After years in the wilderness, Ubisoft's unofficial mascot is back with a bang!
XBox 360, PS3, WII, 3DS
It's been a long time since platform games have enjoyed the kind of popularity they found with the gaming public back in the 16 bit days, but every so often a title comes out that makes you sit up and wonder if we might perhaps be on the cusp of another golden age. While platformers back in the 90s were eventually ruined by oversaturation of the market and dodgy licensed tie-ins, the focus has switched towards first and third person shooters for that kind of money making racket these days, leaving genuine platform loving developers free to take their time on delivering the kind of games that bring us back to our youth.
The likes of Mario Galaxy and, more recently, Sonic Generations (the modern Sonic sections at least) are a far cry from the side scrolling goodness that used to liberate countless hours from us every single week, what with all their swanky 3D goodness, controllable cameras and fancy Dan visuals, but Ubisoft Montpellier have shown us with Rayman Origins that the side scroller certainly has some life left in it yet.
From your first moments with Origins, you'll find yourself taken aback by just how good everything looks. The switch to high definition over the last decade means that developers can now push out graphics that are every bit as detailed and vibrant as some of the more enjoyable cartoons from days gone by.
To think that even ten years ago, these kind of graphics would have been unimaginable is quite scary, especially when you consider what that means for future years' advancements. But we're not here to talk about the past, or the future, we're here to tell you about Rayman Origins, and just why it could well be the game that you've been longing for.
Unlike many platformers which focus on speed and reflexes, like Sonic and even Mario, Rayman Origins is an altogether more pedestrian affair in terms of pacing. Rather than testing your reaction times over and over, this game forces you to think about your next move. Those of you who missed out on the glory days of the 16 bit era may find things a little bit too slow at first, but once you have adjusted to the rhythm of the game, you'll wonder just what the fascination with speed in the last few years has been all about.
For all its colourful cartoony graphics, Rayman Origins is as grown up a platform game as you're ever likely to play. Those of you who tend to write things off based on how they look really need to put your prejudice behind you, at least just this once, lest you miss out on one of the purest gameplay experiences of recent times.
As platformers go, there's nothing particularly groundbreaking here at first glance. It's your usual fodder of traipsing across the screen, collecting pick ups, attacking enemies and reaching the end point whereby you free a cage full of Electoons - the creatures which will enable you to progress between worlds.
Where Rayman Origins really starts to reward the player is through continued exploration, and taking on previously cleared areas with newly acquired skills, awarded to you at the end of each world. These skills, which will be familiar to those of you who have played previous Rayman titles, include the ability to attack (by virtue of punching, kicking and dive-bombing your enemies and surroundings), fly (although glide would be a much more appropriate term in all honesty), run up walls and even shrink.
With each ability, you'll be able to reach new sections in previously explored levels, enabling you to collect even more Electoons and in turn unlock more of the game. Like we said, it's not groundbreaking, but it works very well, and as your abilities begin to expand, you'll find that stringing together combinations of new moves adds a whole new dimension to the gameplay, while still retaining that same thoughtful pacing that compliments the visual and audio styles so well.
As you get further and further into the game however, the more straightforward platforming gives way to feats of such intricacy that they would make even the most seasoned platform pro blanch. Looking at the game from the outside, you might be forgiven for believing that it's the kind of thing you'll sit down and complete in a short afternoon's play, however so expertly managed is the game's difficulty curve that it does end up providing one hell of a challenge in many places.
Not least of these trickier levels are the Tricky Treasure challenges, where you'll need all your wits in order to chase down a living treasure chest, before smashing it open and stealing its delectable goodies - which probably explains why it's trying so hard to get away from you.
In order to keep things fresh, there are also some thoroughly enjoyable shooter style levels where Rayman rides around on the back of a mosquito, gunning down dozens of enemies along the way, and a few surprisingly nifty underwater levels. On a personal level, we often find that underwater levels tend to be a little dull most of the time. The reduced response of your character to your inputs tends to grate more than challenge, but here it's all been handled expertly and, for once, these levels actually turn out to be more fun than frustration.
And then there's the local co-operative multiplayer. There can be little doubt that this was something of a risk on behalf of Ubisoft Montpellier, after all, a half-baked multiplayer, local or not, can often prove to be the undoing of an otherwise decent title. Fortunately things have gone a lot better than most would have expected, and sitting down with a group of friends to tackle some of the more outlandish levels in the game offers just as much fun as the single player campaign itself.
Whether taken as a whole, or based on individual parts, Rayman Origins is nothing short of a work of art - both figuratively and literally. The art direction is unlike anything you'll have seen before in a game offering this kind of depth, with animation and design that wouldn't be out of place in a Disney cartoon. But it's the fact that the gameplay never once settles on its laurels that really deserves the most praise.
Sure, there will most likely be some of you out there who simply find the pacing of the game a little too slow, and there may even be some of you who outright dismiss the title because of its graphics - for everyone else, this is one of the best platform games that we have seen of any orientation, 2D or otherwise, and on any format in the last decade or so. It might be a little bit too much to hope for to think that the platforming glory days of old are on their way back, but on this showing it certainly seems like we're not the only ones who miss them.