Review: Rayman Origins

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Rayman Origins is one of the best games of 2011, and it’s a shame that so few people have bothered to notice it.

The game, a 2D platformer, succeeds in its absolute refusal to be anything like most of this year’s most popular games, while staying true to the traditions laid down by many a classic from the 8- and 16-bit eras. Rayman Origins is a game in which nothing has to make sense, but everything is supposed to be fun.

The title also earns distinction as one of the most beautiful releases for the current or any generation of console games. Rayman Origins’ rich, painterly character designs and layouts are as vibrant as the sights one may see in the best animated films. Indeed, playing the game is like playing a cartoon.

The game’s many achievements, however, have not yet been enough to win popularity. The game sold a mere 50,000 copies in its first month of release, according to Eurogamer, and I have to be honest, the game was off my radar until I wanted to see if the rumblings I had heard of how good it was were based on truth.

The relatively few players who have thus far found Rayman Origins have turned out to be the smart ones. A relentlessly wacky game, Rayman Origins puts players inside a weird dream world where the basic gameplay – run, jump, stomp, fly, etcetera – won’t be new to anyone who has ever played a platformer before, but is consistently well-executed. Rayman Origins’ controls are smooth and the difficulty increases with time, but without approaching 1980s levels of frustration.

The game also offers a sense of flashback-infused variety in that some levels forgo platforming in favor of 2D flying levels in which players ride a giant mosquito that can inhale or spit at enemies. Anyone who ever played a game like “Life Force” for the NES will be familiar with the experience.

Rayman Origins is also game where the title character, who has hands and feet – but not arms nor legs – can slap his enemies. The game’s makers also advise that players can slap their friends, since the title allows for four-player co-op. Those who do not choose to play as Rayman himself can be “Globox,” a big, fat and blue party animal or one of the big-nosed “Teensies.” Solo players can swtich between characters as they navigate the “Glade of Dreams.”

Not being bound by the rules of reality, the Glade of Dreams is a place where a game developer’s imagination can be set free. Levels set inside the Desert of Dijiridoos are based on musical instruments, whereas the Gourmand Land is like a food-based glacier where fruit floats in icy water. Just looking at the painted environments is a reason to play the game, as the silliness is rendered in so much color as to make the screen come alive in greens, blues and even the rich browns of the desert.

Those are the sights. A bouncy, nearly frenzied soundtrack with hints of reggae, mariachi music and who-knows-what-else make up the soundtrack.

Is there a story? Probably, but it doesn’t really seem to matter. The game begins with a cutscene of Rayman and friends making a bunch of noise, while snoring, and so upsetting the the zombie-like “Livid Dead.” Rayman’s quest is something of a fight against to save the Glade of Dreams from being taken over by the Livid Dead’s nightmarish influence, but even if the game’s title implies that it’s an origin story, the game is really just an excuse for its characters to make a lot of crazy jumps and rescue several busty nymphs from peril.

The Rayman series has existed for 15 years, but more than a decade in gaming may not be enough for a cartoonish, retro game like Rayman Origins to capture players’ attention in an era when many of the most popular titles are colored in shades of camouflage and filled with guns and F-bombs.

That’s just the way the marketplace is right now. But when a game like Rayman Origins manages to be as entertaining as it is, yet hardly manages to attract any attention, something seems wrong. At the very least, this one should be an excellent pickup after the game makes what seems to be a premature journey to the bargain bin.

Rayman Origins
Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 3, XBox 360 (Reviewed on XBox 360)
Rated E for Everyone 10+