Monday, February 27, 2012

REVIEW - Rayman Origins.


As Rayman Origins walks into the room, you can't help but be somewhat shocked by how phenomenally attractive it is.  Just gorgeous, in a classic, wholesome, healthy way.  Origins reminds you of the lighthearted, unchained adoration you had for wonders and worlds when you were a child, and its smile is just beaming - an open, unpretentious grin of joie de vivre that lacks any cynicism or irony.  

It's is so utterly beautiful and cheerful, you don't for a moment think it has any master plan when it reaches into its jacket and lays one little card on the table.  "Can you jump from down here to up there?" Origins asks.  "It'll be fun!"  

Well, sure I can!

Origins immediately places another card.  "Can you jump a gap this wide? I'll bet you can!"

Sure!

It starts off so innocently.  So sweetly.  So expert is the conversation Rayman Origins has with you that you barely even notice it's going on - but by the end of your discussion with the game, it's laying down cards that would have once seemed utterly insane

"Can you wall-run vertically up a series of twisting, falling objects with spikes on all sides, ping ponging from one tiny patch of safe platform to the next where a button held one thousandth of a second too long or pressed one millionth of a second too late will send you right back to the beginning of the level?"

Well, sure I can, Origins.  It's what you've been teaching me to do this whole time.  

Did I mention how beautiful you are? 

"I'll bet you say that to all the hand-drawn games."  And through it all, Origins keeps that guileless, wholesome smile on its face.  "C'mon," it asks, holding out a cartoony, gloved hand.  "It'll be fun."


The game observes a strict template of teaching you one mechanic to the point of mastery before it offers you the next.  In one level, you'll be tasked with absolutely nailing a series of floaty jumps, requiring you to land on a bunch of undulating enemies.  You will not be able to accomplish this without a total control over your jumps, twisting yourself at precisely the right degree in mid-air to land on one before bouncing to the next - and it deeply ingrains in the player a sense of how razor sharp and supple the game's controls are. 

It's very challenging - but it never allows you to imagine that what it's asking of you is impossible.  You know it can be done - just look at that encouraging smile!  This'll be fun!  

So you try again, and again, and again until you absolutely master the art of fine-tuning your jumps with aftertouch.  Then, Origins lays a new card on the table.  "Now you can float after you jump.  Try what you just tried again!"

It's so much easier, now!  That floating ability was exactly what I needed.  "Yay!" says Origins, before placing another card.  "...now, can you do this?"

Before it lets you move on, Origins makes damn sure that you've seen its latest mechanic upside, downways and every angle in between.


Rayman Origins is an instant classic, thanks to how classically it styles itself.  There have been some complaints that it's too light on the plot, but that seems to be ignoring its entire premise.  As a classic-style platformer, it doesn't need a story - it just needs a set-up and a conclusion - which is has in spades. 

Once upon a time, The Dreamer is chillin' in the Glade of Dreams, dreaming worlds and characters into being.  He's dreaming up enemies, he's dreaming up faeries, he's dreaming of friends and foes and frankfurters.  

But down in the underworld, someone is having a bad dream - and these bad dreams invade the peaceful Glade of The Dreamer, and his buddy Rayman.  

Rayman is a dream, too - the dream that survives.  A dream created by the faeries to defeat evil dreams.  Everything in the game is a dream - from the collectibles you seek to the enemies you kill to you yourself - when defeated, you all pop.  "Sorry to burst your bubble," so to speak.  Sorry to end that dream.  


It wields a deep symbolism, but never feels weighed down by it.  Instead, Origins soars on wings of unfettered creativity, and a gleeful willingness to be just plain silly.  It offers as much as any old-school platformer ever did, in terms of story, and then wisely sets that aside to get down to the business of having fun.

You'll race frightened treasure chests through thumb-blistering obstacle courses (to obtain much-needed teeth for the adorable grim reaper who guards the Land of the Livid Dead), you'll pilot mosquitoes in tension-breaking shoot-em-up sequences, and you'll lay the smackdown on the undead grannies who now plague the Glade of Dreams.  

While Origins' design and mechanics are very, very classic, it leaps into the current generation of consoles with its absolutely stunning presentation, and modern sensibilities.  This is one of the most beautiful games of the high-def consoles, and there's really nothing to complain about in terms of good looks and intelligent conversation.  


The sprites are big, sharply-drawn and gorgeously animated.  The worlds are ridiculously detailed - the likes of which we've honestly never seen in a hand-drawn game - and a constant exercise in imagination.  The Ice World, for example, it's not just the Ice World - it's Gourmand Land, where frozen treats give way to spicy leaps over roasting weenies and swings from chains of hot peppers.  

