I think it's pretty safe to say that during recent years, gaming has lost a lot of its innocence. The humble video game has evolved and matured into gritty war-time shooters filled with broken and dystopian landscapes. The gaming industry is more focussed these days on creating a more life-like experiences rather and whimsical escapism. Gone are the days of characters like Earthworm Jim and Ristar, we now find ourselves taking control of protagonists such as Alan Wake and Cole Phelps. But bringing that lovable magic back into gaming is Ubisofts latest instalment of the Rayman series, Rayman: Origins.
Now, I believe that Rayman has been the subject of a lot of bad press in recent years, ever since the first Rayman Raving Rabbid game back in 2006 Rayman has almost been pushed to the side of the stage – with basic 2D platformers believed to be of little or no interest to people Ubisoft decided to essentially put Rayman in the background until 2009 with the release of Rabbids Go Home on the Wii where Rayman was omitted from the franchise altogether. Rayman seems to have been tarred with the ‘mini-game’ brush that was associated with the Rabbid games.
It’s refreshing then, to see that Rayman: Origins not only returns to form with an excellently constructed 2D platformer for the modern generation but he does so without any noticeable degradation to the ‘core’ Rayman series. Even whilst reading this review I would recommend listening to the Rayman: Origins soundtrack in order to fully acclimatise yourself for how different this game is from modern video games. The first and most awe-inspiring aspect of Origins to hit you is the art style. This game is simply breathtaking. As I mentioned, in a generation obsessed with different shades of grey and how many different post-apocalyptic situations we can create, it's easy to forget why we loved video games when we were children.
The story, whilst largely inconsequential for a game as fundamentally enjoyable as Rayman: Origins, takes place in the Glade of Dreams – a world created by the mysterious Bubble Dreamer- where Rayman and his friend Globox are napping with their Teensy friends by the fabled Snoring Tree, unfortunately their snoring disturbs and angers a member of the Land of the Livid Dead underground who unleashes the villainous Darktoons (the evil counterparts to the Electoons, which I will explain shortly) upon the land who then go about capturing all of the Electoons (small purple creatures who resemble emoticons) and the powerful Nymphs. Upon collecting the Electoons you unlock further levels throughout the game and helping to free a Nymph – a natural action as the story progresses - bestows upon you a new power to aid in your continued adventure, be it the ability to hover in the air using Raymans classic 'helicopter hair' or the ability to dive underwater - all of these abilities ensure that you feel the urge to travel back through the levels to capture any remaining Electoons and bonuses.
In Rayman: Origins you find yourself flying giant mosquitoes, running along the golden hair of a giant Electoon , swimming through dark underwater caverns lit only by tiny luminous fish, dodging geysers of lava and sliding across giant frozen glades - if any other game attempted to push your character through this many different environments it would be labelled as inconsistent and schizophrenic but not with Rayman! You find yourself not just ‘letting it slide’ as we do with many aspects of video games these day but relishing in the joys of the different landscapes and creatures ahead. You will find that even the content look of satisfaction on Raymans face whilst he swims will be similar to the smile this game leaves you with.
You humbly find yourself exploring every nook and cranny of the expansive levels to search for hidden treasure and secret areas which - by design - are present in every level. Mainly you may miss these or spend so long trying to get them that you feel on the verge of quitting but Origins offers such a lovable urchin-child charm that you can't help but try again. Even on the ‘one mistake and it’s back to the start’ bonus levels. If there is a criticism to be made against Rayman: Origins it’s that sometimes the camera can be quite uncooperative in the underwater cavern levels but seeing as the game makes so many concessions for this it’s very easy to forgive.
There is an extensive amount of content in Rayman: Origins, from the additional secrets hidden within different levels which are only accessible once you have acquired certain abilities from progressing through the game, the collectable Treasure Chest challenges which are a single run through chase level where you are chasing a fleeing treasure chest to the multiple characters you can unlock and enjoy creating havoc and chaos with in co-op. Even the sheer number of levels is unexpected - in a time where puzzle/platformers are generally confined to the indie genre which only offers a finite (and usually quite small) number of levels it's so gratifying to find a game like Rayman: Origins which has levels to spare.
So in an age where purchasing a video game is more akin to playing online roulette with no actual guarantee of satisfaction , Ubisoft have taken the purest core of what used to make platformer games fantastic back in the 1990's and polished it to a near mirror shine. It’s very safe to say that you can bet on Rayman: Origins.