Rayman Origins Review (Xbox360)

It’s rare for any game to get me smiling on the title screen alone. Sonic Generations perhaps, but that was entirely based on nostalgia. Rayman Origins on the other hand had me grinning when just pressing Start was accompanied by cute voices going “cha cha cha!” to line up with the background music. That grin wouldn’t leave for several hours… well, until I took on that unlockable Treasure Chest Chasing secret level.

Forget the fact that Rayman Origins was once intended as a digital title and Ubisoft is now charging full-price for a 2D platformer opposite the biggest games of the year. It is most definitely worth the money, stuffed as it is with entertaining content without any filler, and can easily hold its own in terms of quality and quantity against any title in 2011. Now that’s out of the way, let me tell you why.

Chasing a Nymph across a frozen wasteland with giant slices of watermelon everywhere. Crazy

I can also clarify something that I personally was confused about - Rayman Origins is not a remake of the first Rayman game. It is instead merely a hark-back to that title’s 2D cartoon style before Rayman 2 brought the limbless wonder into the third dimension. Just think of it as an insane, excellent 2D platformer and will get along just fine.

I’m only on my fourth paragraph and I’ve already suggested you should buy it several times. It’s now on me to justify such immediately. It won’t be with story though, since Ubisoft have wisely realised that platformers with stories tend to end up as bad platformers. Despite the “Origins” of the title and the early trailers that suggested that the game was set before the first game, there’s really very little of that in the game itself. What is there though is lovable – Rayman and his friends make so much noise enjoying themselves that they annoy an old lady, who sends her legion of Darktoons to capture them, the Forest Nymphs (who are, um, really nymphy) and the ultra-cute pink Electoons that give the Nymphs their power. Rayman breaks out and goes to free them all.

Story doesn’t matter, it’s cute and simple and gives us an excuse to journey over a number of different landscapes hunting down Electoons, Nymphs, Lums (the main collectable item, like Mario’s coins) and teeth. Yes, teeth. All thankfully have a purpose beyond 100%ing. Rescue a Nymph and she’ll give you a new power. Lums are traded in for Electoons at the end of each level. Electoons unlock secret levels, alternate characters and make the transition level in each world easier the more you have. And teeth? They’re the rarest – you only get them for completing the rock-hard unlockable levels, and once you’ve got them all you can access the final world called The Land of the Livid Dead. There’s a lot to do for sure, and we haven’t even got to the levels themselves yet.

If there’s a hint of unimaginative design in Rayman Origins, it’s in the overall design of the worlds. Fire, ice, clouds, jungle, underwater, cave… really? Yes, Sonic and Mario both have got away with variations on these for over 20 years, but when you’ve got a game otherwise bursting with imagination relying on these well-worn gaming environments it’s just disappointing. I mean, there’s a world based around food called ‘Gourmand Land’ and it’s mainly… an ice world. What does food have to do with ice? Zool was doing candy lands in 1992, Rayman certainly could’ve done something like that. At least when it turns into a fire world halfway through it becomes relevant to the theme. I almost didn’t notice the watermelon doors I was so annoyed, although the nagging fork platform did catch me unawares a bit.

However, I’m prepared to bet the vast majority of people playing the game wouldn’t notice this fact if I hadn’t just pointed it out. The rest of the game… well, just think of the things that make a great 2D platformer. Eye-catching graphics, wonderful tunes, precise controls, clever design that slowly ups the challenge, plenty of replay value, co-op which changes and compliments the gameplay, Rayman Origins literally has it all.

Avoiding fire-breathing dinosaur cooks using big teapots and pepper-shakers. Crazier

Like the graphics. This marks the debut of Ubisoft’s new UbiArt engine, which basically allows works of art to come to life. Consequently Rayman Origins looks like a beautiful, flowing cartoon. Rayman, partners, enemies and even the damn environment all have a staggering array of animation, and unlike say Bloodrayne: Betrayal there is absolutely no trade-off in control sensitivity. Rayman’s controls are polished to perfection, so whenever you die you probably simply didn’t react quick enough.

Not that quick reactions are needed everywhere. Ubisoft cleverly introduce new threats before they require fast button pushing to pull off, so when they start becoming challenging avoiding them has become second nature. This is the mark of really good game design – never let the player feel cheated by throwing something at them without warning. While just getting through the levels is relatively straightforward, the really difficult challenges come from collecting special coins and Lums. Just want to get to the end? Fine, but then you don’t get all the Electoons, and trust me – you will. I never gave a toss about Toad, Princess Peach or those animals Dr Robotnik inexplicably kidnapped, but saving the Electoons always brings a big smile to my face. Even if it is damn hard to do so sometimes – seriously, one-hit kills Ubisoft (without a heart pick-up)? That’s just mean.

As for the music, well, everyone I’ve talked to who’s played it has got a different level’s theme stuck in their head. Mine’s the helium-voiced song that plays when you’re swimming deep underwater, which is made worse by the nonsense almost-words being sung. Lyrics I could remember, I can’t sing “ooh na me na glou glou” in the shower. I’m sorry ‘Aquatic Ambience’ from Donkey Kong Country Returns, we have a new champion in the realm of catchy underwater swimming platform game level songs.

Finally we have the replay value. Finding all the secret Electoon cages, getting all the Lums, beating mission times, unlocking alternative characters, they’ll take you ages and they’re all just the tip of the iceberg. The real challenge lies in chasing the treasure chests in the unlockable bonus levels to get those ruby teeth needed to access the Land of the Livid Dead, which is bastard hard I don’t mind telling you.

Then if all that weren’t enough, there’s the co-op. Up to four players can go through the levels together, New Super Mario Bros Wii-style, but since all players can occupy the same space, Rayman Origins is already a much better experience. You can still grief other players by smacking them one however. While it’s easier in one way to get through the levels, as when you die a partner can resurrect you, you often have to work in perfect symmetry to get through some challenges – creating a completely different but equally challenging game to single-player.

Riding a mosquito in a lightning storm chasing flying pirate ships and avoiding helicopter bombs. Craziest

Sometimes when you write a review, your estimation of a game can change for better or worse. Looking back on my words my opinion of Rayman Origins has only improved. I can’t think of enough nice things to say about it. Granted the world designs may be a little generic, but when they’re populated by giant mango slices, rideable mosquitoes, musical notes being sat on by toucans, and floating fakirs with climbable beards “generic” isn’t the word that comes to mind. It’s perfectly designed in every way, has a great co-op mode and will last you for ages.

Rayman Origins is the best 2D platformer this year, one of my favourite ever made (it’s up there with Yoshi’s Island), and the one game out in November everyone should play. I don’t care if you’ve got other games to play – this one will make you feel good inside. More fun than shooting Russians, shouting at dragons, stabbing Templars and smacking strippers with dildobats combined. Crazier too.

Top Game Moment: Freeing a cage of Electoons and seeing their happy smiling adorable faces. D’aww.