Ubisoft have sunk kind of low in my personal opinion over the last few years. I enjoy the Assassin’s Creed series, but what with them releasing one every year for the last three (or is it four?) years like clockwork, I’ve started to grow a little tired of them. They rebooted Splinter Cell into something not quite Splinter Cell, and released a slew of odd mini-game collections for the Wii featuring the Raving Rabbids. But alongside those last was Rayman, a character with no arms and legs whom I absolutely adored when I was younger, and so when I learned of the existence of Rayman: Origins, I was instantly pumped.
Rayman: Origins is an old school, side-scrolling platformer, which, aside from the Mario games, and a few indie releases like Super Meat Boy, have been unfortunately absent from the current gaming market for a long time. It follows Rayman and his friends as they venture through the Glade of Dreams, trying to right the chaos that is happening there. There’s actually a bit more to the story than that, including something about the Land of the Livid Dead and some Bubble Dreamer whose having nightmares, which is the cause of all the crazy stuff that’s happening, but for me to tell you about that, I would be indirectly lying. I wasn’t actually sure of the story of the game for most of it. What I knew was that Rayman and his pals managed to wake up some weird people who lived underground, and they got all pissed off, locking Rayman and friends up in cages. I went to the game’s Wikipedia page to get a better idea of what exactly I was trying to accomplish, and came across all that stuff. So, right away, not a huge amount of points in the story department, but, I mean, old school Mario never had anymore story than ‘rescue Peach from Bowser.’ I can’t even remember the story that Crash Bandicoot had. And Super Meat Boy was all about rescuing girl from evildoer as well, so platformers and story aren’t exactly like cheese and crackers, if you get what I mean. In a platformer, it’s the intuitiveness of the level design, the ease of controlling your character, and the collection of arbitrary objects that keep you coming back, and as far as that’s concerned, Rayman: Origins shines like a diamond in the rough. Well, more like a diamond in the almost non-existent, I suppose.
There are five main worlds to unlock in Rayman: Origins, each comprising of a theme that all the levels within that world are based off of. One world is based heavily on musical instruments, so in the levels, you find yourself bouncing on drums, jumping on birds that represent notes on a musical staff, and other thematically related gimmicks. Another is an arctic world, but within the glacier walls, you see frozen fruits, and the water resembles fruit punch (minus the piranhas swimming around waiting to devour you), and some baddies skate around holding up serving trays, so I guess it’s representing the inside of a very confused refrigerator? Regardless, the level design in Rayman is truly exquisite. If just skating through the levels, not bothering to find all of the hidden goodies, you get into an amazing flow as you run, jump, swing and float through the levels. It all has a very organic feel. You know instantly after jumping whether or not you’re going to make it, and exactly how many floating Lumes you’ll manage to hit on the way. The controls are incredibly tight, so getting Rayman to do what you want is never a problem, which, in a platformer, is absolutely imperative. I opted to use the d-pad more often than the analog stick, simply because it felt better to me, but both work equally well. When searching for the hidden goodies in each level, the platforming gets a little trickier. It’s at this point that you have to be extremely precise in the timing of your jumps, and know the levels inside and out. Total completion of Rayman: Origins would require a certain familiarity with each of the levels, one that would only come from repeated playthroughs of each. The levels are enjoyable enough to play that playing through each more than once wouldn’t feel like much of a chore, though, and the frequent variations in play-style: going from classic platforming to sections that are more heavy on swimming to shoot-’em-up sections on the back of a mosquito, make sure that your interest will be held.. The game just flows so well as to easily stand up to multiple plays. Dying doesn’t result in anything but a quick fade to black: there’s no musical cue, no lives to lose, and no eventual ‘Game Over’ screen to break your concentration, or frustrate you to the point of not wanting to play anymore. This allows some of the later levels to get slightly harder without pissing anyone off: there’s no real penalty for dying, save being thrown back to your last checkpoint, which allows you to jump back into the action extremely quickly. This is, however, where the one glaring problem with Rayman shows through. The checkpoint system can, at times, feel extremely arbitrary. There’s no real indication of when you’ve hit a checkpoint, and sometimes they aren’t at the places that feel logical for them to be at. This makes some sections incredibly annoying, and you’ll probably get extremely familiar with certain sections of the game’s last few levels as you try and get through them. There also aren’t any checkpoints in the levels where you’re chasing down the treasure chests (you’ll have to play it yourself to see what I mean), and while it makes sense, given that these levels are extremely brief, but I can guarantee you’ll know most of them backwards and forwards before you manage to complete them. But because of the level design, how well they flow, and how tight the controls are, what could be touted as a major problem becomes little more than a minor gripe. Platforming is enough of a joy that replaying certain sections ad nauseam is never a huge issue.
