Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Rayman Origins Review

                When I hear people talking about games they loved as a kid I hear a lot of Legend of Zelda games, I hear a lot of Mario and Donkey Kong titles, Metroid gets mentioned a bunch, but for me, a guy who never owned a Nintendo console growing up, my gaming heroes included guys like Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, Abe the Mudokon, and of course Rayman. Ah yes, Rayman. This rather understated platforming hero has captivated me personally throughout each of his titles (Rabbids excluded) due to his lack of limbs and crazy hair. Now he’s back in a full blown, 2D platforming reboot that pays homage to not only the first game of his own series, but the first game to put the publishing giant Ubisoft on the gaming map. But is it a good game? The short answer is yes, yes it is. I could end my review there but I think it’s safe to assume that if you’re reading a review you’re looking for a little more elaboration. So let’s elaborate, shall we?
Golem Mountain


                Let’s start by pointing out something that can be pointed out with one look at the game. Rayman Origins is a visually spectacular game. The visual is very reminiscent of the Rayman games before it (Rabbids excluded). Everything on screen is colorful and full of life, and when I say ‘full of life’ I mean full of life. Everything in Rayman Origins from the environments to the menus appears to be organic. Even some inanimate objects have a pair big goofy eyeballs slapped on to them in typical Rayman fashion. You’d be hard pressed to find a single straight line in the entire game. In addition to being lively, the world of Rayman is ripe with blissful insanity. There’s no rhyme or reason to anything in this game. Gourmand Land?! Why the hell not? Everything is just supposed to be fun and wacky, and it is to a wonderful extent. Every character in this game has a big ol’ smile on its face and it’s hard not to have one yourself when you look around this messed up world.

The traditional Rayman art style is complemented by the 2D, cartoony presentation of this game. All the visuals of Rayman Origins create a refreshing vibrancy to this game that makes it standout in the era of the military shooter. Sprite animation in this game is silky smooth and makes me feel like I’m watching a good cartoon show when cartoon shows were still good. Everything, visually speaking, is outstanding. Nuf said.


                Now on to the meat and potatoes of any game, the gameplay. As I’ve said before Rayman Origins is a reboot of the original Rayman title, so it adopts a similar 2D platforming style of gameplay. What’s nice about Rayman Origins is that it’s very fluid and very simplistic. You only have a few moves to make (run, jump, attack, glide) which are all controlled by one of three buttons on the controller; however, these moves can be strung together so effortlessly that if your reflexes are good you can complete entire levels without slowing down once. It’s also worth mentioning that the level design of this game does more than have you make a few measly jumps. The game gets fairly challenging as it progresses, so you not only have to be quick but also skillful at executing the games mechanics if you want to complete certain levels. This is almost to a fault because you eventually have to be so precise with your movements, especially in some of the later stages, that the experience felt more indicative of Super Meat Boy than of something a little more laid back like Crash Bandicoot. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s just an odd transition from a carefree, jump around, ‘do-whatever’ platformer to a hard ass, pixel precise, ‘make this jump or die’ platformer. Either way, the game is full of checkpoints, infinite lives, and it does a good job at introducing you to its mechanics piece by piece so you have time to learn your moves and how to use them properly with little consequence for dying.

                Now I want to talk about the actual structure of the game. In the platforming world there are two types of people. There’s the collectin’ stuff type of player and there’s the speed runnin’ type of player. Rayman Origins does a fantastic job of appealing to both. Each level has 3-5 of the main collectables (little, pink creatures called electoons) to collect. Some of the electoons can be gathered by finding them in cages throughout the level but some of them are awarded to the player at the end of each level if they collect enough of the secondary collectable (little, yellow flies called lums). Electoons translate into extra playable characters if you get enough of them. In addition to collecting stuff, each level has a magic floating clock at the beginning that, when hit, adds a timer to the level. Beat the level within a certain time and an additional electoon is awarded. See what I mean about appealing to both sides of the spectrum? If you don’t especially like collecting (like me) then go for some time trials. If you don’t like time trials, go ahead and find every single lum in each level; trust me, there are a lot of lums to find. There’s also some little tricks you can do that result in more lums like collecting a king lum which makes normal lums worth two lums, and skull coins which are devilishly hard to get but result in 25 lums. No matter what it is you like doing in platformers, Rayman origins’ mechanics are fluid and fun enough for everyone to have a good time.

