything this game does, from its vibrant, hand-drawn graphics, to its great sense of humor and its inside jokes about video games, to its compelling, hummable soundtrack, exudes a sense that this was a labor of love for the designers. Gameplay, too, manages to be everything you'd expect from a modern platformer, only couched in the comfortable, old-school feel of a simple, 2D side-scroller. Controls are crisp, and the game intersperses plenty of thinking-cap puzzles in with the reflex action, so all kinds of players will find something to enjoy here.
Perhaps the best thing Origins does, though, is allow for up to four players to seamlessly drop in and out of co-op play at any point during a playthrough. Players can take on the role of Rayman himself, blue best bud Globox, or a couple of "teensies," the Rayman universe's answer to fairies. And speaking of the Rayman universe, this game world is absolutely teeming with life -- Origins sets up the backstory for "future" Rayman titles by explaining how Rayman went from being a devil-may-care, happy-go-lucky gent to the slightly more focused hero he is in other Rayman games. It also describes the origins of the Darktoons (the game's ubiquitous enemies), and Mr. Dark (the original Rayman antagonist) himself. Even for someone like me, steeped in desensitizing M-rated fare, the story and characters are plenty compelling in Origins, and I found myself wanting to know more and see more, even as I played.
When it comes to seeing more, of course, Origins has got you covered, with what has got to be the best-looking art I've seen in a 2D game, well, ever. Really, some of the levels feel like you're experiencing one of the world's greatest painters unfold his masterpiece at the speed of light as you play your way through it. Characters, enemies, and even background objects pop with color, personality, and heart, while animations for things as prosaic as jumping around or slapping your teammate (yeah, you can smack each other around for yuks) are wonderfully evocative. I wouldn't be surprised if a non-gamer who walked in on you playing this would think you were watching a Disney movie. In fact, my buddy commented while we were playing that it reminded him of the old Don Bluth arcade cabinet games like Dragon's Lair, only much, much better looking and much, much more fun. I was inclined to agree.
And speaking of movie-quality, the game's music, too, is a huge plus here. Not only does Origins feature tons of great original tunes, but the music is cued to what's happening on the screen -- not a new technology in video games, to be sure, but one that's handled particularly well in Origins. In films and television, having the music tie in to what action is happening onscreen is called "sync scoring," and while this is technically impossible to pull of in games, as players' actions are unpredictable, Origins comes as close to feeling well and truly sync scored as any game I've ever played. It also helps that the composer has fun with inside jokes, inserting all sorts of recognizable quotes from famous classical, video game, and popular song themes, often eliciting a sudden chuckle or a "hey, I recognize that!" at just the right moment.
Don't let the music and art distract you too much, though, because Rayman has some honest-to-goodness challenges wrapped up in its pretty package. The majority of gameplay consists of moving from one end of a level to another, typically along a 2D plane (although sometimes shifting into the Z-axis for certain periods of time). You (and your buddies, if you've got any with you), make your journey by running, jumping, grabbing helpful stuff, and smacking unhelpful stuff in the grill. Cleverly, though, the game also allows you and your buddy to carry each other, leap off of each other (or solid objects) while airborne, and generally use each other for puzzle solving. Some areas of the game will be impossible to get to without a buddy, while others will just be a lot easier with one. Because Origins employs a similar system to that in New Super Mario Brothers Wii, wherein if one player is killed he turns into a floating bubble which the other player can pop in order to resurrect him, it's possible to trial and error your way through a lot of the tougher stuff by having a buddy save your butt. This means that, while Origins does get very tough -- almost to the point of frustration -- as long as you have a competent friend or two along for the ride, you're never really going to be left behind.
This is a good thing, too, as Origins has a ton of levels (more than 60) to conquer, and plenty of secret content to unearth. The problem here is that much of that content is simply impossible to discover, and many of those levels are really, really, really hard, if you're playing by yourself. Indeed, if Origins has a serious foible it's that playing the game alone feels rather bereft. Maybe I wouldn't have felt this way had I not played through with a buddy at first, but there is an undeniable sense that you're missing out by playing alone. Sure, plenty of games are designed to be co-op only, but for a 2D platformer like this one, especially one that might be targeted toward younger kids, it would've been nice to have alternatives to the cooperative puzzles for solo gamers.
That said, even playing solo, Origins is one of the best platforming experiences you're going to have on this generation of consoles. The game is crafted with so much love, so much humor, and does so many things right, that it's impossible not to have a blast. Hell, my buddy's girlfriend was having fun just watching us play -- and she's normally a stone-cold hater. If Origins can melt her icy heart, surely most gamers can find a place in our golden hearts for it, too.