Rayman. A creature endowed with extraordinary and at the same time ridiculous powers, but lacking in many common traits, such as arms or legs. He’s not nearly as famous as the Patriarch of platforming, Mario, or his counterpart in the SEGA universe, Sonic, but probably just as important for PC iterations of the genre. And if you’ve had a run through some of Ubisoft’s games, you’ve already noticed his perpetually funny figure, even though we still don’t know much about him, not even after 8 main games and God knows how many spin-offs.
Origins brings up a new challenge for the aforementioned protagonist, which in the series’ chronology takes place sometime after Rayman 2: The Great Escape and incorporates some of its most obvious themes (which recur in the entire franchise). And speaking about the title, I really don’t get its meaning. Sure, it might be a reference to the game going back to its sidescrolling roots, but its positioning in the game’s chronology, the number of abilities and the characters’ lack of depth (apparently the game assumes we already know them) give it more of a sequel than prequel flavor.
In short, in a sunny afternoon, the main characters’ snoring alarms an old lady from the Land of the Livid Dead, who flips out one floor below them (those of you who have lived in an old block of flats knows the deal), at which point she sends an army of her cohabitants to obliterate the temporary peace Rayman and Globox (the big blue sidekick with a weakness for plum juice) made at the end of The Great Escape, thus paving the way for the events waiting for us.
Subsequently, Polokus (or the Bubble Dreamer, as he is referred to here) starts having nightmares, the Electoons are kidnapped and stuffed into cages (one of the series’ recurring themes) and the fairies led by Betilla are captured by monsters with the shape and personality of walking black squares.
At this point, the story just follows its natural course through a series of worlds, each containing a few levels with usually three Electoon cages to break, with various themes and mechanics. Approximately every one of these worlds is wrapped up by rescuing a fairy and getting a reward in the form of unlocking a power – be it gliding, diving, changing your size depending on the environment or running up walls.
Since it’s a 2.5D platformer, the 3D element is only delivered in the form of transferring you from one „layer” of the world to the next, and the learning curve is fairly simple in just two dimensions, which warmly encourages one to play Rayman: Origins, even if said „one” hasn’t played any Sega Genesis games beforehand. An even more interesting aspect is that this approach doesn’t sacrifice a fairly large array of challenges whose completion depends on how far each of us really wants to go.
Sure, the game’s simple walkthrough isn’t terribly complicated, but the bonus objectives, collecting all the Lums (spelled Looms) or beating the time trial challenges will grow increasingly painful for whoever hasn’t encountered Nintendo Difficulties before. Add bonus levels that you unlock once you collect enough Electoons, levels in which your reflexes, speed and precision easily sign Origins up for the black list also known as „Platformer Hell”. Ah, and the game doesn’t exactly end when you expect it to… when you’ll get what I’m saying by that, you’ll appreciate the infinite lives system a lot more. Because you’ll need every one of them.
The aesthetics are adorable, following the same pattern that defined the series when it first started out, as a totally wacky and psychedelic cartoon using simple, but effective schemes: a world in danger, saved by a team of idealistic, naive heroes, fairies you have to rescue in the midst of an extensive mythology for a universe whose areas we explore in order, using a map.
The animations are brilliant, the controls are fluid enough and for the first time in many platformers, the tight controls didn’t allow any mishaps to happen, and I didn’t get any collision/control/physics inexplicable issues to boot my enthusiasm. Its variation in themes is also a major plus, with a high number of gaming environments and blessed both with typical mechanics as well as clever new spatial approaches (steampunk, goth, underwater levels, ice levels on which you skate rather than run, backgrounds made out of musical instruments reacting in various ways to contact and so on). And on top of that there are minigames, such as a sidescrolling space shooter in which you’re either riding or being rode on by mosquitos and shoot squads of monsters flying in formation. And, of course, boss fights.
The musical score and sound effects are in total accordance to what you see on screen, starting with the Latin a few characters speak for kicks and ending with the disco sequences a Rayman game is bound to include. Various playful genre combinations make up the soundtrack, from orchestral compositions to funkier tunes. Even if it’s extremely eclectic, the soundtrack fits the bill wherever it turns up, and the only fairly negative aspect is that the bits you’re going to hear more often (such as the end-level song, when the Lums you’ve collected are getting counted) can become annoying because of their repetitive nature.