Eventually, I had Mario cruising around that screen like an Italian Ballerina; running, jumping and squashing heads with great precision.
Few games have captured that sort of 2-D platforming perfection over the years. Even fewer, now that the genre has all but died out in physical retail form. But games like Earthworm Jim and the original Rayman series will always stand out in my mind for the amount of fun they managed to cram into every square inch of their worlds.
It's been a long time coming, but Rayman Origins is back to remind us all just how wonderful such a game can be.
This latest Rayman incarnation was originally slated for the digital marketplace. The shift to a full-priced disc-based title had a lot of folks, including myself, scratching their heads. But after pouring a dozen hours into the game, I can honestly say that the "upgrade" was a reasonable move.
Ryaman Origins comes packed with more than 60 levels to plow through, each with a set of rewards that encourage exploration and multiple plays. But all those levels wouldn't be worth a dime if the game wasn't fun to play, so I'm happy to report that Origins is simply one of the most delightful gaming experiences I've had in a very long time.
The story is simple and goofy, but it goes a little something like this: Rayman and his pals were snoring so loudly that they pissed off the inhabitants of the underworld. The goons went so far as to kidnap the nymphs who protect this bizarre world, so now it's up to Ryaman and Co. to send all those baddies packing.
You'll start off with a basic arsenal of platforming maneuvers (running, jumping, punching), but each nymph you rescue will grant another ability to make traversing the levels easier (and more fun). As you explore, you'll be collecting Lums, which are basically these glowing yellow puffballs. If you collect enough Lums or discover enough hidden cages, you will unlock Electoons. Once you have enough Electoons, you'll be able to progress to the level's boss stage and move on to the next set of maps. Trust me, that sounded way more confusing than it actually is.
What's important is that collecting all those Lums and Electoons is an absolute blast. It's easy to see the amount of love and care poured into each level, with practically all 60+ revealing something you've never seen before. You'll want to finish each stage just to see what the next one has to offer, and it amazed me how well rewarded I was every single time.
Rayman Origins is wonderful to look at, too. Every inch of the game is hand-drawn and the amount of detail is staggering. Once you start piloting your character through these gorgeous worlds with buttery-smooth controls and a soundtrack that never fails to put a smile on your face, you'll be left wondering how the genre could have possibly fallen so far into the background. Origins is one of those rare titles where the studio's love for their project bleeds through at every turn. There's so much detail I found myself constantly stopping just to admire what I was looking at.
But when you're playing at full tilt, Origins provides some of the best platforming you'll ever run your fingers sore enjoying. Lum's reveal themselves in a way that encourages constant motion, well-timed jumps and loads of precision. You don't have to play this way, but once you slip into the game's groove, you'll want to replay levels over and over again for the chance to earn a perfect run. And if you're having trouble with any one level, the game actually grants the option of just skip to the next stage. This is especially nice since, despite being otherwise perfectly family friendly, some of the stages require an amount of skill I don't see younger players possessing.
A few extra bells and whistles have been added for the completionists in the audience, including speed run goals for each level, lots of hidden chests, Tricky Treasure challenges that are some of the most diabolical (and frustratingly enjoyable) levels on offer, a handful of alternate costumes to unlock and four-player couch co-op. While nothing new is offered for bringing a friend along for the ride and some of the platforming is much easier if you don't have to time jumps with a friend, I have a hard time knocking the game for giving you yet another way to play.
When friends have asked what I thought of Rayman Origins, I've described it as a game that keeps on giving. There's a surprising amount of content on the disc and, most importantly, every bit of it is a delight. This is a game that was made to create smiles, and each play session will leave your face sore from all those grins. Rayman is something of an obscure series, so it's interesting that it should resurface in 2011 to make a very clear statement that the platforming genre can survive in this modern generation of consoles, all while offering new tweaks on the familiar formula.
Rayman Origins made me feel like a kid again, and then it rewarded me with challenges befitting 20-plus years of gaming experience. In a gaming landscape that is currently dominated by gritty realism and buckets of bullets, it was an absolute treat to escape into this vibrant world overflowing with some good old fashioned fun.
The Official Verdict: 5 out of 5
This review is based on a PlayStation 3 copy of the game provided by the publisher.