Things have been too serious in 2011. Gamers have prepared to die, gone beyond the call, and adhered to many other tacky press lines over and over again. Remember when games didn’t need a silly gimmick, and could be fun by doing the simple things right? No, me neither. Thank god Rayman is here to show us the way in one of the year’s most exceptional gaming treats.
It’s almost impossible to go on without discussing Origin’s stunning visuals. This isn’t just one of the best looking games of the year, it’s one of the best looking games ever. The hand-drawn style is ravished in colour – I often wanted to halt my progress just to take it all in. Everything has a surprising depth; the impressively diverse palette forming the basis of what makes the title so entertaining. One big game after another has been released over the past two months, making it an especially difficult time of year to stand out.
Rayman Origins does just that. Ubisoft proving that beautiful simplicity can overshadow anything the continuous slew of Hollywood blockbusters can throw at it. Each of the unique worlds on offer are terrifically designed. A sense of innocence runs throughout the entire game as superb visuals are reinforced by a soundtrack that’s constantly chirping away in the background.
Rayman is in search of Lums and, after he’s collected enough of the things, is granted access to the next area. You definitely shouldn’t dwell on the fact that that makes no sense whatsoever… it’s not meant to. You are Rayman (or one of his friends), and you must collect shiny things. Often, you’ll stumble across hidden areas that let you collect even more shiny things. It’s whimsical, uncomplicated and doesn’t tax the brain.
Upon entering each world, a new ability is provided by one of the game’s bootylicious fairies. An ability may be something universally usual (such as highlight how to attack air born opponents) or it might provide a skill that is key for success in a specific area. Whether you’re gliding across musical sand dunes or diving through rivers, each ability allows natural progression without the need to change your style of play.
If you’re the type of player who loves to sprint through a level as quickly as possible, the pace can be frantic. If you prefer to mop up as many Lums as you can, then a little more thought is essential. On the business side of things, the more Lums you collect the more likely you are to unlock levels further down the line. Thankfully, once a new ability has been granted it’ll nestle itself into Rayman’s brain forever, meaning you can return to a previously beaten stage and attack it from a new angle, grabbing those final Lums in the process.
Crucially, this title never feels unfair. Plenty of mistakes will be made, but checkpoints are generous and load times minimal. I replayed certain sections a dozen times, and not once did I become frustrated. Even boss fights are easy to get to grips with, ushering in the same type of creativity the rest of the game evokes.
It’s not often I get to write about a level where you’re forced to ride on the back of a mosquito, sucking up bombs in order to eliminate a giant cuckoo bird, but that happens here. A little further on one boss looks like his derrière is covered by a condom, presumably because the beauty of the game is prone to getting those around him uncontrollably excited.
For such a simple 2D platformer, an excellent job has been done at switching things up. Cleverly, subtle shifts in tone make you feel like you’re constantly progressing, something that’s backed up by a marvellous backing track. The best example comes from one of the game’s polar levels, where everything is shuddering with a treacherous cold. Suddenly, you’ll be plunged into an inferno as crazed cooks take over the show. The hellish flames are backed up by a Salsa flavoured tune that goes a long way to produce a smile on the face of anyone in the room. How often this year have we been able to talk about level design genuinely thrilling throughout an entire product? Not once, until now.
Quite remarkably, the single-player may even be seen as the sideshow for the main attraction. Playing with friends, this game is an absolute blast. Origins provides an injection of old-school craziness that is perfect for gathering people round the television, especially with Christmas coming up. The fact that everyone should be able to play the game easily makes things even more appealing. Luckily, this isn’t just a throwaway mini-game that’ll provide a sense of nostalgia for half an hour. Up to four players can experience the delightfully odd world, in one of the year’s best multiplayer showings.
I really don’t think Rayman Origins could have arrived at a better time. It’s the perfect antidote to the generic FPS, and a breath of fresh air in today’s market. It’s been created with a huge amount of care, and crafted by a team that had the conviction to pull off a title that easily charms from start to finish. Great level design, glorious visuals, and a fantastic backing track come together to create a very special package indeed. A contender for game of the year?