The game is also bursting at the seams with charm. It’s almost the polar opposite of Escape Plan: bright colours and cheery music are on full display here, and with the Vita’s stellar screen, it makes everything a joy to look at. The odd voiced gibberish of the characters may get annoying to some if you hear too much of it, but I personally didn’t find it to be too much of a problem. Even the enemy design manages to be bright and cheery, despite the fact that part of your goal is to balloon the baddies before bursting them, so designing them so well seems almost redundant. As much as I love Mario, that fact that his has been the only platformer on the block for so long, and that the graphical style of the games never deviates much from the style started with Super Mario 64, save some graphical upgrades, of course, made me love Rayman even more. It’s just brighter, and seems happier than Mario has done of late. Maybe I’m just growing out of the phase where I can love Mario anymore, but given the choice between any Mario game over the last few years, and Rayman: Origins, I’d pick Rayman every time.
Of course, this isn’t the version you played on console back in November, nor the one you’ll be playing on PC come next month (if Wikipedia is to be believed). This is the Vita version, and with that comes some expectations. In actuality, the Vita version differs very little from the console version. The visuals and audio are just as good on the handheld as they are on the home consoles, which was to be expected, but is still nice to see. The Vita’s hardware comes into play very little. You can touch the screen to select menu options, or pop bubbles with Lumes in, or enemies that you’ve ballooned, and you can pinch-zoom to bring the action closer, which is handy, becomes sometimes, Rayman gets really small, but as far as making use of the Vita’s hardware goes, that’s it. I think this was a wise move on Ubisoft’s part. Trying to implement too many of the Vita’s features could have ruined what is an otherwise classic platformer, but this was clearly foreseen, and happily avoided. I haven’t played the console version of the game, but apparently ghost mode is Vita-exclusive. It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like: ghost mode lets you speed run through some of the game’s levels, and then post your time on the Playstation Network. While this is a cool addition, it comes with a pretty big price: this is the closest thing to a multiplayer mode that the Vita version of the game comes. Yep, Ubisoft opted not to put in the 4-player co-op mode featured in the console version of the game, which is a huge shame, seeing as the Vita is capable of multiplayer. I guess most of the fun of playing this game co-op would be sitting on the couch with your buddies, but I still would have liked to see something on the Vita, aside from just the ghost mode. It’s a shame, but it’s one of the few knocks I have against the game.
Rayman: Origins on the Playstation Vita is a platforming gem in miniature. It retains the beautiful art and upbeat audio of the original, maintains a tightness of controls that is admirable, even in its necessity, and is one of the best showcases of how fun running and jumping can be that I’ve played in recent memory. The uneven checkpoint system and lack of multiplayer are the two biggest gripes I have with the game, but the otherwise superb quality of the game mostly makes up for it. I would assume this goes without saying, but if you have the console version, you really don’t need to re-buy the game. The only thing you’d be getting is the ghost mode, and since it comes at the cost of the 4-player co-op, it’s not really worth it. If you own a Vita, though, and you’re looking for a platformer to take on the go, I really don’t think you’ll ever see something that tops Rayman: Origins. It’s bright colour palette, excellent level design, and varied play-styles make it a game Ubisoft would have to try very hard to top.
Title : Rayman Origins
Format : PS Vita
Developer : Ubisoft Montpellier
Publisher : Ubisoft
Release Date : 02/14/12