Saturday, February 25, 2012

IMPRESSIONS - Rayman: Origins.

First thing's first.  You need to crank the resolution, skip to 1:20 and watch this for seventy six seconds. 

...if you're unfamiliar with Rayman: Origins, that is. And by "unfamiliar," I include situations where maybe you bought it around Christmas last year and put a bit of time into it because you'd heard it was awesome, but got sidetracked with other stuff.

Right now, my time on the Vita is split between Rayman and Shinibodo 2, with Rayman being the palette cleanser of a sparkling, triple-A pursuit to break up the heavier, acquired taste of Shinobido. I was enjoying my time with it, but when the above level came up - which seems to be about 1/2 or 2/3 of the way through the game - it was just sublime. The entire Origins experience seemed to crystallize within this level - or, more precisely, what's rare and valuable about it, which is... a lot.

I feel I really shot myself in the foot with the Escape Plan Impressions article, in which I explained some aspects of the game to the point that I didn't feel I could explain those aspects any better, come review time, and so just quoted the impressions article.  

I'm going to try to protect myself from that, here, and merely suggest that the critical and commercial success of smaller games like Super Meat Boy, Bionic Commando Rearmed and 'Splosion Man - throwbacks, to a time when running and jumping with twitchy, razor-sharp precision were the primary tenants of every action game - has given Ubisoft the grit required to offer a triple-A take on what was once the most hallowed of genres.  

I know that seems a simple and, well, obvious observation - but the product of that ambition is ambrosial.  

If someone accurately described Rayman: Origins to me - and to you, I'm guessing - I would flip out.  In fact, I would just apply the speech I give people when I mention "Vanillaware" and they ask me what the heck that is.  

"Well, did you have like, a Super Nintendo or a Genesis when you were a kid?  Yeah?  Okay, remember looking at the graphics in Sonic or Super Mario World and thinking "wow, imagine what this will looks like next gen when the graphics are even better"?"

Everyone says yes, to that question. 

"...and the next gen was the PS1 and Nintendo 64, everyone went with 3D polygonal graphics, and games looked like crap for the next ten years, right?"

"Well, there's one studio that specializes in doing big, beautiful sprites on current-gen systems.  They're called Vanillaware."

Now, with the advent Origins, Vanillaware are no longer the only ones (outside of fighting games) applying big, gorgeous 2D hand-drawn sprites to triple-A video games.  

For years in North America, 2D animation in gaming has only been the (rare) pursuit of smaller, independent studios.  Even then, more often than not, developers will turn to 3D polygonal graphics in their games - whether that actually proves beneficial to its presentation or not.  A really well-made, full-release 2D animated title just... hasn't really happened since Muramasa: The Demon Blade on the Wii. 

I would kill for Shank 2 on the Vita.

We all love and value the smaller games, but it's a different beast entirely to enjoy such stunning presentation in a full-price, high-ambition boxed release.  

Perhaps I'm going a bit overboard, here, but I don't actually recall a triple-A platformer that's used 2D animation since the fourth generation of consoles (we're now on the seventh).  Ubisoft has offered something we haven't seen in almost fifteen years.
"But Chance, what about Kirby games?" 
"Shut your face, that's what.  Epic Yarn sucked."
Rayman: Origins is bursting at the seams with stellar production values, from the creativity in its visual design to the alarming sharpness of its art to its (incredible) music - but that's not where it ends, in terms of returning us to a time when the platformer was the king of action games. 

This game is hard core.  It requires the same degree of pixel-perfect timing and skill as a classic Mega Man, without the frustration which accompanied games born during the transition from arcades to consoles - when they were designed to be as punishing as possible, decreasing the odds that you could beat them and increasing the amount of quarters required to master them.  

Origins offers that wonderful, satisfying, high-flying challenge of the classics, along with a  comfortable checkpoint system in keeping with modern appetites, which significantly reduces frustration.  

...shit... I should have saved that for the review.  I'm stopping this Impressions article right now before I start talking about the game's pacing!  


  1. You were right, I just didn't spend enough time with it before to fall in love.