Sony’s shiny new handheld has brought forth a torrent of existing games to its doorstep, many with their beginnings in the high-powered world of console gaming, whose availability in micro form only further illustrates how powerful and versatile the PS Vita truly is. Among the expected glut of ports is one of last year’s – and possibly this generation’s – best games, Rayman Origins, a return-to-form for the titular character and for traditional platform games in general. As Ubisoft has reconstituted much of the original Rayman Origins game for the Vita, I’ve likewise reconstituted much of my original review of the game for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii, splicing in changes when necessary. Apart from some conspicuously longer load times and missing multiplayer, this is exactly the same game that was released last year. Only a whole lot more portable.
As the name implies, Rayman Origins attempts to set up the entire Rayman franchise for those who may not be familiar with Ubisoft’s jointless hero, but don’t let that fool you. As with Nintendo’s Super Mario universe and its collection of wayward plumbers and magic mushrooms, Rayman’s world doesn’t make much sense, and that’s just as well. There’s a story here that somehow mixes angry grannies, snoring issues, follicle bridges, and the curvaceous Betilla the Fairy, sporting the most cleavage I’ve ever seen in a game rated E10+ (that ‘everyone’ must include dads). But all this takes a backseat to precision platforming and joyful jumping.
You’ll jump, double-jump, levitate, dash, and smash your way through levels that’ll push the boundaries of your reflexes as much as your imagination, the two getting a workout like they haven’t in years. More than anything, it feels like a ‘best of’ collection of every 2D platformer before it, more spiritually akin to the original Donkey Kong Country than Super Mario Bros and stylistically closer to Doug TenNapel’s Earthworm Jim for maximum craziness. It helps that the controls feel perfect, especially using the Vita’s ultra-precise and clicky new d-pad, giving you total command over gliding these ridiculously detailed characters through these ridiculously detailed worlds, each more imaginative and playful than the next. When everything clicks together its magic, like having juicy oxygen pumped directly those parts of your brain dehydrated by mediocrity.
The Vita version of the game remains the same as its home-console cousins: You’ll guide Rayman (and Crew) through several a series of dramatically inventive worlds, each with a bodacious nymph at the end that grants Rayman a new power, such as attacking, swimming, shrinking, and even running up walls. Naturally, each world functions as a training ground for these new powers, often requiring some nimble moves and wacky combinations of your rapidly growing arsenal to get through to the end. All the while you’ll collect as many smiling Electoons (the pink ones), as well as Lums, whose number can be doubled by snatching medals scattered throughout the levels. There’s over 60 of them, and with thousands of items to collect on this surreal scavenger hunt, it’ll take some time before even the most diehard obsessive-compulsive completionist manages to snag 100% on all of them.
One big element that is missing from this version is the multiplayer; it’s been removed entirely for whatever reason, and this is disappointing. The console version’s four-player multiplayer wasn’t a real highlight for me personally, but excising it doesn’t make much sense as it could have been a great selling point to showcase the connectivity features of the new Vita, whether offline or on. In its place is a new Ghost Mode, which lets you speed through levels you’ve already conquered and share the results for all the world to admire.
Call me shallow, but one of the game’s biggest pleasures comes from just how good it looks. No, scratch that – just how GREAT it looks. In many ways, Rayman Origins is the perfect technology showcase for the Vita’s incredible new screen, a 5” OLED display that’s crisper and more luscious than we’ve ever seen on a handheld. These are visuals I’ve been dreaming about my whole life; perfectly clear and animated with such life and vitality that even trying to describe them would be deny others the rare privilege of experiencing their brilliance for themselves. There’s just something intimate about how the visuals in Rayman Origins have been constructed, as if every single frame and element you see onscreen had been agonized over to painstaking perfection.
The UbiArt Framework engine, which allows artists to digitally pose and manipulate their creations with ease, allows for unparalleled detail and animation and, in the high-definition versions, razor-sharp pixels with a clarity that’s better than any other 2D game ever made. No matter which platform you’re rocking, Rayman Origins is simply one of the most beautiful games ever created, period.
Hand-crafted art (even when it’s augmented with some nifty tech) has always been a great benchmark for new display technology and, if anything, the Vita’s screen is maybe a little too perfect. Ubisoft’s port brings an experience that was designed with larger displays in mind to one that makes it difficult to appreciate the exquisite detail put into the backgrounds and characters. In all fairness, it does compensate some by letting you pinch/zoom in and out of the action, but the manic gameplay and lightning-fast reflexes required to navigate many of the trickier parts just doesn’t make this feasible. This is still a beautiful and highly playable version of the game, but not one that lets you soak up the effort as readily.
The sound design is equally impressive, with a soundtrack filled with orchestral chipmunk hymnals and strumming guitars interlaced with nonsensical babbles and ambient sounds that accompany just about every action you’ll make. As with the visuals, Rayman’s audio has been finely-tuned for maximum effect and giddiness-inducing pleasure, and yes, the mush-mouth Pig Latin speaking language returns as well. Just make sure to have a pair of headphones handy as you’ll want to experience every squeak and thrilling theme to their fullest. Okey-ay okey-day!
Rayman Origins was a labor of love, and feels every bit like it. An anachronism wrapped in a deliciously deceptive modern coating, it’s perhaps the most innocently pure platforming experience in years, one whose sole mission is to be as madly entertaining as possible. The experience has largely translated to the smaller screen on the PS Vita, although its harder to fully appreciate the transcendent visuals and fine details on the smaller screen, however crisp they may be. The game retains its vitality, as well as a soundtrack that’s so unabashedly happy and joyous it can’t help itself. When I hear it babble I can’t help but smile like an idiot, and that only makes me love it all the more. Those who may already own Origins in another form may want to skip this double-dip into this wonderful world, but if you’ve yet to take the plunge than feel free to jump right in. When you move Rayman he returns the favor – he moves you back.