Review by Phange
An absolutely sublime platformer filled to the brim with variety, charm, and creativity
As I've grown older (now in my late 20's) I've become increasingly more jaded in the gaming industry. First Person Shooters have devolved into formulaic clones, the JRPG has nearly died as a viable medium of storytelling and quality, and 2D gaming has been pushed to the indie game fringe. Rayman as a series has always stood for quality - whether in 2D or 3D. Inventive, clever, and flat-out fun, it also has an unusual distinction - like Ridge Racer - of appearing at the launch of nearly every major console. Rayman 2 was a launch title for both the DS -and- 3DS. However, Rayman as a series fell apart at the seams as it moved away from its platforming roots and turned to minigame compilations starring screaming rabbits.
So disappointed with Rayman's turn of dynamics that I all but ignored Rayman Origins' 2011 release for consoles. It was by happenstance that I read a review of Rayman Origins before the Vita launch - discovering that not only was it an excellent platformer, a legitimate Game of the Year contender, and one of the best-looking 2D games ever made, it had also developed a small cult following of acolytes who declared it the greatest platformer ever made. In the face of games like Super Mario World, no less.
And you know what? They were right.
There are no words that can accurately describe Rayman Origins for what it is, but let me start with this: Rayman Origins is everything you love about 16-bit platforming wrapped up in the most lovingly detailed world, with some of the finest music in recent memory, absolutely spotless controls, and enough content to last hundreds of hours. Though clearly intended to be an homage to a bygone era, Rayman Origins surpasses its predecessors and inspirations through sheer brilliant stage design, brutally difficult (but always fair) challenge, and a perfect sense of goofy self-awareness that few games can hope to mimic with any modicum of success.
Rayman Origins is the best-looking Vita launch title and, likely, the best looking Vita game for quite some time. The entire game has a gorgeous high-definition hand-drawn aesthetic, filled with colors and parallax and some of the best character and enemy designs / animations I have ever seen in a video game. Sure, games like Uncharted are examples of the 3D prowess of the system, but Rayman Origins is the best showcase of the Vita's truly fantastic OLED screen. The sheer attention to detail in nearly every set piece, enemy, and world is amazing.
Plus it runs at 60 frames per second. Wow.
Rayman Origins at times plays similarly to Super Mario World, and other times more similar to Super Meat Boy. It's also a mosquito-based shoot em up. What sets Rayman Origins apart from mere imitators is that in everything it does, it does it at least as good, if not better, than the games it mimics. Flawless controls and a perfect balance between being very unforgiving yet having no lives and nearby spawn points means that Rayman never feels unfair, even when you're constantly dying. In fact, the only levels in the game that require a perfect run are the Treasure Chases, and there's a good reason: they're the ultimate test of a player's endurance and platforming skill - as they should be.
Despite all the praise and love given to the game's aesthetics, what sets Rayman Origins on the next level is that it is functionally an incredibly good platformer. The wall-jumping mechanics feel spot-on, as does sliding. Every level is filled with unique platforming set pieces, as well as secret areas for the more enterprising explorers. This is a game that rewards going the extra mile.
Rayman scores major points for allowing the player to choose just how hard a stage can be - in order to gather all of the electoons (this game's variant of Mario's stars), players must attempt levels in ways that are far more challenging than a simple runthrough. For example, every stage has an optional time limit challenge that requires you to learn the stage from a speedrunning perspective instead of an exploratory perspective, and it radically changes how one approaches the stage's design. Suddenly ramps becoming much more important, and highly advanced paths become more advantageous to save time. It's a brilliant balance between being reasonable enough for a moderate gamer, but hard enough for a true hardcore gamer. Later in the game, however, the difficulty spikes to a level where casuals may not be able to tread, which is fine by me.
An eclectic collection of orchestrated tunes crossing all genres, from bluegrass to hawaiian to rock to.... kazoos playing russian folk dances to..... cute electoons singing lullabies? Whoever composed this game deserves an award for both originality and hilariousness.
What else can be said about Rayman Origins? It's unfair to label this a launch title. No, this is the best platformer released in over a decade (at least) and an absolute must-experience for anyone who remembers this genre fondly.
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Product Release: Rayman Origins (US, 02/15/12)
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