It seems like all the games with interesting art styles have been 2D platformers recently. You‚Äôve got Braid, Limbo, and a bunch of others that are all beautiful in wildly different ways. So when I say that Rayman Origins is the most beautiful of them all (in my opinion, anyway), you know it must be a looker.
Thankfully, that beauty is more than just skin deep ‚ÄĒ this is a game that‚Äôs simply a joy to play. Go and buy it now, please ‚ÄĒ we need to empower developers to keep taking (relative) artistic risks like this.
Still need convincing? Let‚Äôs start at the beginning...
The Rayman series has been around for years, and has always floated on the edge of my radar. It‚Äôs always been known in my head as ‚ÄúThat goofy series by the guy who made Beyond Good & Evil‚ÄĚ, and I‚Äôve never really gotten into the games until now.
As far as platformers go, it‚Äôs got a fairly typical assortment of gameplay conventions: you jump, you punch, you bop enemies on the head, you can glide, and so on. You‚Äôll need both wits and dexterity to get through the levels, and you‚Äôll probably die many a time. The story, as is fitting for the genre, is practically irrelevant, but sets things up nicely.
So far, so typical, right? But as is often the case, it‚Äôs not about the ideas ‚ÄĒ it‚Äôs about how they‚Äôre executed. And Rayman Origins executes flawlessly in all the essential areas.
Let‚Äôs start with the art, because you may have seen a trailer and gone ‚Äúwow‚ÄĚ already. It is, in short, extremely pretty. Layer upon layer of parallax scrolling, amazing painted backdrops, and absurdly well animated characters all combine to create a game that could be paused on any frame, printed out, and hung on a wall. It‚Äôs even worth watching a friend play segments of it for a time so you can sit back and admire the artistry on display here.
From jungles to deserts to ice caves to seaside shanty towns to snowy mountain tops, Rayman Origins breathes new life into what is usually a cliched and tired assortment of platformer tropes. I‚Äôm sounding way too effusive here, but if your tastes run counter to the greys and browns of today‚Äôs triple-A games, this will make your brain feel like it‚Äôs getting a nice hot bath. [Note: we don't suggest giving your brain any kind of actual bath - hot or otherwise. - Ed.]
It‚Äôs not just that the scenery is painted so well, it‚Äôs that it all feels alive, a feeling that grows stronger as you soak in the awesomely whimsical, imaginative, and downright crazy animation and character design. I‚Äôve always said that French animation at its best can go toe to toe with anything from around the world, and this proves it.
Of course, the best art in the universe couldn‚Äôt save a game if the gameplay was dreadful. Thankfully, the core engine in Origins is exceedingly tight. Whether you‚Äôre jumping, sliding, swinging, gliding, flying, punching, or body slamming, everything feels right. And while you get a fairly standard set of moves, they‚Äôre all woven expertly into the level design, constantly forcing you to combine different abilities to make it through.
Rayman Origins has a surprising amount of meat on its bone. There are half a dozen or so major areas in the game, each of which is stuffed full of individual levels that can either be rushed through or explored to try and get greater rewards. And then once you think you‚Äôre near the end, you‚Äôll find yourself revisiting these areas in new ways before moving on to yet another‚Ä¶ well, you get the idea: there‚Äôs a lot here to lose yourself in.
And like any good platformer with a simple rule-set, it‚Äôs the application of these that the developers have dreamt up that makes the game fun to keep playing through. Small gusts of wind that you can use to float around give way to entire levels made of air currents. Hopping on a giant flea thing turns the game into a (surprisingly competent) side-scrolling shoot ‚Äėem up, complete with a couple of gameplay mechanics that actually adds a little bit of strategy. Monsters fleeing with captive fairy princesses turn the game into a race that will test your platforming prowess as you try to keep up.
And just when you‚Äôre starting to get exhausted, the game will dial it back a notch and present a level that simply lets you soak in the atmosphere. Overall, it‚Äôs expertly paced, always ready to fling a new situation at you, and wonderfully inventive right to the end.
And it‚Äôs even more fun when you have a mate or three around. While playing with four people can make it hard to know who‚Äôs where all the time, it makes the game even more fun. The art drew in my other flatmates like moths to a flame, even those who don‚Äôt normally play games. While some of them did die a lot, they had a ton of fun and kept coming back for more. What‚Äôs nice is that dead players can float around and get revived by alive players, meaning even those finding it hard can feel like they‚Äôre progressing. If you‚Äôre going to get this game, I strongly recommend roping in at least one other person for the experience.
No discussion of Origins would be complete without mentioning its audio. When I say that it compliments the game‚Äôs artwork perfectly, I mean to say it‚Äôs really, really good. It‚Äôs whimsical, varied, and extremely accomplished ‚ÄĒ each area has its own music tracks that are wonderfully distinct and unique, but feel cohesive at the same time. The sound effects, particularly those of the lums (the game‚Äôs collectibles), will bring a smile to your face. Don‚Äôt you dare put it on mute.
This is a game that evokes the same feeling that the Muppets ‚ÄĒ or any of the various Jim Henson productions ‚ÄĒ do when they‚Äôre at their best. It‚Äôs this feeling of unbridled joy that is so rare in any media, let alone the glut of cynical, deliberately dark triple-A titles that come out every year.
Rayman Origins is so obviously a labour of love for its developers, and it shows in the artistry, in the care and attention to every detail, and in the feeling of uplifting whimsy that permeates the game. Not everyone will take to it, but if you‚Äôve read this far and it‚Äôs perked your interest, go and at least download the demo now. Heck, just buy it already ‚ÄĒ I want more games like this, and fewer games like Call of Duty. There‚Äôs certainly room for both, but let‚Äôs do our bit to redress the balance a bit, yeah?