In 1995, when the PlayStation was released and the gaming world was marvelling at the possibilities it held, 2D platforming looked like a doomed genre. Developers were working frantically on how to perfect a 3D platforming game and both Crash Bandicoot and Super Mario 64 were on the horizon.
2D platforming needed a hero and they got one – a guy with no limbs and a face that was two-thirds nose. His name was Rayman and his début game went on to be the biggest selling on the PlayStation. He then starred in a couple of mediocre sequels before the franchise spiralled out of control and spawned the Rabbids. Since then Rayman fell on hard times, shoved to the sidelines by the obnoxious Rabbids that were once his sidekicks.
Rayman Origins is a nod to the days when Rayman was on top of the world; it’s a lovably nostalgic blast back to the glory days of 2D platformers.
Origins feels decidedly old-school with tight controls, strong sound design and little storyline to speak of but looks far more beautiful than any console previous to this generation could handle. With layers upon layers of parallax scrolling Origins‘ worlds look deeper than most 3DS games. Fluid animations and a stunning hand-painted aesthetic make the big-nosed protagonist look dashingly handsome and even manages to breathe life into the clichéd level settings.
This attention to detail flows through into Origins‘ sound design as well. Almost every level contains tunes that will get stuck in your head and force you to smile all day. It’s almost impossible not to be charmed by the nonsensical high-pitched vocals that play in a few of the underwater levels.
Origins isn’t just style over substance though – in fact it’s one of the most finely tuned 2D platformers since Sonic the Hedgehog 2, a game which Origins seems strangely similar to. Rayman is no longer the plodding chap that he was in 1995. He’s gained a turn of speed and can now sprint and jump through levels like Sonic once did.
This new-found speed is nicely contrasted with an intricate and innovative set of levels more reminiscent of Mario games. It’s a curious hybrid which could quite easily have led to mistimed jumps, cheap deaths and frustration all around. The levels are so well plotted though that it’s possible to sprint through them all in minutes.
Doing so would cause you to miss so much though because at its heart Origins is a game about collectibles, collecting Electoons to be precise. Caged Electoons are hidden throughout every level and breaking them free unlocks new levels and costumes. These are usually well hidden so a keen mind, walk-through or a few friends may be needed to find them all.
One of Origins most touted features was four-player local multi-player and sadly it is also one of the most disappointing. Whilst playing along with a few friends is extremely enjoyable Origins always feels like a single player game. There isn’t enough interaction options available between characters and while it is possible to slap another player, there isn’t any real reason to do so. In LittleBigPlanet slapping a partner sent them across the screen, and most likely to their doom, which is as hilarious as it childish. Slapping one of your friends in Rayman seems kind of sad, they just fall down haplessly.
It’s a strange oversight – one that could have been avoided by looking at how players interact in LBP, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Kirby’s Epic Yarn or… well, any multi-player platformer in the past few years. Nonetheless the multi-player does nothing to detract from how well polished the game is.
Rayman Origins is a truly great game, but it’s more than that. It’s a sign that in an age of homogenised brown shooters there is still a spark of what once made gaming so great. It proves that 2D platformers aren’t dead and shows what could have been had games focused on better aesthetics instead of more dimensions. It’s taken 16 years, but Rayman’s back at the top.
Verdict: Red Mist
Platforms Available – Xbox 360, PS3, Wii
Platform Reviewed – Xbox 360