I often loathe Ice Worlds in platformers - and Water Worlds - but Origins' practiced method of constantly switching things up as it edges your abilities that much closer to platforming perfection keeps the play engaging, and its remarkable presentation means you'll never be less than overjoyed with the view as you zip by. 

The game's stellar presentation is not limited to the visuals.  Origins employs one of the best soundtracks of 2011, replete with kazoos and horns and the high-pitched singing of the shining, golden Lums you seek on your journey.  Characters speak in a mix of gibberish and pig Latin (ike-lay is-thay), and the game wisely covers the only gap in its armor - loading screens - by allowing the player to run Rayman around a tableau of his current world's theme in backlit silhouettes as the game assembles itself behind the curtain.  


There's a reason most modern 2D platformers are smaller downloadable fare which keep things relatively brief - for, without save states, most classic titles could be beaten in just a few hours (if that).  This allows the games to not overextend themselves - to not suffer from the boring filler one imagines would plague any attempt to extend the 2D platformer experience to the lengths we would ask of a full-sized, full-priced modern release.  

It was breathlessly daring to even attempt, yet here we are.  

By way of its gentle but firm hand as it constantly tutors the player in the nature of its mechanics, Origins slowly brings itselfs in line with the profound challenge we enjoyed in the genre circa 1987.  By adhering the modern tenets of game design, it's built with wisely-chosen checkpoints across its sixty-or-so levels, ensuring the player is only ever encouraged to continue, and rarely frustrated by what it asks of us.  

In terms of design, in terms of presentation, in terms of ambition, in terms of mechanics, in terms of control,  Origins is excellent.  

There's nothing more to say.  

If you have any appetite for 2D platforming, Rayman is the stuff of dreams. 


THE GOOD
  • a triple-A, hand-drawn, full-length, gorgeously animated platformer
  • totally adorable character design
  • gorgeous, creative environments
  • wonderful music
  • sharp, comfortable controls
  • excellent design and pacing - always asking just enough to push at your comfort zone, but never so much that it frustrates
  • a perfect measure of challenge
  • a well-thought-out checkpoint system
  • lots of unlockables to discover 
  • lots of additional challenges to take on
  • it covers load screens with a bit of ground to run around on - nice touch
  • fun bosses
  • the Land of the Livid Dead is a perfect cherry on top
  • an ice world and water world that I don't hate
  • it looks absolutely incredible on the Vita - and I love being able to zoom the screen to get a closer look at the art

THE BAD
  • it may be some time 'till we see its like again

THE VERDICT
If you have any appetite for platforming, Rayman Origins is the stuff of dreams. 

6 comments:

  1. Great review. Really, really enjoying it - I was a bit worried, when I picked it up, that I would regret not getting it on the PS3 instead, because the visuals would be more easily appreciated on a big screen. However, I love having such a delightful platformer on my launch Vita, and the game is perfect for bite-sized chunks (just played three quick levels). I'm so glad to hear that Ubisoft already turned a profit on it, and I bet the Vita version sells more than the console versions did. I hope people play and love this game.

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  2. Nice review. Origins does so much so well and so effortlessly that it is honestly kind of unbelievable. Better visuals and music than NSMBWii. Faster movement and better shoot-em-up levels than Kirby. Better co-op, more versatile moveset, and more vertical platforming than DKCR. None of the spotty collision detection of DKC2, the glitches of Meat Boy, or the padding of the first Galaxy. My only gripe is with some of the character designs (namely, Rayman's buddies), but that's really just nitpicking. The actual *game* is quite spectacular.

    How the hell did something so finely-crafted come from Ubisoft of all companies?

    Btw, I found the artist: http://www.pixiv.net/member_illust.php?mode=medium&illust_id=21768223

    You'll need an account to view it at full resolution, though.

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  3. That Ubisoft comment in out of order. Ubisoft put out Beyond Good and Evil and Prince of Persia, not to mention the original Rayman games. There is pedigree there beyond milking Assassin's Creed for all it is worth.

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  4. Ah, but lately they have been milking AC for all it's worth - nevermind that it's actually a pretty great platformer at its core - and they abandoned Prince of Persia after the very interesting '08 release for that abortive Forgotten Sands.

    Ubi hasn't exactly been a bastion of creativity and risk, lately. This is a breath of fresh air.

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  5. Not to mention, BG&E was released way back in '03. I enjoyed the first Creed title for what it was worth and I even liked Forgotten Sands, but let's be honest. They haven't been doing much beyond the flood of Petz titlez, Just Flail, Creed milking, Rabbids nonesense, and a plethora of other shovelware releases. Origins is pretty much a sign of the apocalypse.

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