                I almost forgot to mention that the game will often break the platforming pace to throw in a weird side scrolling, top-down  shooter level every now and again. These sections are well done and they do a good job at mixing things up, but I didn’t enjoy playing them. I’m not a particular fan of the top-down shooter genre and I just wanted to get back to platforming; however, if you like top-down shooters, you’ll probably enjoy this more than I did. They’re hectic and fast paced and (for the right person) a lot of fun.  


                I want to take a minute and talk about the music in this game because it is woven into every pore and crevice this game has to offer. Walking on platforms, attacking enemies, collecting lums all result in musical notes being played. It’s quite enchanting to hear the songs one can write simply by playing the game. And that’s just the sound effects! The actual sound track is quite wonderful as well. Didgeridoos and ukuleles are common affair and the variety of music that is played fits very well to the variety of stages that you’ll play through. I catch myself humming the title track all the time now because that’s how much I like it.


                I should really consider labeling this section ‘context’ because there is no story to speak of, just reasons for doing stuff. Basically, Rayman and his crew were sleeping too loud and they accidentally woke up some old biddy that became so disgruntled that she decided to sick her army of ghouls and such on the world. I know, it’s crazy, so crazy that one of Rayman’s buds goes completely bonkers and Rayman needs to gather electoons to in order to regain his friend’s sanity. All of that is forgotten within the first level of the game, and that’s just fine. I usually scorn games that either don’t give a story or give such a poor semblance of a story that there may as well not be one; however, I didn’t mind it this time because the world itself is so charming and interesting that I can just turn on the game and enjoy the insanity. It’s very reminiscent of retro games like Super Mario and Donkey Kong where “story” consists of basically, “Uh-oh, bad thing happened. Fix please!” Cementing Rayman Origin’s return-to-form experience accomplished through gameplay and visuals. Anything more serious would give this game more of a Rayman 2 vibe and it would be too serious to appreciate the madness of what’s going on.


                Up until now, my review has been based solely on my single player experience of the game, and for the most part nothing changes when we make the transition to multiplayer. Basically multiplayer is the single player campaign with up to 3 additional players and that’s about it. No difficulty scaling occurs, no additional levels are added, nothing changes whatsoever; however, this isn’t really a bad thing. Having multiple people definitely makes the game easier on account of one player can bring another back to life indefinitely. This is nice because, as I’ve said, the game gets hard so having a bit of insurance is nice. Beyond that, multiplayer is fun but it’s not the real draw of the game. There’s no  reason not to play this games multiplayer if you have a couple friends over who want to play it, but really, multiplayer is single player with more than one dude. As dumb as that sounds it’s the best way to describe it.

Closing Comments

                When I first saw a video showing off this game I was under the impression that it was a $20 downloadable title. I don’t know why I thought this. I didn’t read that anywhere nor was it advertised as such. Anyway, I came across some free time and I had remembered how cool I thought this game looked so I decided I would log onto PSN and download it. To my surprise I couldn’t find it anywhere. Perplexed, I went online to see what was up and it turns out this is a full $60 game. It had never occurred to me that there could be enough content in a 2D platformer to justify it being a full priced game anymore, and that raises the question: Is there enough content in Rayman Origins to justify its $60 price tag? I would say so, and fans of the genre would probably agree; however, an outsider looking in may not think so. They may be underwhelmed by the lack of spectacle and the lack of grandeur found in most recent AAA games as well as overwhelmed at the pixel-perfect precision needed in later levels. And with that I leave you with my recommendations.

You’ll probably like this game if:

1. You are a fan of any kind of platformer.

2. You can appreciate the crazy art and the Rayman style.

3. You can appreciate music in all its forms and utilizations.

You’ll probably hate this game if:

1. You get frustrated easily

2. You seek a compelling narrative

3. You don’t think platformers are fun in any regard