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Perhaps one of the few PlayStation-era platform heroes not to become completely soiled when moving to the next-gen consoles, the Rayman series has managed to remain consistently good throughout the last generation, even if the hero has gone 'Rabbid' mad as of late. But now, Ubisoft delivers their first full-fledged 2D platformer in more than fifteen years with Rayman Origins. Harking back to the glory-days of the original Rayman on PSone, Origins has a lot going for it - charm, artistic merit and humour. But is it enough?
Origins' extremely thin story probably isn't worth describing; what's important is that the game takes place over the course of four main worlds. In these worlds are levels which Rayman and his posse must traverse, punching the lights out of anything which stands in their way. Each level lasts around ten to fifteen minutes, but the game makes up for this with a good few dozen levels between the four worlds. Levels usually end with a tricky situation regarding the series' trademark cages, where you must destroy the enemies nearby to be able to free the trapped Electoons. It's a pretty simple structure, but levels are filled not only with enemies looking to take you out, but also plenty of platforming challenges to boot.
Movement is a key element in Rayman. At first, you have limited amount of acrobatic moves. But once you start freeing Nymphs trapped in certain levels by the Darktoons, more abilities become available. This includes gliding, running up walls and swimming underwater. As you start gaining more abilities, the levels start to become more exciting, with thrilling new acrobatics required to scale past the ever-increasing difficulty. The game puts an extreme emphasis on speed, with most of the game's platforming challenges requiring a running start to execute safely, and this creates an exciting pace to Origins. The controls, thankfully, manage to keep up with this brisk action, meaning any death throughout the game is usually due to the player's mistakes rather than cheap situations.
Combat can come off as a tad clunky. Punch moves are static, so if you're slightly off by a few centimetres you'll miss all your punches and the enemy will most likely knock your lights out. A spinning move somewhat alleviates this but can also put you at risk of death if the enemy happens to be on a smaller ledge. There are also heavy shooter sections, where you ride a Pink Mosquito through a level, most likely suffering from crumbling debris, all the while enemies are around for you to take out. These sections come quite frequently and can be pretty challenging, but they're mostly shallow sections with the player holding down the shoot button and dodging nearby debris.
Origins puts a heavy emphasis on collectables and there are quite a few of those around the game. Most levels contain two extra hidden cages, sneakily hidden and easy to miss. You also can collect Lums in the level, in the form of single lums and giant coins which reward about 25 lums. Players are usually tasked with collecting at least 300 of these, and this will fill in an Electoon in a medallion. The three cages in each level also contribute to this, as well as time trials unlocked after completing the level once. Time trials require speed and finesse as well as care, because dying will send you back to the beginning of the level. It can be incredibly addicting trying to complete all the medallions in each level, as even some of the shooter levels have required amounts of lums collection. This means Origins has some serious replay value, especially considering how many levels the game has to begin with.
There are also special levels where you chase after a red box containing a red tooth. Each of the hubs in the four worlds contain a level, and these challenges demand a level of adeptness - jumps need to be timed perfectly, speed needs to be constantly maintained and death-traps are frequent including debris falling and deadly pitfalls. Players who fail to take account of any of this will likely suffer multiple and frequent deaths. Once you collect all 10 of these teeth, you unlock a special level. By far the hardest in the game, I won't spoil the motif for it but let's just say only the best players will be able to full experience this level because of it's extremely steep difficulty, but at least it's not required to complete the game.
Origins is not without its issues, however. Players may feel somewhat disillusioned by the game as they reach the mid-point, where the game basically instructs you to complete even more levels in the same four worlds. Granted, the levels change to fit with new powers gained beforehand, but you can't help but feel a sense of déjà vu, meaning the game becomes somewhat of a slog towards the end. The difficulty curve is also somewhat problematic, with a majority of the game remaining mostly cakewalk-easy until the very last levels, in which the game becomes incredibly difficult, especially in the last section of the game with incredible death-traps and challenging new enemy types. It's very jarring and somewhat frustrating.
The biggest strength of Origins is definitely the visual aspect of the game. The artistic gold Ubisoft has created here is simply gorgeous. Characters come to life with beautifully smooth animation and great attention-to-detail, and the humorous goofs the characters perform add greatly to the overall charm. Levels look vibrant and lovely, and each world stands apart from one another including the dark underwater sections only illuminated by small bugs keeping away dark tentacles from the player, to the ice-capped environments with touches of fruit seared into parts of the level - the levels show great variety from each other and throw in plenty of new surprises. Origins is a great artistic showcase for hand-drawn 2D animation and creates a very strong sense of style in the process, adding greatly to the game's overall appeal.
The sound isn't quite as spectacular but is certainly decent in its own right. The main point is the music, which fits in nicely with each level. For example, in the searing heat of the Mexican-style kitchen level you partake in, fitting music combining the game's own squeaky voice-overs with a deep opera male and guitars, which add to the action nicely. The game's selection of crazy voice-overs can become somewhat stale after hearing Rayman's flippipigoop after dying the 20th time, but they do add to the game's charm when they aren't completely getting on your nerves.
Platformers have become a rarity these days, so it's refreshing to see Ubisoft taking a crack at the genre again. It's clear Ubisoft Montpellier had great fun creating this, putting all their time and effort into the game's wacky sense of style as well as revisiting the old-school gameplay of many older platformers. The results are a game which will appeal to both younger audiences unfamiliar with the series and old-school gamers who cherish the memories of the original Rayman back on the old Playstation. It isn't without its flaws, such as a jarring difficulty curve and a somewhat weaker second-half, but overall the game shines with its fun platforming action and fantastic sense of style. Fans of 2D platformers would do well to pick this up.
Also posted on www.thepixelempire.net
Supports HD up to 1080p
No Xbox Live support
Amazon price: £12.95
Game price: £12.99