Games you Missed: Rayman Origins

by Gabriel Turcotte-Dubé

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“Games You Missed” is an on-going series of articles covering video games that have been overlooked by many.

The Rayman series got a lot of attention in the past few weeks because of the controversial 7-months delay of Rayman Legends for the Wii U. Considering the modest sales of the previous installment, Rayman Origins, chances are that some of you might not have played that one yet. I wouldn’t blame you; the Raving Rabbids spin-offs, while bringing in some easy money to Ubisoft, soured a lot of gamers on the Rayman franchise. But what if I told you that in my opinion, Rayman Origins is on par with classics such as Yoshi’s Island and Kirby Superstar? Are you Sceptical? Read on.

At its core, Rayman Origins is a very traditional 2D platformer. You get the usual run, jump and attack buttons,  the various collectibles, end-of-world bosses, and secret areas. Except for a few nice (but forgettable) shoot-em-up segments on the back of giant mosquitoes, the emphasis is on pure, classic platforming. No gimmicks to stand out, no “innovative” twist. This focus on simple platforming was a blessing, as it allowed the development team to focus on the basics and fine-tune them to near-perfection.

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The controls are among the best in the genre; very few games make you feel as much in control of their characters. Personally, I got used to handling Rayman and his friends faster than in any Mario platformer. It’s a good thing that the controls are that fluid and responsive, because beating the Time Trials or simply completing the later levels requires a lot of dexterity and excellent reflexes. Thought you die a lot before you see the ending, those deaths never feel “cheap” because of the controls.

The levels are also expertly crafted and are suited to multiple play styles. Feel like exploring every nook and cranny? Each level is filled with secret areas and hard-to-reach collectibles  Want to go for a speed-run?  Most of the levels are designed so that a skilled player can complete them by almost never stopping. Sadly, like in too many platformers, the water levels are an exception to the overall excellent design. While nowhere near bad, they are a lot slower-paced, and I often wanted them to end so I could return to the much more satisfying land-based levels.

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The atmosphere is definitely a strong point in Rayman Origins. The characters and enemies (including some impressive bosses) are wacky, the levels are colorful and superbly detailed, and the music is upbeat. The whole game feels as alive as the best animated movies. Just as with the Kirby series, playing this game will make you want to smile the whole time, especially if you are playing with friends.

In fact, Rayman is probably the the best implementation of a cooperative mode in any platformer I’ve played. The idea is hardly new and many recent Nintendo platformers like  New Super Mario Bros WiiKirby’s Return to Dream Land and others offered the option to have multiple players on screen at the same time. The key difference here is that the player characters do NOT collide with each other. This may seem like a minor detail, but it makes an enormous difference. No more deaths when many players try to jump to the same place at the same time or when a player is blocking the way to an objective while trying to flee an enemy. This makes the game far more enjoyable in multiplayer by reducing the frustration of having someone else causing you to fail. The only way a player can really harm another one is by consciously attacking him or leaving him behind by running too fast (trust me, both will happen!). Like in most cooperative platformers, a dead player transforms into a floating “bubble” and can be saved by another player touching them, making the game feel truly cooperative instead of “every man for himself”.

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When the game was launched in November 2011, many gamers skipped it because they felt that a 2D platformer was not worth $60 anymore. While I don’t agree with them on that point, I can see where they are coming from considering the amount of high-quality platformers sold cheaply on services like Steam or Xbox Live. Fortunately, Rayman Origins can now be easily found for less than $30 on any platform. With the amount of content offered, it’s a bargain.

Unlike some games, Rayman Origins is a gem on almost every platform. Wii, PS3, Xbox 360, Vita, and PC are all quality versions of the game. The only black sheep of the bunch is the 3DS version. While it’s technically the same game, the visual quality suffers from the transition to the system. The image looks highly compressed, with washed out colors and blur, and the framerate is worse than on other platforms. Unless the 3DS is absolutely your only platform to play the game, I’d suggest skipping that version and opting for it in another format.

If you want to play a modern 2D platformer with the same level of polish and care as the best Nintendo classics, Rayman Origins is hard to beat.  We will see this September if Ubisoft Montpellier can top their modern classic with the release of its sequel, Rayman Legends.

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