Rayman has long been the dark horse of the platforming genre. The armless wonder has starred in a series of stellar game dating back to 1995, but he has never received the same household recognition as his competitors Mario and Sonic. It’s a shame, because his latest adventure, Rayman Origins, is one of the finest 2D platformers to be released in years.
The subtitle “origins” is a bit of a misnomer. The game isn’t a prequel and doesn’t provide a backstory for the titular character. In fact, asides from a brief cutscene at the beginning of the game, there really isn’t much of a narrative propelling Rayman Origins at all. And you know what? That’s perfectly fine. There are items to collect, creatures to save, and monsters to smash, and it couldn’t matter less why. It’s a simple formula that worked for Super Mario Bros and Sonic the Hedgehog, and it works fine here too.
Given the narrative vacuum, the real star of Rayman Origins is its graphics. Rayman Origins is hands-down one of the best looking platformers of all time. A game hasn’t impressed me so much with its visual style since The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker back in 2002. Every character, backdrop, and object in the game is painstakingly hand drawn and animated in an elastic style reminiscent of Saturday morning cartoons. Even the most inconsequential items and obstacles ooze with personality. From start to finish, Rayman Origins offers a visual experience that makes the latest 2.5D offerings of the Mario and Sonic franchises look crude and utilitarian by comparison – high praise, I know, but well-deserved.
The excellent art direction of Rayman Origins gives birth to excellent level design. The game doesn’t fall into the rut of having its stages solely defined by their principle attribute – you won’t find generic “water levels” and “ice levels” like you might in a Mario title. The “ice levels” in Rayman Origins are a part of Gourmand Land, a surreal epicurean locale situated within a refrigerator-like glacier. Dinosaur waiters skate back and forth balancing giant trays on their heads while jagged orange and lime slices attempt to perforate the protagonist. In the Desert of Dijiridoos, the doldrums of navigating bland desert levels are cured by the brilliant addition of a musical instrument theme. Hapless birds perched on musical staves serve as platforms, and giant bongo drums bounce the player across gorges. This all sounds incredibly silly in writing, but this irreverent theming does wonders to make each level memorable.
The game plays like a dream too. Rayman Origins may not reinvent the sidescroller, but it offers an extremely tight excursion into the genre. The controls are responsive, the difficulty curve is smooth as butter, and the new abilities Rayman gains throughout the course of his adventure add welcome diversity to his repertoire. There are ample shiny objects to collect and plenty of bonus challenges for more advanced players to pursue, such as the tooth-grindingly frustrating treasure chest races. Rayman Origins shines in its simplicity, and the game never feels pretentious, overburdened, or clumsy. I was unfortunately unable to try the much-hyped multiplayer (which is disappointingly only available locally), but from what I’ve seen it looks like a blast.
Rayman Origins is a gorgeous and engaging platformer that is easy to recommend. It’s recently been released on PC through Steam at an attractive $30 price point, half of the going rate on consoles. This is an absolute steal. Rayman Origins humbly raises the bar in a genre that’s often married to the status quo, and I would choose it over Sonic Generations or Super Mario 3D Land any day of the week.