If you had told me earlier this year that Rayman Origins would be one of the best games that I would play this year, I wouldn’t have believed you; now thinking anything less would be simply unimaginable. That I might have missed the opportunity to count it among cherished favorites like Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country, Gunstar Heroes, and Earthworm Jim stored deep in my memory banks would be so regrettable. The only recent games I’d even consider placing it alongside for its simple depression-curative prowess would be Super Mario Galaxy and World of Goo, and even then the placement would be difficult. Yes, I’m gushing, and even then I’m not going far enough.
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, 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.
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 of Rayman Origins’ biggest joys comes from letting up to four humans play together, which thanks to games like LittleBigPlanet, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Ratchet and Clank All 4 One, and even Kirby’s Return to Dreamland has practically become standard in today’s better 2D platformers; the return of the local multiplayer bash couldn’t be more welcome. Playable characters include our hero Rayman, his crazed ‘n glazed pal Globox, or two of the magical – and identical – Teensies, all of whom get costume and color upgrades the more you play.
To be honest, having multiple characters play together onscreen doesn’t add much to the experience, other than some unintended hilarity as the weak link in the chain inevitably brings down the pack, and as with Mario Bros. Wii, injured players can be slapped out of their balloon-state to jump again another day. If anything, the experience feels closer to the original Toejam & Earl (on the Sega Genesis) in that playing with friends is more an excuse for shared frivolity and kinship than strategic completion. It’s still a nice feature, though serious players will probably want to stick to solo play to collect everything.
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. 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.
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. 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. No other game this year, and perhaps this entire generation of polygon-pushing benchmarks, sports visuals so transcendently gorgeous, characters animated with such life and vitality, or a soundtrack so unabashedly happy and joyous. When I hear it babble I can’t help but smile like an idiot, and that only makes me love it all the more. For many this will be their Game of the Year, for others the Game of a Lifetime. When you move Rayman he returns the favor – he moves you back.