Tuesday, February 4, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

As a proudly cheap Vita owner who’s hardly purchased a single game for the handheld, and as someone who stubbornly reserves high production bombastic AAA titles for the big screen, Rayman Origins (and Legends) has swiftly gone unnoticed under my radar. In my two month lull of doubling down on my accumulating handheld library (managed to complete A Link Between Worlds over the weekend), I finally got around to the first installment in the reimagined Rayman 2D side-scrollers.

The Ubi-Art Framework engine is put to great use in Origins (and from what I’ve briefly played, it exists in a better capacity in Legends). The hand drawn visuals are sharp, smooth, colorful and hilariously expressive in detail. It can be a bit too expressive with the absurdly voluptuous nymphs who’s revealing proportions are questionably placed in a rated E title. Overall it’s a slick looking game that runs at an unwavering 60 frames that plays as beautifully as it looks.

We begin to see where some of the musical level design crafted in Legends comes from with Origins. Thus far, I can see the developer play around with the idea of designing music around the platforming gameplay which led to its full commitment seen in last year’s sequel. Regardless however, none of this takes away from Rayman’s playful soundtrack. It’s a talented range from festival tunes to unique old school jazz. But regardless their take on the style, it matches the gleeful tone of the game.

But the gameplay itself stands well on its own, though not quite at first breath. Rayman feels a bit sloppy and restrained jumping into the first few levels, however little did I know that this was deliberate. Rayman’s (and any of the other odd looking characters) abilities unlock from region to region. Abilities such as hovering, diving, and slamming seem basic, but have to be earned throughout the game. The level design does a great job catching up with Rayman’s accumulating abilities, doing its best to ensure that his work in progress isn’t too noticeable.

Once Rayman hits its full stride, it’s clever, speedy, and extremely challenging; a trifecta that’s incredibly difficult to balance well. Rayman is at its smartest when it confronts players with stage rooms that call for instant problem solving, sometimes in which players have to play with angles and its in-game physics to decode twitchy platforming equations.

But what impressed me the most is how Rayman balances challenge with speed, though these two do exist in the game separately. One of the best levels in Origins nears its end in “My Heartburn’s for You” as Rayman’s chased by pursuing flames as he runs up walls and half loops, wall jumping fanatically with demanding accuracy thanks to its incredibly tight controls. In these moments, it seamlessly transforms into the best Sonic game I’ve ever played.

But there’s so much more to appreciate about Origins. Some stages play with gravity-neutralizing gusts of wind, others bring free directional navigation in underwater stages (an appreciated departure from the tap heavy controls of Nintendo platformers and those that mimic them), and pace changing shm’ups that preserves the same level of twitch problem solving that the raw platforming stages do. There’s so much to offer in this little platformer.

Rayman Origins is a delight. And hopefully, most of you know that already instead of being an idiot like me and passing it up for the next Call of Duty. If you haven’t picked this one up yet, I won’t call you and idiot, but I would implore you to dip your toe into the crazy world of both Rayman Origins and Legends. 

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