In Rayman Origins, you play as (you guessed it!) Rayman, as you tackle almost a dozen different areas, filled with levels that cover the requisite range of fire, ice and water themes, but with some other interesting ideas thrown in to make them feel very fresh again. For example, one string of levels are all tied to the theme of music, with piano keys stretched across the ground and drum heads that launch you into the sky, built into the stage both as enjoyable eye candy and as part of the level’s smart design.
And smart design it is. Gameplay is quite simple, at first. You basically just run, jump and stomp on baddies like you would expect in a typical platformer, but as you advance you are granted powers like the ability to attack, swim and run up walls. Surely nothing revolutionary, but when these powers are combined with some really clever ideas regarding level layout, the gameplay really shines. In fact, should you choose to speed run a level (and the game even encourages you to attempt this) you start to get the sense that many levels can be completed without ever breaking your stride, with a perfection in motion that feels a bit like the speed of Sonic the Hedgehog combined with the accuracy and “no margin for error” gameplay of Contra. Needless to say, things can become quite difficult.
Mind you, they don’t have to be. Playing through this game, with the goal of just reaching the finish line, shouldn’t pose much of a problem. However, this game wants you, begs you to collect, and that’s what its entire framework is built around. I would even go as far as to say you’re really not playing the game as the developers intended, should you choose to push through, collecting the bare minimum.
No, what really makes the levels challenging and interesting is collecting lums, and finding and freeing hidden electoons (the former and the latter being the game’s adorable creature collectables). This provides much more satisfaction than simply crossing the finish line, since all the stuff you collect is tallied at the end of each level and fills in a nice medallion for it respectively, to track your progress. On the world map, you can see which levels you have completed the medallions for, as well as other milestones (like gold medals for collecting a demanding amount of lums, and trophies for completing time trials). You even receive tangible rewards for your work, like unlocking extra characters to use and extra levels to play, including the true and much more satisfying endgame (and one hell of a difficult level to get there). This is one of those games you want to complete 100% before you shelve it.
Visually, Origins is one of the prettiest games I have ever played. It adopts an art style that feels like a living cartoon or painting, and I can see it standing the test of time with its charming and energetic graphics. The music is also well done, but it takes a little time to get there. At first, the music is underwhelming, but as you work your way through the game, it builds in prominence and evolves into something less lax and more dramatic. It even begins to frequently feature the lums singing along in mesmerizing fashion, something you have to hear yourself to really appreciate.
But what would any platformer be without some epic boss fights? Origins has them, but does not tip its hand until the second half of the adventure. The bosses are huge enemies that really brandish the illustrators work, and they are creative battles, being as much a test of your wits as a test of your skills. It’s nothing you haven’t experienced before, but it’s a master class in how to correctly design old school platforming boss fights. The final boss fight is a complete and total let down, and I’m still utterly confused how it happened, but the “real” final boss fight, if you unlock it, is surely one of the coolest boss fights in the game, and disturbingly hilarious too.
I haven’t played the other versions of Rayman Origins, but this game honestly feels like it was built for the Vita. It’s perfect on the handheld, and one of the best games currently available. But regardless of which system you own, this game is completely worth your time, and deserves to be played. I was never a true Rayman fan, often associating his brand more with the Rabbids than anything else, but I am a full-on devotee now, championing good ol’ Ray as a solid entry on the short list of top shelf platformers.And while I don’t think Rayman has quite reached the platforming heights of Mario and Luigi, he’s hot on their tails.