It’s completely understandable if you’re one of the many that glossed over Rayman Origins last month. Released within a maelstrom of blockbuster releases, it’s a wonder that any copies were sold at all. This is where I get to tell everyone what a terrible mistake they’ve made.
When Rayman Origins was first announced, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Despite my love for platforming games, Rayman was never something that held my interest for very long — it was mostly the visuals made me keep tabs on Origins during its development. What I was unaware of was that Michel Ancel and Co. were busy crafting one of the finest platforming experiences that your hard-earned dollars can buy.
The story is simple: Rayman and his buds are hanging out on the Snoring Tree in the Glade of Dreams. As they nap, the sound of their snoring makes its way down to the Land of the Livid Dead, which annoys one of its inhabitants enough to send an army of minions up to the surface to retaliate. Chaos ensues as Electoons and Nymphs are captured across the land, leaving it to Rayman and his pals to restore order.
If that sounds silly … well, that’s because it is. Nothing is taken seriously throughout the entire game, a wonderful change of pace in a season filled with all-too-serious narratives. Nowhere is this this more apparent than in the striking graphics, which feature some of the most wonderfully weird art direction that you’ll find anywhere. Whether you’re gliding through areas on the air blown by didgeridoos or using jumping beans to get over a lava pit, the visuals never fail to amuse. Throw in the outlandish character designs and some of the most fluid animation that you’ll find anywhere, and suddenly you’ve got one of the best-looking games of the year, bar none. This is somewhat lost if you’re simply looking at screenshots — seeing Origins in motion is the only way to do it justice.
While the stunning visuals are the most pronounced feature, they’re hardly the most important. Rayman Origins could be as pretty as it wants, but it would be for naught if it played like crap. Borrowing key elements from games such as New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, and Super Meat Boy ensures that such a crisis is averted. Allow me to explain.
The game’s structure is fairly straightforward. Each level has at least three (but usually six) Electoons to collect. By breaking open a cage at the end of each level you will earn one Electoon, and since you have infinite lives to work with simple attrition will see you through to the end. Some levels require a certain number of Electoons to unlock, so eventually you’ll have to do better than that. Much of the challenge comes from collecting as many Lums as you can (the Rayman equivalent to rings and coins), allowing for two more possible Electoons. For the levels with six Electoons, you’ll also need to find two more cages hidden in the level somewhere. The sixth? For that you’ll have to complete a speed run of the level. Much like Nintendo’s pink puffball, it’s not completing a level that’s the biggest challenge, but rather completing it skillfully enough to be rewarded handsomely for it.
But don’t think that Origins is an easy game just because there’s no “Game Over” screen to taunt you. The first half of the game isn’t terribly punishing, but some Super Meat Boy-level platforming is required if you plan on seeing everything there is to offer. The levels that you unlock by collecting Electoons are each home to a Tricky Treasure, and they’re equally the most rewarding and frustrating part of Rayman Origins. It’s simple enough on paper — sprint after a treasure chest through the entirety of a level which is only about a minute long, maybe two, when successfully completed. However, there are traps everywhere, and you have to learn where those traps are and how to get around them. Since you have to start all over if you die it becomes a cycle of “sprint/die/memorize trap/dodge trap/continue sprinting/die at next trap”. Your execution has to be perfect — you must be swift, and you must jump at the exact right place on each platform. Suddenly, you’ve spent 10 minutes beating a level that’s over in two.