With the advent of 3D gaming, the art of the 2D platformer seems to have been almost entirely lost, reduced to the realm of indie games, downloadable titles and handhelds. The downloadable route was almost the fate of Rayman Origins, the newest entry in Ubisoft’s limbless platforming hero’s adventures and the return of creator Michel Ancel to the franchise.
Initially planned to be a series of downloadable episodes, Ubisoft opted to release the game as a full price retail release. This decision was met with confusion and some hostility. “How can a 2D platformer be a full price retail game?” Fact is, a lot of people just expect more for their money.
I won’t lie; I was definitely in this boat. We’ve become some used to highly immersive experiences, 3D worlds, we have very much devalued the 2D platforming genre. Sadly, the sales of the game have reflected this, and the release window with games such as Modern Warfare 3, Skyrim and Ubisoft’s own Assassin’s Creed: Revelations certainly can’t have helped matters. If it wasn’t for the fact I got a good deal on the game, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up right away either.
Here’s the problem though, the game is good. Very good.
2D platformers have always been a favourite genre of mine, from Super Mario Bros. on NES right up to Super Meat Boy on PC and Xbox 360. I love the genre and I’m a little ashamed that it did require a good deal just to get me to buy the game. My impressions are based entirely on single player. Even though the game features 4 player simultaneous couch play (no online here), I view Rayman as a solo endeavour and maintain this even on this new game.
Firstly, the most important aspect of any platform game, the controls. They’re perfect. You press the button, you move, you jump, it happens. You want to land on the very edge of a platform? You can. You want to jump off a wall and punch an enemy above you? Not a problem. While I have been mildly frustrated on a few occasions, it’s only due to moving so fast and trying to keep up with the action and, thus, my own fumbling gets in the way; I cannot fault the controls in any way.
Secondly (and maybe the thing people will notice) is the graphics. They’re bright, colourful and vibrant, but also wonderfully animated. Ubi Art, the game’s engine, works a treat here. Sometimes, it’s hard to appreciate just how well designed the characters are just due to the speed you sometimes travel at, but everything works together so well. There’s no “jaggies” or “slow down”, those are the realm of the 3D game, and everything here is perfection. I am playing the PS3 version, but I can’t imagine the experience will be on any different on the Wii and 360 versions or, indeed, on the future 3DS and Vita versions but the art style definitely lends its self well to the big screen in HD.
Thirdly, the game presents its self as quite a childish and cartoony game but that really undermines the whole experience and, in fact, probably lulls you in a false sense of security in terms of difficulty. The gameplay is more hardcore than any brown and bloom FPS game on the market… and last longer too and that’s assuming you just run through the stages to reach the end. Collecting everything the game has is going to take quite a bit longer and this is where a lot of the “one more go” frustration may occur as you are one second or two off the target and you have to start again.
While kids could play, and enjoy, the earlier levels, the later levels will start to cause problems with it requiring some real focus and good hand eye coordination. This is due to the level design, in one level in particular, platforms are falling and you have to bounce, jump and swing to reach a higher ledge. Not an overly tricky requirement, but definitely one less experienced gamers will struggle with.
If the game has one stumbling point, it’s that the music can, at times, be annoying. While not a huge issue since, the majority of the time, you aren’t really focused on it. This isn’t the case for every music track in the game, as well, hence why it’s not an issue. Some of the music is good, some isn’t. Hit and miss, but no misses to the degree it ruins the experience.
The game, as it stands, reminds me very much of the original Rayman. Not so much in content as in the feeling when you’re playing. It is rewarding to collect all the Electoons in a level, it is rewarding to complete a time trial and it is rewarding to play a new 2D platformer that isn’t just a downloadable title but actually worthy of the price tag and to be counted alongside its 3D brothers.
The game has actually taken its place as my Game of the Year. I am biased towards 2D platformers and for one to impress me as much as Rayman Origins, it takes something special. Michel Ancel was sorely missed from the franchise and, upon his return, has managed to create a game that surpasses the stunning original game. While the sad truth is that the Rabbids games may sell more, I hope Ubisoft understand that while the game may not have sold as well as they would have liked, it was definitely a worthwhile investment in terms of quality and, hopefully, word of mouth will spur the sales. We can hope now they keep Rayman as he was meant to be – in two dimensions, punching cages and jumping on platforms.
Ubisoft is giving away Rayman Origins for free and although it is a decade old, it is still one of the greatest classic platformer titles.
Jacob S. from Link Cable Gaming writes: "“Not only does Rayman: Origins stay true to the franchise’s roots, but also adds its own unique features to help make its way to modern-day consoles.”"
Few platforming levels can pack the kind of punch that Rayman Origins’ brutal final level, Land of the Livid Dead, does.