Rayman Origins

I started writing this shortly after I got the game in late February. It’s taken me this long to get round to finishing it, because I’ve been having too much fun actually playing the game and chasing PSN trophies.

In this time of prequels and reboots, it’s refreshing that the oddly-named Rayman Origins is neither. There is some minor exposition, most of it on the game’s official website, but Rayman’s ‘origins’ here largely mean a return to the 2D platforming of the original PSone game.

Origins is a very good advert for both the Vita and the Ubi-Art engine with which the game was made. It’s a port (from 2011’s P/X/W version), but what a port! This kind of gameplay was what handheld consoles were made for, and the graphics look gorgeous on the Vita’s screen. It also makes use of the touchscreen with some features not present in the P/X/W version.

Like the original Rayman (released in 1995 for the PSone), Origins is very pretty and absolutely nails. Unlike the first Rayman, Origins is made much more fun by virtue of not using the quaint mechanic of finite lives, and by being easily the silliest game in the Rayman franchise (with the possible exception of Raving Rabbids, which has been retconned out of the series’ continuity). It has Loco Roco-levels of brightness and cheer with almost Ren and Stimpy-esque character animation.

There’s almost no plot to speak of. Oh sure, the game’s blurb says something about saving the world before it vanishes like a bad dream, but the game keeps it unobtrusive. All we take from the brief & wordless intro video, and all we really need to know, is that the baddies were woken up by Rayman & co’s loud snoring, and stole all the lums and imprisoned the electoons in a grumpy huff. You need to go and get them all back, and you might as well stomp on the baddies while you’re at it. (Incidentally, lums are “‘looms’ like ilLUMination, not lums, for dumb.”)

Progress is simple: reaching the end of a level unlocks the next one. Incentives for doing more (finding relics, finding and opening cages of trapped electoons, collecting lots of lums, or successfully speed-running a level), include PSN trophies, extra characters and a couple of exposition scenes.

Origins is a very fluid platformer that needs quick thinking and responses, and pulls this off well enough that it feels more like not thinking and just acting. The enemies are often the most static and least menacing obstacle – the challenge coming from the environment shifting beneath and around you. Cliffs break, bouncy plants sprout, walls re-align and form a different path from the one you were going to take a split second ago.
The game has a nice difficulty curve, and is saved from repetition by granting you a new power at the start of each new world (Rayman yet again having forgotten how to attack, glide, swim etc. at the beginning of a new adventure).

The level design plays with staple themes by mashing them together in ways not normally seen, resulting in something more fun than the sum of its parts. The Desert of Didgeridoos is a desert level – phooey. But wait! – mixed with a musical theme. Gourmand Land is the staple slippy-slidey ice level (and later fire level), saved from familiarity-induced boredom by being made of food.

Recovering plenty of electoons unlocks more playable characters, but all are simply re-skins of starters Rayman, Globox and two Teensies. There’s no difference between each except animations (though the Globoxes can be slightly easier to play because of the noticeable hurtbox/sprite dissonance).
Collecting lots and lots of electoons earns you access to the Tricky Treasure levels; the only reward that’s not simply cosmetic/flavour. Tricky Treasure levels are the game distilled and then turned up to 11. You must chase a fleeing treasure chest, and if it manages to get off-screen you die – if you don’t get killed anyway by spike pits, incoming piranhas, falling rocks, etc. Finishing all 10 gives you access to the incredibly hard Land of the Livid Dead.

Exclusive to the Vita version are the previously-mentioned relics. These are camouflaged against the scenery and must be collected by tapping the touchscreen. Most of them are so well-hidden that the only clue one is nearby is the rattling sound they emit. It’s somewhat odd, given that picking one up usually involves staying still, tentatively zooming in (pecking at the touchscreen with your fingers, like an uncertain pheasant) and poring over every millimetre of screen, hoping to spot a relic when it makes its periodic twitch. It’s quite a contrast to the running and jumping and gliding. It’s also the only bit of the game where sound helps you (and by a large amount) instead of just being atmospheric; if you can’t hear, your opportunities to pick up relics are probably limited to sheer luck.
Relics unlock wall mosaic tiles in the home level – when complete, they show why Globox is blue and how Rayman is able to use his hair to glide.

This game is wholly silly and delightful. It’s slick, and even the loading screens are gorgeous. The music is charming and jubilant. The whole package is a great blend of superb art direction and 2D platforming that shows it’s still a worthwhile genre.

Originally published in April 2012.