Every now and then, a title comes along that is more a work of art than a video game. Ico, Flower, Limbo, Grim Fandango, and Okami all spring to mind. Rayman: Origins, with its gloriously colourful, kooky, and downright mad hand-drawn art style also joins that list. More importantly though, as with the aforementioned games, Origins is more than just eye-candy. It’s brilliant to play as well.
This 2D side-scrolling platformer can be best described as an interactive children’s cartoon. Set in the Glade of Dreams, a world created by the mysterious Bubble Dreamer, we find our limbless hero Rayman and his rotund friend Globox chillaxing by a tree. The Snoring Tree in fact. Rayman: Origins is one of those games where everything has a name.
Unfortunately for our heroes, Globox’s rather rowdy snoring wakes up an old granny from downstairs and consequently unleashes all hell on Earth. Now their once peaceful world is full of Darktoons, nasty little creatures armed with spikes, huge teeth, and tentacles. Nymphs are being captured, the Glade is in chaos, and someone called the Caster Teensy is sending you out to collect Electoons and Glade Kings.
Yes, it’s certainly a lot to take in. Considering the plot and the art direction, a part of me was left wondering what drugs the developers were on... and perhaps more importantly, where can I get some? But all of this madness adds to Rayman: Origins. Despite the limited scope of a side-scrolling platformer, this game is never dull, thanks to the creativity spewing fourth from every pixel. Adding to the stunning cosmetics is also a finely tuned gameplay and control setup that keeps you coming back for more.
On the Vita, Rayman: Origins is a simple game to come to grips with. The left stick moves Rayman left and right around on the screen. Pressing X jumps, the square button is your form of attack and holding down the shoulder buttons lets you sprint.
And that’s pretty much it.
From here you’ll be athletically bouncing around the screen collecting items, freeing caged nymphs and beating up Darktoons with a frantic pace. In words, it’s difficult to make this sound exciting. But Rayman: Origins feels like so much more when playing it. The gameplay is suburb, no question about it. The controls are simple and concise, and yet - somehow - the game only very occasionally felt repetitive. Probably thanks to a perfect difficulty curve and an unfaltering mix of puzzles and action.
However, because it was still a basic 2D platformer, I found myself wondering why Origins had such a lasting impact on me. The only rational explanation must come back to the visuals. Rayman: Origins is the first title to use something called the UbiArt Framework, an in-house graphics engine developed by the French team at Ubisoft Montpellier.
UbiArt essentially allows artists to easily place their 2D creations into an interactive environment and see them come to life within a video game. Artists only need to create the one dimensional models and the software takes care of image distortion automatically. Essentially the engine allows artists and designers to focus on the art itself, without having to worry about technical aspects of game development. The results in Rayman: Origins speak for themselves.
On the Vita, this game is almost identical to the version released late last year on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. However, one glaringly obvious omission on the handheld version is a lack of multiplayer. While the tabletop consoles had 4 player drop-in/out co-op mode, the Vita version of Origins only has the option to replay levels in “ghost mode”.
This mode tracks the time taken for you to complete a stage and overlays your previous best run as a transparent apparition for you to beat, essentially letting you race against yourself to collect coins and get to the escape. Players can then swap their ghosts (or best times) over WiFi with other Origins owners in an effort to best them. It’s an interesting touch, but a blatant slap in the face when compared to the 4 player on-screen shenanigans available on other platforms.
Apart from this, the only other downside to the Vita version is some of the visual impact is lost on the smaller 5” screen. However, the developers have incorporated the use of the touchscreen to allow users to pinch and zoom in to absorb more detail and witness character animations more clearly. Overall Origins on the Vita is a great experience. Those who have had the joy of playing it on the PS3 or XBOX360 won’t find anything new here, but for everyone else, this is one fantastic little portable title.