Sunday 29 July 2012

Rayman Origins

The Title Screen

Rayman Origins is a 2D platformer released on PlayStation, Xbox and Wii in 2011, and for PC in 2012. Developed by Ubisoft it features a single player campaign that allows up to four player local co-operative play. This review is on the PC version with no co-operative assistance. It should be noted as well that there is no DRM at all for the game - not even the Ubisoft launcher.

The First Thing
When developers try to incorporate some of the gameplay values of the past, the results can often be a little questionable. However, it was apparent to me from the start that Rayman Origins is the result of serious effort by a talented and dedicated development team. Yes, it is thematically a bit "wacky" and people are free to not like that, but it is impossible to deny the high level of quality expressed in nearly every aspect of this game.

Plot & Devices
Rayman and his friends are sleeping in The Snoring Tree. They are snoring so loudly that they disturb the Land of the Living Dead. Fed up with all the noise, the Living Dead invade and take over the world. Rayman (and his friends) must enter the Glade of Dreams and restore balance to the world.

Rayman and friends in The Snoring Tree

Rayman Origins is about the gameplay, not the story. Instead the introduction sequence serves only to establish the atmosphere and tone for the game. It would be perfectly understandable to play through the game and not be totally sure what was going on. In fact for this review I had research what exactly the plot was but then I decided that I was missing the point.

This game shows that it is possible to have no real story and still be brimming with personality and charm. Motives are unimportant if the experience is enjoyable enough and through intelligent use of visuals and sound, enough is conveyed to the player to get a rough idea of context - and it turns out that is all you need.

The Game
Following the lead of a couple of other recent titles, Rayman Origins is a callback to the platforming games that were so prevalent in the 1990s. In each level the player must navigate through a serious of obstacles that will often result in death if incorrectly handled. The basic abilities including jumping, sprinting and context relevant actions such as swinging on ropes. Along the way more advanced abilities will be granted such as floating, swimming, shrinking and running up walls. There are enemies that need to be defeated and they can be jumped on or attacked with punches. There is also a fair amount of wall-jumping in this game.

"Old fashioned" platforming gameplay!

The game is split up into zones, each with their own thematic style. Each zone features basic levels where the player must retrieve 'Electoons' (happy pink ball creature things) from cages either at the end of the level or found in secret areas. Electoons are used to unlock new levels and alternative character costumes. In each level the player will also find 'Lums' (happy floating yellow ball creature...things). Collecting enough of these will result in further Electoons granted at the end of each level. Other in-level activities will award additional Lums and will sometimes require skilful platforming.

As well as the basic levels each zone features a boss-type end level, and a specifically designed platforming challenge level. These are sometimes quite difficult but reward an item required for campaign progression upon successful competition. There are also segments of the game that take place on a flying creature, where the player shoots and avoid obstacles with greater freedom of movement. There is only one difficulty setting that increases over the course of the game eventually becoming quite challenging, but it never felt frustrating due to the intuitive checkpoint system.

Innovative platforming challenges

Rayman Origins brings a few new gameplay mechanics to the platforming genre. One of my personal favourites is the use of shrinking globes of light that keep swarms of deadly black creatures at bay. The game takes special care to acclimate the player to each new mechanic so the gameplay flows naturally. It still feels like a traditional platforming game, however it sensibly loses some of the mechanics that are no longer appropriate, like the 'lives' system and requiring air for underwater levels. I also liked the little touches like the ability to sprint on the map screen and interactive loading screens.

The graphical quality is very impressive but it is the art style that is most noteworthy. Since graphical power required for a 2D game is significantly lower than a 3D title, more attention can be spent on the design of the art itself to create a complete style. Each zone has a different atmosphere and at times the way that the theme is woven into level design and gameplay is very impressive. Opinion on the aesthetics is left to individual taste, but objectively speaking everything feels well thought out and complete.

The music is of high quality and the soundtrack for each level is also thematically appropriate, however with lyrics sung in the fictitious language the slight sense of 'silliness' and fun is never lost. I cannot speak as to the keyboard controls as I always play platformers with a gamepad, but the menu has full mouse control and the controls are fully rebindable. The graphical options menu is not that detailed, but considering the non-intensive nature of the graphics engine I feel this is not much of a problem.

Hot and Spicy food themed level

Wrap Up & Negatives
This may be the shortest negative list ever, but I honestly feel that there is nothing wrong with this game other than issues caused by personal taste. Don't like the art style? Don't like the gameplay? Don't like the slight silliness? OK but those are all subjective and understandable. Perhaps they could have taken a different approach with the story which may have provided more of a detailed framework. It is also not clear when a doorway is one-way but that is a very minor annoyance. I also would like to be able to speed up or skip the end sequence where Lums are tallied, but that is also a small negative.

I experienced no problems in running the game, with the visual performing at a constant 60FPS. I did encounter a bug which rendered all the controls unresponsive requiring a restart of the game, but that happened only once.

Probably quite obvious by now but I loved this game. It's fantastic. Not only good for those that love platforming games, but I can see this being a good entry title to anyone interested in the genre. Games that ape older titles often make mistakes but Rayman Origins reaches a balance between the solid older gameplay values whilst including the versatility afforded by modern development techniques.

In short, this is by far and away one of the best PC games of 2012 for me. It is polished. It is graphically outstanding. It is just frivolous enough to be fun, but not enough to be off-putting or childish. The artistic design is worked wonderfully into the gameplay providing some of the most unique and frankly beautiful platforming experiences to date.

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